Driven to Tears

Ever since my mother passed away in 2008, I’ve been encouraged (hell, practically ordered) to work harder on feeling my emotions. This is particularly true of the things that make me sad.

Still, with a little help and training, I am finding it easier to “get up in my feels,” as the kids used to say. (At least I think they did.) I remember how moved I was when Tiger Woods won The Masters in 2018 and ran to embrace his children. I’ve felt the loss of friends a lot more than I used to.

My retirement was quite emotional, even though I managed to keep it to myself. I knew I would miss more than a few people I used to work with. And one of them made a “farewell” video for me featuring many of those people wishing me well. That one got to me. There are other occasions, but we can put them aside in order to get to the point of this particular rambling.

I would imagine it surprises absolutely no one that music has the capability to reach me on a deeply emotional level. Not all of it, mind you. But there are definitely moments, some of which are more surprising than others.

At first, it happened in the realm of Classical music. I was truly struck by the beauty and pathos in Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.” Its use in the movie Platoon was quite brilliant, as it signaled the true end of innocence for those forced to experience the horrors of war. Funny thing is, the music didn’t really hit me then. When I played the tune on its own, it really put the hook in me.

It happened again with Johan Sebastian Bach’s piece called “Sheep May Safely Graze.” I had been listening to this piece for years before it got to me. It invokes memories of a flight I took from St. Louis to Washington, D.C. We were above the clouds as the music played, and I found myself transported to another place. There’s something about the combination of the music and flight that finds that spot in my heart every time.

Another guaranteed tear-jerker comes from Beethoven and his “Moonlight Sonata.” How can one not be touched by the tenderness, the isolation, and the depth that comes from that solo piano? The music is so open and absorbing it tugs at your very soul.

I was (and remain) a huge fan of the Battlestar: Galactica reboot from c. 2004. Bear McCreary wrote some fantastic music for that series, most of it based heavily in percussion. And while I loved those sounds, it was the strings from another piece that absolutely slays me.

While it was featured on BSG, I didn’t learn from the longest that a piece used in Season 2 was actually composed by Phillip Glass. Which explains why I could never find it on the soundtrack releases.

A member of my Facebook group reminded me of the extremely touching solo Trey Gunn has in King Crimon’s “Deception of the Thrush.”And he was right! Not only does the song make absolutely beautiful use of space, but Trey’s playing during his solo will soften the hardest of hearts.

It’s not just classical or prog-oriented music. I’ve been deeply moved by a pop song, as well. The depth of “God Only Knows” by The Beach Boys cannot be understated. I’ve written about Pet Sounds before, declaring it a perfect album. I stand by that, and say this is the most perfect of all the recorded perfection, where this album is concerned.

It was almost funny how I was nearly reduced to tears by a movie character, but it happened. In a COMEDY, no less. I really enjoy Jack Black’s School of Rock for its passion and complete and utter implausibility. That being said, Maryam Hassan’s character — a shy girl named Tomika — absolutely blew me away with the singing ability that had to be coaxed out of her. It was Aretha Franklin incarnate, and the actress reminds me so much of my own daughter, who also has a beautiful singing voice that has to be dragged out of her more often than not. I could so relate to Tomika’s parents, who clearly had no idea their daughter had that kind of voice. The look on their faces is exactly the same as mine: it’s complete and utter shock, followed quickly by joy and the immense pride only a parent can have for a child. I’m near tears just thinking about it.

This whole piece was spurred by Sigur Rós, whose “Untitled 8” never fails to get an emotional response from me. It’s one of those tunes that starts out calmly and builds until you are pretty much jell-o by the time the band reaches the song’s crescendo. That the song takes nearly 15 minutes to get where it’s going is completely beside the point. The fact the tune can string the listener along for that period of time is part of what makes it great.

No discussion of musical tear-jerkers comes from me without the mention of We Lost the Sea, another post-rock band whose album Departure Songs has also been declared perfect by Yours Truly. I name-check this band and album a LOT, and I do it with good reason.

I’ve told the story a thousand times how the accidental discovery of this band led me from listening while typing to just listening and then crying by song’s end. What seemed redundant was building to a sound I wasn’t completely ready for. No one I’ve shared this tune with has questioned my sanity by the time the piece was over. Good to know they were hearing the same thing I was.

I suppose the point of this particular diatribe is this: never underestimate the power of music. It can take you to the most unexpected places, if you give it a chance.

I was once told by a friend that no one could be moved by music. Clearly, I said to him, he hadn’t been listening to the right songs.


You can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (cirdecsongs) My book, I Can’t Be the Only One Hearing This: A Lifetime of Music Through Eclectic Ears, is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine book dealers. I’m currently working on my next book, The Wizard of WOO: The Life and Music of Bernie Worrell

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