Saturday, November 01, 2008

the power of the juxtaposition of opposites in sparking memory, provoking thought, and stirring the emotions; or, how to wallow in pop music

My fave radio station WFUV is doing a show right now they call "Point-Counterpoint." The concept is to play songs that either contain a an argument between opposites (e.g., "Should I Stay or Should I Go Now" by the Clash) or work in pairs to counter each other, the most obvious pairing perhaps being Neil Young's "Southern Man" and "Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynrd Skynrd.

The last set included four tunes about various stages in relationships. Starting with Chicago's "Beginnings" and Roy Orbison's "It's Over," it concluded with "(Just Like) Starting Over" by John Lennon and "Overs," a Simon and Garfunkel song I was not familiar with.

John and Yoko's Double Fantasy was one of the albums that presided over AOR radio during my adolescence. I even recall hearing "Starting Over" at the skating rink once. Hearing it now, I feel a pang--it's about a long-term relationship that renews itself. In fact, it sounds like an anthem for mid-life parents, "Why don't we take a trip we used to in the early days"--perhaps before kids and mortgages and parent-teacher conferences and IEPs and bus schedules and the barrage of grown-up responsibilities and the dull, steady accumulation of irritations and resentments.

"Overs," which is quite obviously about a couple parting, is at least as sad. "No good times, no bad times, / There's no times at all, / Just the new york times." This is a story of love grown, not cold, but tepid. "We might as well be apart / it hardly matters." Why do some relationships work, and other fail? When do you give it the old college try, and when do you say enough is enough and call it quits? If after one union ends you make a commitment to another, who's to say that won't turn out just as badly down the road? Where do the dreams of beginnings go? Wherefore the resolutions, the vows, the promises? Where are the snows of yesteryear--oops, sorry, wrong century.

Longing, nostalgia, questioning, grief, resignation, hope, fear: when one is a poet, I suppose it is all grist for the mill.

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