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Twisting all the bad things into good

Oct 20, 2011

The Nitty Gritty, Part 10: Songs That Went Unsung

I could always live in my art,
but never in my life.
Autumn Sonata


           I sat on the floor of the elevator, looking at images of my parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins that were in the floor tiles. They were mostly from family gatherings from when I was a small child. Others were from before I was even born. I realized when I looked at these that my father had been a great artist when he was younger. The images spanned several years, but stopped around the time that I was just a few years old. It became clear to me that he had sacrificed his artistic ambitions for the sake of his family. Although he never spoke of it, I knew now that he once had a fire inside to create that, no matter how much money he made, would never be satisfied. This kind of fire never completely goes out. It continues to flicker, even if it is so deep in some dark cave that you would never know it even existed if you had not discovered it only after getting lost. Even if this bonfire of inspiration can not be seen, it still burns until the last ember dies out along with the man.

         I knew in that moment that this is where I got my desire and my need to write. I could only hope to one day create something that I could be proud of. Fiction or non-fiction, even if it was just a song or a short story, I just wanted to write one thing that held some meaning to someone besides myself. Something that may even have some kind of inherent value after my death. Something that I would be proud to let speak for me after I could no longer speak for myself. I started to wonder if this fire inside was the reason that I had made a habit of sabotaging my relationships with women. For me, there always seemed to come an uneasy complacency with being in love that seemed to rob me of all my ambition, as if I needed nothing else in the world besides the love of a beautiful girl. Maybe this caused the fire inside me to slowly burn into some form of misdirected resentment. Then again, it is very likely that I was once again doing nothing more than simply romanticizing my own character flaws, turning my lack of character into the subconscious actions of some kind of  "tortured soul". Perhaps I was just too selfish to put anything ahead of myself and my dreams, even though I was doing nothing to achieve them. It seemed more likely that I just accepted the fact that I was never going to do anything with my life. If I would have had even a moment of honesty, I would have been able to recognize that I was well on my way to living a life much worse than that of someone who failed to achieve their dreams. I would be wrought with the regret of knowing that I never even tried, of being nothing but a lazy coward. Maybe this is why I couldn't even think about having a wife or kids. Why subject anyone to the misery of living with this kind of person? Someone who at 21, could only think about how John Singleton had written and directed Boyz n the Hood at this age. The day before he turned 28, he could only think how his idol, Jim Morrison was already dead by his age. Someone who at 30, regretted all that he did not do in his 20's. Then at the age of 33, being able to safely say that Jesus Christ, no less than the most influential person in human history, had accomplished significantly more by this same age. This kind of madness could go on forever. There was no reason to build a family around this kind of man. The kind of man who never looked forward, only back in regret.

           I was truly touched looking at these fantastic works of art my father had created. Before this, it's exquisite detail had only touched the blind soles of men's shoes and had repeatedly been stabbed by ladies' unfeeling high heels. I wondered how he could have never spoken about his days as an artist. Most of all, I wondered how he never let his past dreams that never manifested interfere with his life, at least not visibly. Was it possible to let go of the images that would only exist in his mind, the drawings that would never come to life on paper, like some great song that would go unsung only to die with the singer. Maybe it was something that burned within him from time to time, but he was able to extinguish that fire with the love he had for his family. He was another in a long line of those whose art would only be appreciated after their death, like some failed writer who kills himself only to have his diary reveal to everyone but himself that he was a creative genius.

           It became clear to me on that elevator floor where I got my creative ambitions from. I began to wonder where his came from. I wondered if his father, my grandfather, had these kind of dreams when he was a young man. I wondered what kind of dreams he must have had and what kind of person he once dreamed of being. It kind of made sense that this man, who as a child I loved as much as any grandson could even though he called me "Danny" instead of Jimmy, had the same demons of regret that I was haunted by. Maybe this was why he spent his life drowning himself in vodka. My father once told me that he never knew his dad drank until he saw him sober once. Besides fathering my dad and 2 uncles, I can only look at his as a wasted life. Before this enlightenment in an elevator, I always thought maybe his alcoholism was due to things he may have experienced while fighting the Nazis in North Africa during WWII. Perhaps it was rooted even deeper, back to when his own father was murdered when he was a child. My father did not drink alcohol. My mother knew that I was quite fond of it. She would warn me about alcoholism skipping a generation. Later, after my "episode", or perhaps "mini series" if you will, I would wonder if it was possible that, like alcoholism, perhaps mental illness could also skip a generation. I remembered a diary of his that I came across a few years earlier from before my dad was even born. Some of the writing was not possible to make any sense of. When I first found it, I read a passage and immediately thought,"Damn, Grandpop was fucking wasted when he wrote this".

"high class guy made sad stories. Why tell him sad stories? 
His mustache was on fire. I didn't want to spit in his face"
- 1947 diary of Daniel Patrick MacDonald

           After suffering my own delusions and hallucinations, and as a result coming face to face with my own demons, I couldn't help but think maybe I had inherited whatever form of insanity that had overtaken my mind from him. I was scared that in the end, my life would be just as sad and have as little meaning as his did. Then I realized that mine would mean even less. I would have no sons or grandchildren that could stand as the only justification for my sad existence. Maybe this was a good thing. Maybe no life at all was better than the kind I felt I too may be destined to live. Maybe my demons were his demons. Maybe I was cursed. Maybe, like my grandfather before me, I was doomed.

Brandy, Jimmy, GrandPop

I don't sing because I'm happy; I'm happy because I sing.
                     William James


  1. Jimmy, you continuously see yourself as being less than any/all of the good things that you are (IMHO). Everyone is their own worst critic, I know, but truly, none of us ever gets life entirely right. Apologies are always too late, and regret is a waste of time. If you can move forward and go through your days knowing that you're doing the best you can at any given moment, you can always meet your own eyes in the mirror every night. Thank you for sharing your writing. You are talented at this, and I really enjoy reading your thoughts.

  2. We will not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it.