Saturday, July 6, 2013

Sad Songs Say So Much

A week or so ago Bill and I went to Maggiano's at the Kenwood Mall.  It's a franchise Italian place with a big dining room and a big bar that stretches across the front, mahogany-wood elegant, with a piano off to the side.  On Wednesday and Thursday evenings, a singer named Jenni Huss plays piano and sings requested songs.  We didn't really go there for that, but it was great serendipity.  What made it even better was this guy we ended up sitting next to at the bar table we were at.  He's faceless in my head, middle-aged, but he had a cologne halo around him that smelled like an upscale department store in Heaven, and beside him at the bar was a big gray prestigious shopping bag from Nordstrom's Men's Department (Nordstrom's is almost next door to Maggiano's), and he had a bottle of prosecco in a marble chiller beside that.  He was having a feast, all by himself.  At first it felt kind of sad, but what isn't?  You go with it.  It turned out the main reason he was there was to celebrate Jenni Huss I think.  He loved himself some Jenni Huss.  When she sang he was gleeful -- I didn't really look at him in the face because I was kind of embarrassed by his obsequiousness, but that's just because I wished I had a reason to live like he did right then -- but you could feel the glee coming off of him like radiation from sunburned skin.  He kept getting up and going to the bar for paper napkins which he wrote song titles on, laying them on the piano while Jenni Huss played.

Her voice was smoky and delightful and easy-going, kind of like Diana Krall.  The songs she sang were obviously ones the guy was wanting to hear.  They were possibly the saddest most beautiful choices a man could ask for, like Olivia Newton John's "Please Mr. Please," and the Carpenter's "Superstar," and then suddenly she went into "Blue Eyes" by Elton John.

Holy shit.

That's one of those songs you forget you ever heard, and then when it's revealed it brings back a huge ocean of feeling, like Proust's marmalade. 1982 Elton John was a sad case of too much and too little at the same time.  He seemed bloated and coked-out and his music had a plastic sadness to it, as if he had exhausted his "Yellow Brick Road," finally saying goodbye to it in a slow weird inconsequential drag.  At least that's the way I remembered it until hearing Jenni Huss sing "Blue Eyes," a single off of Elton's "Jump Up!" album.  She made "Blue Eyes" feel profound.  But it was also because I knew that the Nordstrom-bag-toting, prosecco-sipping Mr. Lonelyhearts had scribbled that down on a paper napkin because he really needed to hear it -- he needed that song to come out of that singer's mouth.  He had orchestrated this evening.  He had looked forward to it secretly, he had come to this evening with the knowledge that he would get exactly what he wanted.  I love that.  It's so hard to do, to get what you want without giving a shit what other people think.  It's like a miracle to witness, especially for me, with my skull full of self-consciousness and meanness and whatever else. 

This faceless guy in my head applauds vigorously after every song.  He is sipping his bubbly and he applauds and he eats a huge chocolate dessert and he applauds some more.

God bless you whoever you are.   You made our night.  I ordered "Elton John's Greatest Hits 1976/1986" the next day on Amazon.  I am listening to it right now.  The crappiest songs become hymns to survival sometimes.  They become transporters.  They let you back into your life.

"Sad Songs Say So Much" indeed.