Thursday, January 17, 2013

A Ballad for James

We run romantic toward these broken hearts, James. How long have I known you? It’s been almost 20 years since Jimmy introduced me to Joe, who introduced me to Don, who introduced me to you. You were all hair and glasses and an arrogant chin. You carried yourself like a person who knew things and made things. The first time I went to your place I was surprised by the perfect columns of books and fancy magazines. The floor of your studio apartment was crowded with stacks and stacks and stacks. It was like found architecture, if there is such a thing. It was like the ruins of the already read. It was like the profane world turned sacred since it was hard to imagine defiling one of those perfectly erected edifices by pulling out something from the bottom. I have never managed to give such objective shape to the things I care for. A cigarette always hung in your mouth, bouncing to the rhythm of your words. And how you talked! You are a few years older than me and in those days that made all the difference. I wanted to know as much as you did, be as clever and dapper. I’ve never managed your grace, James, though I did manage to find a living that made me happy. You seem to have never found that and I’m not sure I’ll get to keep it. Back then we would spend night after night drinking cans of Hamm’s, the cheapest beer in the bar—which explains my unending dislike for people who go on about enjoying “good” beer—and chasing them with bourbons that were sprinkled lightly with Coke in a bad-faith approximation of a cocktail.  I would lean back in my chair and admire your gestures; your drunken animation nimbused us with happiness. The shadows of the bar were your theater, and we were all pleased to be able to listen to you go on about anything. Then you would disappear for days, sometimes months. And I admired that also because I have never cared enough about happiness or desperation to commit to either for long stretches of time. After a while you would come back and pick up where you left off. All of that restless energy, James. Mine took a different form but it is essentially the same in meaning. But look at where it has gotten us. We fall in love knowing full well that we are not good at it. We look for those perfect disasters without ever really realizing that is exactly what we are looking for. All the sunsets fail to convince us that the blue sky won’t last.  I love a girl that has left and all that remains of her are my memories of her brown eyes, memories that I no longer want.

The Weeknd’s “Wicked Games” is the best song I have heard on the radio in a very long time. It begins deceptively with bravado then becomes a raw account of love, anguish, aimlessness, loss, desire, renunciation, hopelessness, desperation, and vulnerability. And the amazingly original quality of The Weeknd’s phrasing reminds you of the invention necessary to help cross the gulf between feeling and expression.  Maybe you and I will never create this kind of art, James, but at least we know the heartbreaks that make it possible.