Sun 17 Feb 2008
it must be that wistful time of year, Valentine’s over, the snow still lurking in the wings for another few months of gray, nose-icicling cold. i kinda want to hide on my couch until spring.
i am apparently not alone. CBC radio, that bastion of Sunday morning entertainment in our house, is playing Stuart MacLean’s collection of sad songs again today; Tom Waits and Joni Mitchell and an old early Sinatra tune and Leonard Cohen and whatever else i can’t remember though i’ve heard the show twice, now, and my brain wonders…was it last post-Valentine’s weekend they played this the first time? has a year really slipped by so fast? and i boggle, but it is an aside, because we are clotted up in February right now and it is impossible to imagine that time will ever slip again.
towards the end of this unorthodox Vinyl Cafe repeat is a trio of pieces by singers who’ve spent much of their lives in this tiny province, my home by birth and, wryly, choice…and i am overwhelmed by this triumverate, the late Gene MacLellan and his daughter Catherine and Tanya Davis, her friend. the joke goes, of course, that all we Islanders not only know each other, but are related…still, i do not know them, only by reputation. i sang his songs in childhood, his daughter is the friend of a friend, and Tanya i nearly saw at a poetry slam when i first moved back here but then i got airlifted and things fell apart and when i came home without my firstborn poetry frightened me, in public, because tears came too easily. Gene was best-known for writing “Snowbird,” the song that made Nova Scotian Anne Murray famous in the year or so before i was born…and he committed suicide one winter thirteen years ago, just as his daughter came into her teens. she had a daughter herself not long ago, in the year between Finn and Oscar’s birth, that year where i was raw and acutely aware of every one else’s successful childbirthing. i envied her, then. now, i only envy her talent.
so the MacLellans’ sad songs and Tanya’s poetry make tears come today…but i am safe on my couch, not exposed, rather just as happy to ride the catharsis of others’ sorrow. i like sad songs. they make me feel better, even about February.
i remember having one of my finest bar debates, back in the day, with somebody who was convinced that a truly great love song had to be a happy song, one that ended in the lovers’ happy ending. i scoffed and sucked on my cigarette like i was Leonard Cohen, and pronounced, bah. a real love song, said i, several gin & tonics in, is emotion reflected on in the tranquility of after, love elegized and eulogized. if the artist can make us hear beauty and poignancy in love even in the midst of sorrow and the relationship gone into the shitter, then he or she is a bard, said i…citing The Pogues’ Fairytale of New York and Mitchell’s Case of You as paragons. and, taking it further, slurring Cohen’s lyrics and blowing smoke out my nose, i proclaimed that a love song requires both the holy and the broken Hallelujah. and then i think i passed out.
all these years later, buoyed a bit by Tom Waits’ growling, i wonder if this propensity for sad songs is a bit of a Canadian thing. Leonard Cohen is, after all, a Canuck. and Gene MacLellan lived through a lot of PEI Februarys. in sunny climes, is the dissection of what’s been lost nearly so comforting, when there is no long season of endurance and sufference?
do you have a favourite love song that suits the dreary days of February?