There wasn’t even time to say
Goodbye to Wendell Gee
So Whistle as the wind blows…
Whistle as the wind blows…
Closing R.E.M.â€™s â€œFables of the Reconstructionâ€ album, â€œWendell Geeâ€ is one of those perfect examples of what Michael Stipe and Co. do so very well â€“ that is, reify the mundane into these revelatory narratives that pull meaning from your subconscious mind. (Sounds simple, right?) Last night, I had a series of nightmares. Only, I wasnâ€™t quite asleep. The crux of it is that when I think about everything thatâ€™s happened with my dad, and how I lost him, I feel horribly derelict for not being there for him in his final moments. â€œAfter everything he gave me in life,â€ I think, â€œhow could I not have given him the comfort of knowing he wasnâ€™t alone?â€ And, of course, I had no idea. It was a perfectly normal day â€“ a little rainy, a little cold â€“ but nothing terrifying. Typical November in
Still, itâ€™s irrational to the extreme, but it feels like a complete shirking of the single-most important thing I could have ever done for my dad.
Which naturally leads on to â€œWendell Gee.â€ And I canâ€™t quite explain how itâ€™s happening, but itâ€™s making it all right â€“ saving my life, even. Itâ€™s not about me. Or my dad. But itâ€™s about a sudden, mythic loss. And it seems like it understands what it feels like to lose in way thatâ€™s otherwise violently incomprehensible… And more than that, it seems to know the impossible fervency of the wishes that follow… (â€œIf the wind were colors / and if the air could speak…â€) And somehow, I know Iâ€™m not alone (in an emotional sense).
You canâ€™t equate the loss of one person with another. You just canâ€™t. You might argue that the loss of an Einstein is far worse for Man than the loss of a random actress. But Heddy Lamarr gave us radar (really) and Einstein gave us quantum mechanics and the A-Bomb. Who knows where things would have gone had either of them lived? And what about their families and friends? Do you think you could convince either party that the other was worse off? Yeah. Me, either.
Anyway, back to my original point, I think that the most important thing when youâ€™re wounded is to know that others have lived through the same wound. (And, obviously, people have. You and I are reading this, and Iâ€™m not the only one to lose someone. (Well, along with the Lamarr and Einstein families, that is.)) You need to know that the road youâ€™re traveling has an end, and that there are probably going to be snacks, and that youâ€™ll get to sleep in a nice, soft bed. (Or tree, even.) This song puts its hand on my shoulder and… well, I understand.
Which is not to say that there havenâ€™t been helping hands along the way. Itâ€™s just that this song provides a point of crystallization â€“ and, honestly, thatâ€™s the truly transcendent thing about music, isnâ€™t it? I can finally understand because Iâ€™m primed to understand. I think the best things in life stem from this total integration of art and life â€“ itâ€™s like being able to dream out loud. Beautiful.
And so, Iâ€™m telling you this after closing my eyes, holding my mp3 player to my breast, and crying a little… because, just now, a song saved my life. And if youâ€™ve ever had to talk to me about this subject, and been frustrated, you have something to thank for finally making your words go in the right boxes. Artâ€™s a better tomb for my grief than my own soul. Iâ€™ve been looking for a way to memorialize my dad â€“ to enshrine those feelings of loss, grief, and doubt â€“ so that Iâ€™ll always be able to recall the single-most visceral experience in my life. And, I suppose, as a banner of what Iâ€™d like to do better… And Iâ€™ve found it… not in my fatherâ€™s songs, but in my own.
There wasnâ€™t even time to say goodbye to Wendell Gee. And there wasnâ€™t time to say goodbye to my dad. And even though a dark cloud may come from time to time, and the wind may howl, I know that I can whistle as it blows, and that one day it will speak in colors…