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Sacha Guitry once said, "You can pretend to be serious, but you can't pretend to be witty." Oh yes, I'm the great pretender.
(pilot episode: 20 January 2004)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Anthems: Lyrical Life Lessons

Whenever I write about things like Life and Love, I noticed that I often have a couple or more songs whose lyrics I associate with the lessons learned. If many guys I know look to movies and books as their sources of Life Lessons, then I look to lyrics. Maybe because I grew up with pop music all my life. I was exposed to a lot of music at an early age; music was a lot more accessible than movies (movies cost more to watch either in a movie house or via video rental) and books (it was uncommon to borrow books from a library after graduation).

What were the anthems of my life? Here I attempt to list them all down, but I’m sure I’ve left out a lot more due to memory loss and a lack of free files to download. You will also notice that certain artists have numerous songs in my list. That’s no accident. That’s why they are some of my favorite artists.


“You’re In My Heart” by Rod Stewart - This was one of the earliest love songs I fell in love with. It was in the 70s, and my tiny transistor radio could only receive AM stations. I loved its innocence and simplicity, although my innocent mind at that time didn’t comprehend that the singer was an unfaithful lover who, after so many other lovers, would still go back to one. And the reason is beautiful in its simplicity.

You are my lover, you’re my best friend,
You’re in my soul.

You’re a rhapsody, a comedy,
You’re a symphony and a play.
You’re every love song ever written
But honey, what do you see in me?

And there have been many affairs,
Many times I’ve thought to leave.
But I bite my lip and turn around,
‘Cause you’re the warmest thing I’ve ever found.

“Weekend In New England” by Barry Manilow - Mr. Manilow’s ballads are very dramatic; notice the constant chord change in his songs as they crescendo towards the end? This particular ballad haunted me because it encapsulated perfectly, in music and lyrics, that strong yearning one gets when one’s desperate for love. Especially when one’s a grade schooler who sees love all over the television and the movies but wonders what it’s like to have someone to love and who’ll love him back.

And tell me, when will our eyes meet?
When can I touch you?
When will this strong yearning end?
And when will I hold you again?

“Ships” by Barry Manilow - This Manilow ballad meant a lot to me because it talked about a father-and-son relationship that was complicated and mournful. I was always closer to my mom. I loved my dad, but growing up I felt his love was a distant, functional kind. It was only years later, when the whole family went home to Bohol to bury the last of your grandparents, that I finally made peace with my dad. He did love us, just not in the way those ideal dads portrayed in old television series did.

We walked to the sea.
Just my father and me.
And the dogs played around on the sand.

I said, love’s easier when it’s far away.
We sat and watched a distant light.
We’re two ships that pass in the night.
We both smile, and we say it’s alright.
We’re still here.
It’s just that we’re out of sight.
Like those ships that pass in the night.

“It’s Only Love” by The Beatles - Growing up, I thought falling in love is easy but loving someone is hard. John Lennon dissed this song, saying it had lousy lyrics. Paul McCartney said he and John didn’t bother to fight over the lyrics of this song because they felt it was just an album filler. But what was a throwaway for them hit me hard.

It’s only love and that is all,
Why should I feel the way I do?
It’s only love, and that is all,
But it’s so hard loving you.

“So Lonely” by The Police - Ah, high school! Hormones raging, but dammit, I was in an all-boys school! Yes, I had my share of school crushes. Mostly they were the cute ones who often get the lead role in the grade school theater productions, but I also eyed some of the varsity jocks. But they were all impossible dreams, and this dreamer was left to mope.

Now no one’s knocked upon my door

For a thousand years or more.

All made up and nowhere to go.

Welcome to this one man show!

Just take a seat they’re always free,

No surprise no mystery.

In this theatre that I call my soul,

I always play the starring role.

So lonely.

“Message In A Bottle” by The Police - Sting was a master in describing loneliness. His early songs with The Police were often about heartbreak and isolation. For a closeted gay kid who was afraid of his growing feelings for his fellow men, Sting’s songs were strangely comforting. Someone out there understood me.

Love can mend your life,
But love can break your heart.

I’ll send an SOS to the world!
I hope that someone gets my
Message in a bottle, yeah.

Walked out this morning,
Don’t believe what I saw.
A hundred billion bottles
Washed up on a shore.
Seems I’m not alone at being alone.
A hundred billion castaways,
Lookin’ for a home.

