To me, the most poignant and moving things are the most totally absurd. Sometimes it’s a cartoon, or a completely ridiculous piece of music; even a joke if it’s told right. If it’s wholly maudlin or melancholy, sure, it can have an effect; but nothing stings at the back of my eyes quite so much as that conjoining moment when joy meets earnest absurdity and veils something real with it.
Without shame, I’ll say that the play within a play of a Midsummer Night’s dream gets me every time. I can’t explain why. Or when Amelie takes the arm of that blind Parisian and describes that mundane and ordinary slices of life he’d lost with his vision. Something sincere despite the complete weirdness of its context.
Having a boyish time-travelling alien demonstrate the love the world has for a tortured painter – unloved in his own time – and more than a century after his own suicide is like putting a gun to my head forcing me to blubber. I’m looking at you Richard Curtis.
Absurd, but in the best possible way.
The most recent thing to get me in this very particular way is a song by Neko Case called “This Tornado Loves You”. Quite apart from the fact that it’s a completely brilliant piece of songwriting and performance, the song grabbed me because of the unusual perspective from which it’s story is told. In this song, Neko takes on the role of a tornado hunting across the countryside for her absent lover, leaving a very violent path of destruction in her wake.
“Carved your name across three counties; ground it in with bloody hides. Their broken necks will line the ditch ’til you stop it.”
This makes her character rather an unsympathetic figure – leaving them “motherless, fatherless – with souls dangling inside-out from their mouths” as she continues her pursuit. But there’s something absurdly touching about how completely unconcerned she is with the cost of her emotions. How focused on her target. How much a force of nature she is and not a person – and yet so driven by the most human of feelings. Like she’s baffled by it.
Though it makes for a potent metaphor of a relentless lover, the singer doesn’t break character once. I think if she had, the song would lose some of its force.
The imagery is strangely moving, and the fact that the song and the lyrics are written so particularly to mimic the sound of whirling winds add much to the effect. What puts it over the edge for me is the fact that in the struggle to express itself, this tornado has to stop every so often to repeat itself. It presents a picture of the wind’s frantic rotation and also a struggle against its own nature to just fall into endless repetition. It’s like an unconscious stammer that threatens to take over when she’s saying the things that matter most.
When she says “I miss, I miss, I miss, I miss, I miss, I miss the way you’d sigh yourself to sleep” was what finally did it to me.
Absurd and beautiful all at once, and built gradually out of smaller pieces until it drives its point home on so many levels. I’m deeply impressed when any art can do that – especially song. So much so that I immediately started painting a portrait of the singer, and worked to finish it on the same night I started.
I can practically hear the eyes rolling from here, but that’s what stuff like this does to me, and I admit it freely. I’m a sap, and I don’t care.