The most popular post on my blog is a collection of quotes from a movie that were originally stated elsewhere. The movie is The History Boys, and it contains a delightful assortment of snippets—songs, poetry, quotes from other movies, literature, you name it. I decided to compile all of these allusions, complete with accurate citations, nearly four years ago, and it turned out that others appreciated my sleuthing enough to make that my top-visited post of all time… even if it is simply an assortment of completely unoriginal material.
Ego bruising aside, I’m glad I investigated the original quotes. I developed an appreciation for A.E. Housman and—most importantly—I enjoyed hunting for “Easter eggs” in the movie. I admired the writers even more for making a movie that made me want to examine their work more closely, especially since it led to my discovery of some fantastic authors and artists. One of the things I miss most about college is the atmosphere that facilitated (and necessitated) this literary exploration and discovery.
Every once in a while, though, I stumble on an opportunity to investigate something many people (including myself) may think is banal. I relish this most this when it involves music.
Good music is an homage to wonderful music before it.
Great music is innovative and unique.
Wonderful music is both.
R.E.M. made some wonderful music. And while the vast majority of people—devotees and dissers alike—probably wouldn’t put “Everybody Hurts” in a list of their Top 50 favorite R.E.M. songs, it’s the song that got my attention today when I happened to watch the music video for the first time.
Here’s a rough outline, in case you’re unable to watch the video: Michael Stipe in his charming bowler hat and the rest of Automatic-era R.E.M. are in a car during a traffic jam. We start to see a collage of normal-looking people in unmoving cars, and the screen is subtitled with the lyrics to “Everybody Hurts”… until it isn’t, and the text starts deviating from the lyrics slightly. I got ready to hit pause and take notes.
Many, many people have documented the text that appears on the video in lieu of lyrics, and several have contributed their interpretations with regard to the alternate text and R.E.M.’s intentions. I have no desire to do so, but I did notice that some lines deserved a closer look.
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
Biblical. This is from Psalm 61, which you can read here. As a kid, the Psalms were always my favorite. I didn’t go to church; I had no reason to dig out a Bible, ever. But I often did—something my parents found mystifying. And when I’d flip through my leather-bound, gold-leafed book, I always stopped at the Psalms. I saw prose, prose, prose, all about snakes and lineage and rocks, and then I would come to poetry. Psalms were poetry. Literally psalms means “praises,” but I remember hearing at some point that psalms were songs, and instantly paid them more attention. I had an enormous volume of every Beatles lyric ever written, and when I read Psalms I felt like I was reading history’s first libretto.
Psalm 126 speaks to me far more:
They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.
Also from the music video, and also Biblical. The translation I found of this line (NIV) is better than what was included in the video: “Those who sow with tears / will reap with songs of joy.” It’s a wonderful sentiment regardless of your religious predilections (or lack thereof).
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone.
During one of the many phases of my life I held an infatuation with William Shakespeare, almost akin to that one girl from 10 Things I Hate About You. I took a high school elective class in which all we did was read aloud from Shakespeare’s plays for an hour. That sounds fairly normal, except that we met at 7 a.m. So for three days a week I would wake up at 6 to read Shakespeare for an hour with eight or nine other students. The other two days during the week I would wake up at 6 to sing jazz songs for an hour, starting at 7 a.m. You can tell I was one of those ne’er-do-well types, always looking for trouble. The upshot is that now I have a knack for narrowing my eyes and timidly saying, “oh! uh… that sounds familiar…” when I think I hear something Shakespeare or Cole Porter may have written.
“Then can I grieve at grievances foregone” is a line from Sonnet XXX (that’s Shakespeare, not Cole Porter, and unlike many of Shakespeare’s sonnets, this one is not remotely naughty).
Often we think there’s a season of grief: there’s a period to grieve, and eventually that period ends, and we move on. But grief happens because of memories, good and bad. As long as those memories are present, won’t the potential for grief also be present? We owe it to ourselves to give in to those “sessions of sweet silent thought” (especially around the holidays), and to let others do the same. The worst thing we can do is expect that grief has an expiration date, though I do believe it—like everything else—comes to an end, at least temporarily.
Grief can strike at any odd moment, and the best part of Sonnet 30 is that it’s cyclical: “All losses are restor’d and sorrows end”, until we give in to another session of sweet silent thought… if we do, indeed, give in to it. I think it’s highly admirable that William Shakespeare [presumably] recognized the need and gave himself permission to grieve. May we all do so and give others the space to do so, as well. Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.
It’s been a while since I’ve actively read Shakespeare, and I’ve been through that sonnet at least a dozen times since I found it. It’s worth reading a dozen more. It’s mysterious and beautiful—as all wonderful things are.