“Eleanor Rigby” by The Beatles - A classic anthem on loneliness, made even bleaker when producer George Martin had The Beatles ditch their usual electric guitars and drums. The arrangement of violins and cellos over haunting lyrics made the song all the more mournful.

Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been;
Lives in a dream.
Father McKenzie writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear.
No one comes near.

Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name;
Nobody came.
Father McKenzie, wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave;
No one was saved.

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

“Left To My Own Devices” by Pet Shop Boys - The Boys started their career writing songs with an arch observations on love. Most of their love songs were always troubled ones; it was as if they never were lucky in love. And that spoke volumes to me. (That they were fey and affected was something I took note of, but didn’t really mind. So what if they’re gay? I was in love with the 80s electronic sound.)

I could leave you, say goodbye.
Or I could love you, if I try.
And I could.
And left to my own devices, I probably would.

“So Hard” by Pet Shop Boys - Another proof that love is hard. Faithfulness and trust are issues that will become important to me despite sheer lack of experience.

If you give up your affairs forever,
I will give up mine.
But it’s hard,
So hard.

I’m always hoping you’ll be faithful
But you’re not, I suppose.
We’ve both given up smoking ‘cause it’s fatal.
So whose matches are those?

Tell me why don’t we try
Not to break our hearts and make it so hard for ourselves?

“Jealousy” by Pet Shop Boys - Continuing with the trust issues, here’s a song whose lyrics were quite familiar to me, even though I never experienced them firsthand. Most of my friends had personally experienced cheating or being cheated on. And I was jealous of them.

Where’ve you been?
Who’ve you seen?
You didn’t phone when you said you would!
Do you lie?
Do you try
To keep in touch? You know you could.
I’ve tried to see your point of view,
But could not hear or see
For jealousy.

I never knew ‘till I met you.

“Rent” by Pet Shop Boys - To give and to count the cost. I was beginning to get disillusioned with Love as pure and Disney-white. Love is not only hard, it’s messy as well. And one’s motives aren’t always honorable.

We never, ever argue, we never calculate
The currency we’ve spent.
I love you, you pay my rent

I’m your puppet, I love it.

“Everybody Hurts” by R.E.M. - Aside from having a kick-ass music video, this song is also a reassuring anthem for all those times that I cried inside because I was heartbroken. (And take note, all of my heartaches were the unrequited ones. Pathetic.) I especially appreciated the “take comfort in your friends” line; they chose friends instead of family, which I think is more astute. Often the ones who can and do hurt you are your family.

Everybody hurts.
Take comfort in your friends.
Everybody hurts.
Don’t throw your hand, oh no.
If you feel like you’re alone,
No, no, no, you are not alone.

“1999” by Prince - On the flip side, after I’ve indulged myself in feeling sorry for myself, this Prince song is my pick-upper. Yeah, yeah, it’s sooo dated, sooo 1999. But what’s timeless is Prince’s call to party-til-we-drop. And one of the reasons why I was often in Malate during weekends was to heed his call.

But life is just a party
And parties weren't meant to last.
Everybody’s got a bomb,
We could all die any day.
But before I let that happen,
I’ll dance my life away.

Oh, they say two thousand-zero-zero
Party over, oops! Out of time!
So tonight I’m gonna party
Like it’s 1999!

“Miserablism” by Pet Shop Boys - This was the Boys’ response to a growing pop music sensibility in the late 80s and early 90s, a kind of nihilistic, “I don’t care” attitude that’s best embodied by Morrissey and his band The Smiths. I actually liked Morrissey, but what the Boys did was to take their argument one step further. So maybe Life favors misery. But what if it actually doesn’t? So Love is a second-hand emotion; but what if it’s not?

Deny that happiness is open as an option,
And disappointment disappears over night.
Say that love is an impossible dream,
Face the facts, that's what it's always been.

Meanwhile your life is still directed as a drama,
With realism on the sparsest of sets.
Every performance tends to reach the same conclusion:
No happy endings, but a message to depress.
Saying life is an impossible scheme;
That’s the point of this philosophy.

Miserablism: is is and isn’t isn’t.

But if is wasn’t, and isn’t were?
You can’t be sure, but you might find ecstasy.
(Oh no.)

