Right of Centre

I gave up trying to understand this years ago. Soon I hope to give up trying to excuse it. But for whatever reason it may be, when a piece of work is right – is just somehow right – it makes me cry.

Now, my definition of right is unquestionably going to be different to yours but you know when something is right, too, even if you’re cooler than I am and only rarely blub. I think it’s when I can recognise that an artist has tried to reach something new, that they have succeeded and that I have been brought along by them. Very often it can be at the end of a piece, it’ll be at the point when the artist’s journey is done. It’s happened to me with novels, films, with finely-made one-hour television episodes. There are certain Emily Dickinson and Christina Rossetti lines that I can’t say for sobbing. Actually sobbing.

It has happened just once with a place. New York City. My favourite place in the world. Can’t tell you why, can’t point to a feature or a fact, I just know that I stepped out onto those streets one night and I felt taller. I felt taller with a tear in my eye.

I need you to understand that this isn’t an hourly occurence and that I don’t ever cry because something is sad. It’s rare and powerful, it is vastly more raw and dambusting than just a mawkish weepie on a Sunday afternoon. Something opens me up and reaches in to get a good grasp. Usually it’s unexpected, statistically it’s most often music. The entire Suzanne Vega album Songs in Red and Gray, for instance. I can’t hear that as a set of tracks, it is one piece to me and it all works.

I bring this up because I went to a concert this week and it began with the words “From New York City… Suzanne Vega”. Nobody can tell me why I got a shiver from that, but I did and it was glorious.

But while I’m telling you that she was great and that while I felt only a shiver and slightly damp eyelids, I want to tell you of a time when all this was very bad for me.

It’s pretty bad now, admitting it to you.

But once. Just once. It wasn’t only a tear from something being right. There was just once also a sense of sadness. Maybe it was just the combination of right and sad, but it felt more. It felt like howl-with-rage misery.

And it was over a Suzanne Vega song.

Tired of Sleeping, from her 1990 album, Days of Open Hand.

It’s not like that’s a comedy record but I also wouldn’t have said that it was the darkest 3’47” of the night. Except that it was for me. I cannot convey to you how that song smashed away inside me, I certainly cannot explain why. But everything I’ve confessed about when things are right, I got that with this. Everything I’ve denied about it ever happening when things are sad, I got all that too.

Over and over, actually.

It was so bad, it hurt so very badly, that I asked my wife Angela Gallagher for help. I may be imagining this but I think she held my hand while she listened to the track. She liked it, she recognised how strong it was, but, frankly, it didn’t throw a brick through her skull as it had me.

And do you know what? From that moment on, I have been able to listen to Tired of Sleeping without being upset anywhere near as deeply.

So let this be a lesson. If something is right and something is powerful, I’m keeping it to myself.

UPDATE: There are many versions of Tired of Sleeping now but this is the skull-smashing one. The link is to a fan’s YouTube video and right this moment I’m playing it while writing to you – and so not bothering to watch whatever visuals the fella has added. No offence to him, but I’d recommend that you do the same. Here’s Tired of Sleeping

2 thoughts on “Right of Centre

  1. When I was 10, I noticed a tear in my dad’s eye when watching the Trooping of the Colour ceremony on our neighbour’s colour TV, we only had black and white back then. I couldn’t understand it.

    As a 40 something now, I find myself tearing up at the Olympic opening ceremony, at witnessing great personal triumph or achievement and for goodness sake, even that John Lewis advert set to the song ‘She’s Always A Woman’ gets me going. My kids find it a source of endless amusement; we’re watching something on the telly, my daughter recognises a trigger moment, looks over and, seeing the moistness in my eyes, gives me a gentle dig in the ribs before offering it to the rest of the family for their joint (and noisy) derision. I used to think I ‘softened up’ because I had kids, but I really don’t understand it.

    Recently, even those Facebook summary videos that have been doing the rounds have got me. I had a theory that it was 70% music, 30% content, seeing as I find it impossible to keep my eyes dry whenever I hear ‘Nimrod’ from the Elgar variations, but I really don’t understand it.

    Partly I have a sense of disgust that I can be so easily manipulated – imagine how manly it feels to tear up at a Disney film, for God’s sake. But then, I think at least I have emotions, so that can’t be a bad thing.

    And just to being this back into context….I listened to Days of Open Hand on the long drive back from my mother’s funeral. Can’t break that association. Ever.

  2. Pingback: This week on Self Distract… Right of Centre | William Gallagher and The Blank Screen

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