Yesterday was a strange, tough day. First it was the ending of Michael Christie’s “If I Fall, I Die” that had me bawling, and then it was “End of the Line” by the Travelling Wilburys. Alas, when my wife asked me what I’d gotten up to in the afternoon, I had to tell her that I spent most of it crying. What is it about art that gets to that place? How come it holds a key to the gates of the heart? Why does it press upon that small and hidden thing when not even hearing stories of the Truth and Reconciliation report on yesterday’s news could bring the tears, although, looking back, I was probably just trying to be, you know, distanced, through what the Chief said on the steps outside the courthouse: this is a hill we have to climb together. Art showed me the foolishness of this distance and how sometimes the best thing you can do is lose your shit. Let it go, even if it means spending a day in the waters of your own despair.
It’s usually the “day care and night school” line in “Handle Me With Care” that destroys me– all of the women; all of the aboriginal women; all of the aboriginal women socialized to put their kids in orphanages and foster homes; all of the aboriginal women whose kids are taken from them (more than half of all Canadian kids in care)– but this time, feeling tender after finishing Christie’s brilliant and beautiful book (one of the central figures is an aboriginal youth living in Thunder Bay), I stayed clear of the Wilbury’s best song. Instead, A1– I’d just rotated some records, so I wasn’t sure what was where– produced “End of the Line,” and all was fine until the guitar lick at the end of each phrase triggered a deep emotional response, which made me think: Jesus, Bidini, not even a lyric this time? Worse, the riff is a happy riff; a celebratory riff, even. It’s repeated over and over because it’s so good and sounds like so much fun.
I thought of the riff and I thought of the band. I thought of Roy Orbison– his sad life, and how, Dave Thomas of SCTV once told me that the singer fell on their set and bruised his arms like he’d never seen anyone bruise– and I thought of George Harrison: love, The Beatles, death, the end. I thought of the studio engineers– who were they and were their lives sad, too?– and the fans and the world and how we, as men and women, tried to murder an entire people by sending children, young children, to schools run by monsters guided by hate, and then I thought of the guitar player. What of him? Had he played his beautiful riff even though he was sad or maybe because– deeply, secretly– he was sad? Or was he happy? Was he alive? Was he dead? And if he was, did he did die knowing he’d played this thing that should have made me rise on my heels and move through the air but instead had me slumped in tears while writing this. Fucking art. Goodamned art. Goddamned motherfucking art. This world. This music. Sometimes it’s impossible to escape the poison beauty of its thrall, and here was one of those times. A1 played and played and then the record ended. Then something by Stevie Wonder came on. I was able to get to the end of this.