Monday, August 2, 2010

"Teddy Told Me Nostalgia Means The Pain From An Old Wound"

When I wrote about karaoke nights at CND Tavern a few weeks ago, I was trying to make a point about the pleasures of lingering in the limelight, but I neglected to mention another reason being there is especially precious to me. There is another sweetness to these last nights that is less about ersatz Stardom and more about community, the communal and democratic experience of singing for the sheer love of the song. You follow along with the words on the screen, you hear the voices joining in around you and it's as stirring and soul-satisfying as singing together from the hymnal.

Despite the occasional rap from a Fergie wannabe, most of the songs listed in the tattered black karaoke binders are a few years older and much more, shall I say, embedded? Sometimes the actual lyrics on the tiny screen surprise us ("Jeremy spoke in class today?" Who knew the song was so grim?), but most of the time the old favorites are as familiar as good friends and the first few bars elicit gasps of recognition. We sit and watch the singer and drink (sparkling water for me) and sing along to "Ray of Light" and "I Am the Walrus" and "Paradise By The Dashboard Light" and it's like an American version of Brit filmmaker Terence Davies' movies, where 1950's Liverpudlians gather at the neighborhood pub and sing songs together long into the night.

In the films Distant Voices, Still Lives and The Long Day Closes, director Terence Davies forges an exquisite art form from the tailings of his nostalgia for a very particular time and place, the working class neighborhoods of post-war Liverpool, England where he spent his childhood.

I have not yet seen Davies's latest film, Of Time and the City, but I was blown away by Benjamin Schwarz's beautiful review in a recent Atlantic.

Here are a few gorgeous lines from Schwarz's review:

"Davies grasps that family life and childhood contentment are orchestrated by a presiding intelligence, almost always female, and nourished by a thousand domestic details, meaningless in themselves.... Of course the fleetingness, and the awareness of the fleetingness, of childhood and family happiness is hardly a novel artistic theme. It lies at the heart of, say, Hopkin's 'Spring and Fall,' and Little Women--and, for that matter, 'The Folks Who Live on the Hill,' Meet Me in St. Louis (one of Davies's favorite movies, which he has discerned 'tapped into something primal, almost like a fairy tale'), and, well, that famous Carousel scene in Mad Men. But usually the accompanying emotion is merely rue, and the intended effect cathartic--the acceptance of loss. This film insists that the loss is absolute and all-consuming. Davis has often said of his childhood, with a conviction as though freshly wounded, that he will never again be so happy. At first that remark seems naive or perverse or, at the very least, immature. But Davies's genius--and no doubt much of his chronic discontent, a psychological state to which he readily attests--lies in his inability to reconcile himself to that passing. Davies's nostalgia, I think it's fair to say, isn't exactly that of an integrated adult, as the mental-hygiene professionals would put it. But owing to his immaturity and his solipsism, that land of lost content has rarely been recalled so insistently and its loss raged against so defiantly. In averring that his wound will not heal--I will never be so protected and I will never be so loved, he seems to mourn--Davies forces his audience to recognize that they are similarly afflicted."

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