Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Common People

by Bill Kirton

Tears are weird. Why does the body have to produce fluid from our eyes when we feel sad? No doubt the scientists could give me a straight answer about it clearing the dirt out of our eyes so that whatever predator killed the person we’re grieving over won’t get us so easily or something. But, like laughing, it's a puzzling physiological manifestation. In fact, bizarrely, it’s its physiological opposite. When we laugh there are lots of little exhalations – as in ‘ha, ha, ha’ – but sobbing involves a succession of intakes of breath.

I don't cry easily. Not for any absurd macho reasons. I wouldn't mind if I cried. I do now and then. But it's the things that provoke the tears that make the reaction even more puzzling. The lump comes into my throat when I hear the pipes and drums, but I think that happens to everyone. There's some visceral thing about the pipes that drags the emotions up out of you. You give them labels such as pride, triumph, defiance but really you’re labelling something that's a bigger, more profound than all of them. If I knew what folk-memory was, I’d be tempted to say they’re something to do with that. But I don’t.

No, I start feeling the tears when I'm watching athletics, for example. As I see winners and losers alike flinging themselves down the home straight, striving, overcoming odds, these are the things that pluck at me. But why? It's just somebody running, for goodness sake. But this is where the pretension kicks in, because I suspect it's just because they’re striving. For those moments, moments towards which they’ve trained, they find structure, meaning, purpose. As I said in my previous blog, I happen to believe that life is absurd. So there’s a certain sort of glory in the fact that they do all those things in the face of that absurdity. It's our old friend Sisyphus again, knowing he's wasting his time but still determined to push the rock back up the hill. I think the athletics-related tears have something to do with the human spirit and hopelessness.

Which brings me to the title of this posting. There's a lot of music (as well as the pipes and drums) that makes me feel sad. But I think the only one which brings a lump to my throat every time is Jarvis Cocker's Common People. It’s the thought of the inequalities that blight our comfortable society, the fact that rich people can pretend to live like common people but opt out when things get unbearable by phoning their dad to take them away from it all. Which further stresses the fact that, for the real common people there's no escape. And yet they tolerate it, some are beaten down and corrupted but many are proud survivors, worth far more than the obscene values society puts on them because of the conditions in which they’re forced to live.

And when the shock jocks and their ilk crow that they should just get a job and pull themselves out of the mire, all that does is confirm that the tears are legitimate. It's about humanity but also about the absence of humanity in these ill-informed bigots.

Well, well, who’d have thought I’d be saying this just because, now and then, these glands in my eyes overflow?


Ben Small said...

"The Ugly Duckling" always does it for me. I saw it for the first time when I was four years old, and it's been a steady stream since. And please don't show me "Bambi." I hate making myself a mess in public.

Bill Kirton said...

You've revealed your weak spot, Ben. All I have to do now is mock up a photo of Bambi and Thumper sitting together reading one of my books and you'll buy it.

Jean Henry Mead said...

I get a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes whenever I see someone with nothing helping others, and finally rewarded for their good deeds.

Mark W. Danielson said...

It's not my grandmother's Scotch/Irish blood that draws me to the bagpipe, bur rather its solitary nature. The pipe's sound pierces the air like no other, which is why it was used to administer battlefield commands. A single bagpipe playing Amazing Grace chokes me up every time.

Bill Kirton said...

Jean, yes - all part of a world where people help one another. One which isn't always in evidence.

Agreed Mark, but a pipe band marching down the street, with its massed drones and rattling snares, is a truly stirring experience.