Wait For Me To Come Home
This morning, while I was listening to my radio on my way to work, I was struck by a set of songs one after another that were part of the same phenomenon. All were highly personal songs where the singer/songwriter was writing about a relationship problem with someone else, often in the context of having written and sung often about the same problem before, and yet the songs keep coming. To give one example, the song “When We Were Young,” by Adele, the second single from her record-setting brand new multi-platinum album, which almost outsold all of the other albums in existence combined last week in the United States, is one of many songs about the same frustrated relationship, where Adele keeps singing about a broken relationship where the other person appears to have no interest in communicating back, which is a shame, because Adele seems like a decent enough young woman and it is rather sad to see such a young woman suffer so long from an unresolved problem that has gone on for at least two (if not three albums) spanning four to six years of life. That kind of unresolved problem going on for years can cause a lot of damage to someone.
In a way, I felt particularly uncomfortable listening to such personal songs when I reflected upon the fact that these artists often write about their own torment. I was born in Western Pennsylvania, and on my family’s farm, and throughout that part of the Appalachians, there are scars on the earth where people had dug coal from the ground, and left the scarred ground, to be partially filled by toxic streams or imperfectly covered over by grass, once they had gotten what they wanted. The creations of an artist are like ore, and just like the coal and other resources that lie in the ground, bringing them up to the surface requires a great deal of suffering and torment and a great deal of danger as well. After all, there are often consequences for bringing things out of the ground and refining them. We may celebrate the ore that is dug up out of the ground or out of a sorrowful heart and troubled spirit, but we may not often reflect upon the price that is paid by those who do the digging.
Far more often than is often realized, songs are a part of conversations between artists who, for one reason or another, are unable to simply sit down and spent a few hours talking with each other and releasing the burdens on their hearts and spirits through reconciliation . The genesis of such a song cycle often comes about something like this: First, two artists are friends or work on the same song or are in some kind of romantic relationship, and something goes wrong. Then, because the problem is not resolved in a timely fashion, resentment and irritation builds until the frustrated party has spoken about it or sung about it in a public fashion. At this point the other party, blindsided by the attack, defends themselves in kind by pointing out things that bother them about the other person, and at this point a feud can get started very easily, and goes back and forth, or is joined by friends and associates picking sides or commenting on the feud, until what could have been initially resolved with an apology has sold a few hundred thousand copies or more of album and single sales, and at times even resulted in lawsuits and death. All of this happens because people who are very skilled at communicating in songs to a public audience are unable to successfully deal with respectful private communication with others, and because the sensitivities of artists often mean that what is bothering someone bubbles up into art before it can be dealt with privately. And once art becomes public, it can be used and abused by anyone else, and all too often is, without releasing the burden that led the person to create in the first place .
The fact that so many artists create their art out of what is obviously their own life has another further effect that increases the ambivalence of their existence. When we listen to a heartfelt song from someone who is obviously singing out of their own private suffering, or read what others write out of the wellspring of torment inside themselves, we often believe that we know someone else. When we see the ore or refined results of what someone has dug out of themselves, we know about them. We may know who they are writing or singing about, and we may know that regrets or concerns linger long after whatever has been said or done that has been said or done behind closed doors in private conversations and interactions, or the silent brooding in the heart that led to the problem in the first place, but we do not really know the person inside. What we know is information, and while we may feel as if we intimately know them in what we hear or read or see, at the same time their hearts lie at a distance, and the dark or gloomy voice they hear inside their heads is not the sound of our praise or applause, but the sound of the longing or frustration or torment that led them to create, a voice that cannot be silenced by any praise or acclaim, but that requires conscious monitoring and reflection and the difficult and lengthy processes of personal change.
Often I find myself wondering where the balance in such matters lies. Is the applause or praise or attention or honors that we receive for our art worth the torment that it costs us and the increase in stress and pressure in our personal lives because others are aware of the fact that we create out of our lives and may not particularly enjoy being the subject matter of our reflections? Do we gain more by releasing some of the intolerable pressures that we are under than we lose by making those intolerable pressures public, and therefore the subject of gossip and ridicule and the cause of painful personal and professional repercussions? Is the cost we pay as a result of having our personal turmoil become a matter of public and historical record outweighed by the comfort that other people are able to draw by knowing that they are not alone in their private torment, and that they can live with more comfort in that knowledge? Is it the lot of life of some of us that we should be canaries in a coal mine, suffering in the hope that others may see our troubles and recognize that these personal struggles are the warning of far larger suffering that is afoot that is a threat to everyone else? And if so, for what it is worth, let me lodge my protest that I did not volunteer for this task, but it was placed upon my shoulders as an unwilling burden, one unwilling burden among many that I bear as bravely and successfully as possible.
 See, for example:
 See, for example: