Friday, January 13, 2012

Driven to Tears

I'm in Maine at the moment, visiting my parents and also taking a few days away from my usual routines so I can tackle a couple sets of revisions with fresh eyes and a relaxed noggin, in a different space than I normally do. The drive from Boston takes about two hours, and I bet I spent at least half that time crying.

Before you worry, I wasn't sobbing, my vision wasn't impaired, I wasn't having a mental breakdown. I wasn't even upset. I blame the music… Though I must say, I was overdue for a good cry. Felt damn good.

Me crying to music isn't a phenomenon. I can't sing along to a single track on Joni Mitchell's "Blue" album without my voice cracking and my eyes watering, but that's Joni fault. Have you listened to Little Green or A Case of You? I defy you not to sob. Same with Martin Sexton's My Maria. Then again, I lose it over Tom Waits' Jersey Girl, so it may be me.

But the music in question from today's crying jag came from a CD I'd just burned for my mom, for her birthday. It was a compilation of a bunch of our shared favorites from my childhood, plus a couple numbers from my teenage and adult years, and it was pretty much all pop. So why the sobbing? I blame some kind of nostalgia allergy.

I started crying on track one, Judy Garland's Sweet Sixteen, which isn't sad in any way. Then the Carpenters' Top of the World, a ridiculously cheerful song, and similarly the Monkees' Daydream Believer. The next track, Bread's It Don't Matter to Me… Yeah, okay, I brought that on myself. And John Denver's Calypso, yup, balled through it, too. The Bee Gees—yeah, still crying, ditto Olivia Newton John. (I was born in 1979, so I grew up on a healthy dose of my mom's lingering disco records and early eighties' pop, and happily so. I blame my present-day Kylie Minogue habit on it.) I really lost it during James Taylor's Mexico, but I can't actually sing through any James Taylor song without crying for some reason…except Mockingbird. That one's safe. Anyhow, the list goes on, all the way north to Kennebunk. But then I let the CD flip over and started crying again when Bread cropped up a second time. Thank goodness the theme from the film version of The Goodbye Girl wasn't available on iTunes when I'd been putting the CD together. I'd probably have wrecked the car.

What is up with this? Most of these songs aren't sad, and they only trigger happy memories from my childhood…like dancing around to The Pointer Sisters' Jump in my childhood living room. Yet this happens to me regularly. It's almost like the songs are set to some weird wavelength that short-circuits the memory center of my brain. It's as potent as a scent-triggered memory, and a smell's never made me cry. Not that I remember, anyhow.

The singing has something to do with it, too. I don't cry just listening to James Taylor's Walking Man, but if I sing even a bar of it, my voice cracks and my eyes well. Is it just me? Does anybody else burst into tears, singing along with the songs from their formative years? Or am I just a sentimental weirdo?

I hope it's universal. Can't wait to imprint my future kid's brain with latent emotional triggers wired to Elvis Costello and Neko Case.


  1. I don't think my case of nostalgic-music-induced weeping is as severe as yours, but I definitely do my share. Joni Mitchell -- yeah. "Little Green" is pretty much tears in song form. I've been singing Kidlet to sleep since he was born, so thank goodness James Taylor doesn't make me cry, or I'd be doomed. No day is complete that doesn't include "Oh Susannah" and "Sweet Baby James." Which means I'll be singing them in your ear as you drift off at RT, I suppose.

  2. You're creepy. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to it.

  3. It's only creepy if it makes you cry, and I do it anyway.

  4. My 8yo says her faves on Blue are Carey and Little Green. She and I were singing The Circle Game (off Ladies of the Canyon) this morning, and I got all choked up.