“Liberation” by Pet Shop Boys - The Boys started out with a not-so-rosy view on Love; perhaps, like me, they were unlucky growing up. But eventually they grew older and wiser; strangely enough, they started featuring love songs that were actually hopeful. They had a particularly chirpy love song, “I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind Of Thing,” but this is a more subtle take.

Take my hand,
I’ve changed my mind again.
Really, I believed it true,
That all who fell in love were foolish.
But I was wrong,
I’ve learned that lesson well.
All the way back home at midnight,
You were sleeping on my shoulder.

To free in me,
The trust I never dared.
I always thought the risk’s too great.
But suddenly, I don’t hesitate, so...

Take my hand,
Don’t think of complications.
Now, right now,
Your love is liberation.

“You Choose” by Pet Shop Boys - For me, the wisest take on Love and personal responsibility so far. I now believe that someone who has a fair amount of self-awareness and self-control can never fall in love by accident. The feelings may come as a surprise; but one’s actions are still a matter of choice.

Lick your wounds,
Buy your booze;
You won’t get drunk by accident,
You’ll choose.
Don’t blame him
for refusing your bid.
He didn’t decide to love,
You did.

“Gumboots” by Paul Simon - Ah, the better half of the duo Simon & Garfunkel. I especially find his lyrics poetic. I like how he states observations in a spare yet quirky manner. This track from his groundbreaking album Graceland made me appreciate how persistence in love can be fun.

I said, hey Senorita, that’s astute!
I said, why don’t we get together
And call ourselves an institute?

You don’t feel you could love me
But I feel you could.

“Graceland” by Paul Simon - I loved how Paul Simon captured the feeling of falling in and out of love. It’s giddy, it’s messy, it’s total. But there is a saving grace at the end of the roller coaster ride.

There is a girl in New York City
Who calls herself the human trampoline.
And sometimes when I’m falling, flying,
Or tumbling in turmoil I say,
“Oh! So this is what she means.”
She means we’re bouncing into Graceland.

And I see losing love
Is like a window in your heart.
Everybody sees you’re blown apart.
Everybody feels the wind blow.

“Being Boring” by Pet Shop Boys - I see this song as an oblique reference to gay life and love. It’s also about growing old and trying to matter.

Now I sit with different faces
In rented rooms and foreign places.
All the people I was kissing,
Some are here and some are missing
In the nineteen-nineties.
I never dreamt that I would get to be
The creature that I always meant to be.
But I thought in spite of dreams,
You’d be sitting somewhere here with me.

“Outrageous” by Paul Simon - As the years pile up, I connect more and more with songs about growing old. It’s great that there’s someone who’s more advanced and more observant than me.

I’m tired, tired, anybody care what I say? NO!
Painting my hair the color of mud.

Who’s gonna love you when your looks are gone?
Tell me, who’s gonna love you when your looks are gone?

“Sure Don’t Feel Like Love” by Paul Simon - It’s the distillation of a tear drop and its role in sadness that gets to me. (That, and rhyming “salt” and “fault.”) In four lines, Paul Simon succinctly breaks down the anatomy of being wrong and feeling like a fool.

A tear drop consists of electrolytes and salt.

The chemistry of crying is not concerned with blame or fault.
So, who’s that conscience sticking on the sole of my shoe?
‘Cuz it sure don’t feel like love.

“Wartime Prayers” by Paul Simon - What affects me in this song is his attempt at becoming better than who he is. Paul Simon will turn 71 this October. I still have a long, long way to go.

Because you cannot walk with the holy,
If you’re just a halfway decent man.
I don’t pretend that I’m a mastermind
With a genius marketing plan.

I’m trying to tap into some wisdom,
Even a little drop would do.
I want to rid my heart of envy,
And cleanse my soul of rage
Before I’m through.

“Across The Universe” by The Beatles - Forget deciphering the lyrics, and instead concentrate on what they evoke. For me, the genius of this song is how it seems to give us a Big Picture yet puts our world in perspective. How small, how insignificant we are! And yet, we are thankful for it.

Limitless undying love, which
Shines around me like a million suns;
It calls me on and on across the universe.

Jai Guru Deva Ohm.
Nothing’s gonna change my world.

“The End” by The Beatles - I would like this on my epitaph. (Not that I want it to happen anytime soon though.)

And in the end, the love you take
Is equal to the love you make.

If my life were a musical.

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