“it’s a fool who plays it cool by making his world a little colder”

Day 4 – A Song That Makes You Sad

Hey Jude – The Beatles

You’re in your grandparents’ living room, amongst the potted ferns and layers of brightly colored afghans.  You’re feeling a little chuffed at the fact that you get included in the after dinner round of coffee, because you’re still just a kid, and none of your friends drink coffee, and then you need to stop yourself from rolling your eyes at…yourself… because omigod its coffee with your family, be cool, for god’s sakes.

Your grandpa is playing a tape of something, and telling a story, and you’ll realize 25 years later that you don’t even know if it was a cassette deck or a reel to reel player or what, because your grandpa owned every incarnation of audio equipment ever invented, in various states of refurbishment.  You don’t really know the song, but it just feels important; it’s this clear, light voice and the music is all plinky, but it has this undeniable gravitas you find confusing from the get-go.

And then you look around and you see that you’re not the only one feeling an effect from this song, your dad is completely transfixed.  Staring at nothing that’s in this room.  You listen to what your grandpa is saying, and what your dad starts adding.  This is a recording of your uncle singing “Hey Jude”. It’s a Beatles song, you’ve heard of The Beatles, you just don’t know many of their songs, really, and for whatever reason, someone had recorded your uncle singing it.

Your uncle died before you were born.  A car accident was the short answer you always got.  But then you got a little older, and the story got bigger, and it turned out your dad had been in that car, too.  But your dad is still here.  He wasn’t in a hospital for months, dying slowly.

Your dad knows every skip, every pop in this recording. He and your grandpa get more and more excited, pointing out details that escape you, talking over each other in a race to remember. They laugh when they get to the part where the uncle rushes the “Judy Judy Judy”s together

They’re happy.  They have tears in their eyes, threatening to spill.  It’s clear they want you to be part of this family mythology.  To know it.  To remember it.  To know the uncle you never met.

But even though you’re a kid, you know.  You know that there’s no way you’ll ever know how funny and madcap and just plain good this uncle was.  You’ll never know what kind of god-awful scar his abrupt departure from this life left on these people.  You’ll realize 25 years later, along with the bit about the tape deck’s unknown provenance, that they probably wished, more than anything, that you’d never know the mind-blowing horror that a thing like his death was to them.

And so, you’ll do your best.  Every time you hear the song, you’ll think of a man, a boy, really, that you only know from pictures.  And you’ll think of their loss.

And you’ll feel irrationally powerless that you have no way of taking a sad song and making it better.


17 responses to ““it’s a fool who plays it cool by making his world a little colder”

  1. A very touching story.
    I do like this memory-mining.
    My video is at Sad Beautiful.

  2. I feel like I’ve heard that song my whole life just to prepare me for that story.

  3. wow. speechless…

  4. Meme or not, this is why you shouldn’t take such long breaks from writing. Something that could have been sappy or maudlin or saccharin instead hit the perfect note.

  5. Thank you for sharing something so deeply personal and moving. I had chills as I was reading and really am feeling teary. What a beautiful and sad memory. I’m so sorry that your family had to go through such a thing, and happy that they did not lose both sons to that tragedy.

    • Thanks. But they actually did go on to lose my other uncle, in a separate car accident, 20 something years later. Way more than their share of grief.

  6. This was an amazing entry to read. On Saturday my family buried our 103 year old aunt/great-aunt, and then sat in a pizza restaurant for 3 hours, where I listened to my father and his brothers and their cousin reminisce about the family and the people they grew up with. Not the same as your story, of course, but maybe reading it means a little more today than it otherwise would have.

    Also, I second Chris’ sentiment above.

  7. effing brilliant.

  8. And after reading that, every time I hear the song, I think of this post and you. That is how beautiful this is.

    I’ve been reading your blog since I don’t even remember when. And I don’t comment much (I really should stop being this lazy!) but really, you are SUCH a wonderful writer!!!

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