Saturday, March 19, 2011

First Loves, Nostalgia, & Songs That Say "Look!"

"First Song"
From changes that I've been through
and new ones I'm comin' to
You were my first song
and I still ....
At sixteen, I discovered I had very strong feelings for my second cousin, dreamt even of marrying him.  He was from the city, I from a small town in the mountains, to which he'd arrived one season,  to go hunting with his uncle.  I never knew about this cousin before and--it was love at first sight, as they say.  He turned my world upside down.  It was unlike anything I had ever experienced before, as if fate had arranged this accidental meeting and this boy, and nobody else, was who I was supposed to be with, forever.  "So this is what Love feels like" I would have said if I could have put it into words. I had read about love in books.  Schoolgirl crushes and fleeting infatuations, those I knew.  But this--this seemed different.

I was so shy I could barely speak to him, let alone figure out how to get to see him again.  I didn't imagine him as simply a hoped-for boyfriend; no, this boy was to be the Love of My Life.  Now not only would this have been a long-distance courtship (had anything come of it), but my family and the Church would have absolutely forbidden it.  

I saw him perhaps only two other times within three years, and always in the company of relatives.  Yet from the moment we met, I was already planning our future life together.  I once asked the priest (not naming names, of course) if in certain circumstances a dispensation could be granted for second cousins to marry, realizing that whatever the answer, I was determined to find a way to make it work (only one of my then-emerging little inner rebellions against the head-shaking, finger-pointing "You Shall Nots" of my youth).  Not that my cousin had any inkling of this, of course; my love for him remained my own deep, dark secret. He was older than me, and when he was stationed overseas, I sent him little care packages of gum and candy and cigarettes and magazines.  He wrote back only once, cousin to cousin: a brief, scribbled thanks to someone he barely remembered.

Nostalgia, that gnawing ache for what was or wistful wish that what was had been different. I wish, for example, sometimes when I revisit that old memory, that that boy cousin could have known how I felt about him--and reciprocated.  But on second thought, I might have ended up married to him today, and oh  what different paths my life would have taken!  How she suffered, that poor girl, for this unrequited love.  "Take heart," I whisper to the then-me in the memory film.  "He is not 'the one.'"  She, of course, won't listen.  No one can take that dream from her.  I won't even try.  He will, for all time and eternity remain her first 'one true love', a dark-haired, Slavic boy with beautiful eyes whose adult counterpart would probably roar with laughter at this telling.

Apropos the final line of that song above, it is not my second cousin I "still love".  I don't know him and the boy he was no longer exists.  It's not even the immortalized version of him in my memory.  What I love--is the memory itself, and the wave of emotion it still brings when I run the little mental film.  It takes me There again, to that one moment, and I feel again what I felt then, this enormous, exhilarating, overwhelming rush of feeling that I've been swept up in something so wonderful, so magnificent, so special, just being in the loved one's presence.  "So this is what "Love" is!"  A favorite, private memory,  locked in the heart, till death do us part.  My adult me finds this hopelessly sentimental.  But "I still ...

 "Streets of London"

McTell's more well-known song, "Streets of London":  At 4:08 minutes in the video, a now much-older McTell responds to a sidewalk interviewer in Paris who asks how he feels about this song (which was written when McTell was part of an alternative culture), in that i has since gone on to achieve such massive appeal.

McTell:  "A little bit weird, actually," he laughs.  "But if you're going to issue something as a pop song," he says, "let's hope it's a pop song that makes people have a think--because there's a wonderful world of music and words out there that are not just what they sound like when you first hear them.  They're worth looking at again."

I first heard McTell sing in a little dive in Davis Square, Somerville (Mass.), and remember that every single person in attendance knew all the words to every song, and sang along with him.  When I listened to "Streets of London"  that night, I didn't see the homeless people he sings about--the picture that popped into my mind was of a rainy, empty, darkened London street in fog, images sliding out from an imagined scene from one of Arthur Conan Doyle's novels, maybe--because the melody, sound of the singer's voice and cozy atmosphere of the 30 or so people there (some of whom had come a great distance to hear McTell sing), obscured the meaning of the lyrics.  McTell tells the interviewer that poverty and homelessness (in Paris, where he was made aware of it, and in London, the setting for his song) that  "This situation is not just confined to this city--it's everywhere."

When a song outlives its composer/performer (also touched on in the interview) ... topic for another time.  I'm enjoying a little melancholic respite listening to two old, remembered songs as the TV news excitedly warns that "Particles from radioactive plumes from Japan arrive in California!!!"  I'm 'having a think', as McTell calls it, and thinking maybe one cannot live in a constant state of Fear. (That's Fear with a capital F, as opposed to the more common, little-bitty fears.)  Horror over the suddenly homeless in Japan (Africa, Haiti, and elsewhere) grabbing attention, while in our own towns and cities, some are into their 8th, 9th, 10th season of homelessness; an ongoing, seemingly permanent state of living--there, here--"outside," being "with out."  Re-listening to McTell's 2nd song made me think of that again this morning.

Out my window this morning, the sky so brilliant blue it sings, sunlight spreading everywhere.  The snow's begun its slow, slow descent into oblivion.  Thin patches of browny-green grass inch out from under the softened snowpile across the street, along the shed out back, near the walk by the fence.  More birds.  The air's different.

Spring is coming!!!!  Enfin!

1 comment:

Jim Murdoch said...

I don’t think my first love ever found out how I felt. She would have had to be very slow not to realise that I had some interest in her but there is no way she will have known the depths of my feelings. Love puzzles me. It’s been forty years since I fell in love with her and yet if I met her today I would still feel that I loved her and yet there have been a number of women that I have loved since her and I feel the same about all of them. A part of me expected that when I found a new love – hopefully my true love – that all my previous loves would fade away but I don’t find that to be the case which makes me feel guilty about my feelings for my current wife as if I’m somehow not living up to my part of the agreement. Of course if I met any of those women again they would be very different from the women I fell in love with, so different that they really wouldn’t be the same women and so, as you say, what I feel is more akin to nostalgia, an echo of past loves, that refuses to fade completely but keeps rattling round my head. I’m not sure I trust the word ‘love’ anymore actually. I say that I love my wife and act accordingly but I know that if she dropped dead tomorrow I’d end up loving someone else. It’s the ‘in’ bit I struggle with. I have loved many people but I’m only allowed to be ‘in love’ with one at a time and if I was to suggest that I was still in love with my ex wife … well, I know what’s good for me. I’ll leave you with this old poem:


I never understood
what they meant by "in"

as if love could somehow
change into a place

to crawl inside and hide.
To love is a verb,

a thing you have to do.
You don't have to hide.

25 March 1997