On ‘Damage,’ human connection, and those robbed of time

MONDAY MORNING PLAYBACK

In my unending effort to get into the holiday spirit, I spent the last couple days listening to KOOL 108 and reading “Damage,” the 1991 Josephine Hart novel that was later made into a film starring Jeremy Irons and Juliette Binoche. It’s the story of a button-down Englishman who falls in obsessive love with his son’s fiancée, who has never gotten over the suicide of her brother-slash-would-be lover. It all ends tragically, with one of the characters providing this summary to Hart’s protagonist:

“Men and women find all sorts of ways to be together, all sorts of ways. Yours was high and dangerous. Most of us stay on the lower paths.”

Not exactly “How The Grinch Stole Christmas,” but I must say there was a more spiritual — if that’s the right word — connection to imbibing in the internal chaos of fellow feeling human beings than to the external holiday cheer that demands we be merry and get out and shop, even though life has a way of bringing you to your knees every day, no matter what the calendar says. Hart:

“That is my story, simply told. Please do not ask again. I have told you in order to issue a warning. I have been damaged. Damaged people are dangerous. They know they can survive. All damaged people are dangerous. Survival makes them so. They have no pity. They know that others can survive, as they did.”

Friday night, as KOOL 108 chimed a beatific history of Bing, Bruce, The Beatles and beyond, the city sidewalks were singing and the mistletoe was bristling, and I was nursing a bad cold. A neighbor stopped by to pick up our daughter for a sleepover. As the neighbor admired the glistening Christmas tree, our daughters ran up and down the stairs and finally played a duet on the tin-pan alley piano we recently scored for free from our neighbors up the street.

My neighbor then said her goodbyes, telling me she was on her way to the wake of one of our daughter’s former classmates. The boy caught the crud last week. His mom was about to take him to the doctor, but he felt tired so he lay down for a nap. When his mother came to wake him, the little boy was dead. He was nine years old. Hart:

“When we mourn those who die young — those who have been robbed of time — we weep for lost joys. We weep for opportunities and pleasures we ourselves have never known. We feel sure that somehow that young body would have known the yearning delight for which we searched in vain all our lives. We believe that the untried soul, trapped inside its young prison, might have flown free and known the joy that we still seek.

“We say that life is sweet, its satisfactions deep. All this we say, as we sleepwalk our time through years of days and nights. We let time cascade over us like a waterfall, believing it to be never ending. Yet each day that touches us, and every man in the world, is unique; irredeemable; over. And just another Monday.”

The other day I was blipping away on Facebook, cleaning out my office, and, yes, listening to Christmas music. I got a call from a friend. She told me about her friend and former band mate; a musician, husband, and father of two who at the beginning of the month walked down a street in Minneapolis with a noose around his neck. Then he attached the rope to a bridge and flung himself over, his final performance piece. Hart:

“What is there to say of funerals? They are all the same and each one is unique. They are the ultimate separation, the ultimate letting go. For which of us would willingly join the body in its coffin in earth or fire or water? Life is usually loved more than our most sacred love. In that knowledge lies the beginning of our cruelty and of our survival.”

The last funeral I attended was Steve Foley‘s. It was the Friday of Labor Day weekend. Most everyone the guy ever played with was in attendance. We all talked about the last time we saw him, what we remembered, and Curtiss A sang the Beatles “In My Life.” Steve’s big brother Kevin got up and delivered a eulogy full of laughs and tears that was worthy of a turn-of-the-century Irish wake, so raw and ruddy were his cheeks and comments. Hart:

“I have sometimes looked at old photographs of the smiling faces of victims, and searched them desperately for some sign that they knew. Surely they must have known that within hours or days their life was to end in that car crash, in that aeroplane disaster, or in domestic tragedy. But I can find no sign whatever. Nothing. They look out serenely, a terrible warning to us all. ‘No I didn’t know. Just like you … there were no signs.’ ‘I who died at thirty … I too had planned my forties.’ ‘I who died at twenty had dreamed, as you do, of the roses round the cottage someday. It could happen to you. Why not? Why me? Why you? Why not?’ “

The next time I saw Curt and Kevin was at First Avenue last Monday night. Curt was doing his annual tribute to John Lennon, and Kevin joined his band of brothers to reprise “In My Life.” Curt and Steve Brantseg held their grieving friend’s hand, then Kevin stumbled off the stage into my and others’ arms. I introduced Kevin, whom I do not know well, to my big brother Jay. As the Beatles’ music enraptured the packed dance floor, I went to the bar and fetched some of those huge First Avenue Heineken bottles, and Jay and Kevin and I made a toast. Lennon/McCartney:

“There are places I’ll remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain

“All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I’ve loved them all.”

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