Valentine’s Day 2015
Fats Domino – “Blueberry Hill”
It’s after midnight, so technically it’s no longer Valentine’s Day, but anyone who pays strict attention to such technicalities deserves no place at this table. This is about love, and if you believe that love ought to be tethered to a specific day, you oughtn’t use the word at all….
When I turned 30, my family orchestrated a remarkably moving birthday gift.
I arrived at my parents’ house in the afternoon, fully armed with a clutch of discs I was ready to spin as I enjoyed my transition to the next culturally-recognized decade of significance (don’t all of us live lifetimes within moments anyway?), but I was cut off at the pass. I’d rushed to plop Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life onto the stereo (what a coup!), but my younger brother told me I had to wait. This made me a little angry. “You’re going to tell me how to musically enjoy my birthday?” I thought, selfishly indignant.
Then my present was trotted out. My sister Sarah had made a cake depicting a record, with my name and my age artfully displayed. The design was killer – fuck Stop & Shop and fuck your local cake company. This was better, I promise. As if that weren’t enough, my family had conspired to create a triple-CD mix chosen especially for me. Everyone had picked songs that made them think of me. That’s a tough place to be, in some ways. Very exposed. My older brother chose only tracks which we had seen in concert together, and so Einsturzende Neubauten’s “Haus Der Luege” played against a recording of my nieces and nephew singing to me. As with the best rock and roll moments, there is no way to reconcile the gulf across which such instances might pass.
One of the songs on the compilation was “Blueberry Hill” by Fats Domino. Part of the deal, such as it was, involved a game. If I could correctly guess which family member had picked which track up to a certain percent, I would be presented at the end of the dinner with a check for $100. I guessed most of them, and that $100, while much appreciated, is now a thing of the past.
But the song that really sticks in my mind, for whatever reason, across all the intervening, eventful years, is “Blueberry Hill,” chosen by my sister Sarah, who made that insane cake. When I asked her that day why she’d chosen it, she shrugged and said, “I just figured it’s just one of the best songs ever.” She was so right.
At the time of the gift and that birthday, I felt completely shattered and broken, but that’s another story. Or is it? Maybe that’s the real story, one that gets to the crux of the very function of this kind of music. I refuse to relegate music (or any art) to the realm of escapist comfort, and I don’t even think that’s what this song represents, but there exists the undeniable fact that in the dark of night, when we’ve been left more alone than we’d previously thought possible, there is some degree of solace to be found in a song.
And a song like “Blueberry Hill” (as though there are other songs like “Blueberry Hill”) is just the thing. It’s a tonic, a friendly shoulder upon which we might lean. Love. What is it? Most natural painkiller what there is. Love.
What do we love about it? The drums have more than a little to do with it. They don’t let up, like real pain doesn’t let up. The piano chugs ahead like a snowball gathering strength, girth, and speed as it swoons down the blueberry hill. And the voice, that miraculous thing, resigned, sad, full of possibility. How many times Domino wavers, quivers, and shudders, each variation a moment of doubt, the kind of doubt that encompasses not only the notion that things might not work out, but also the more terrible fear that everything might, after all, be ok. Sadness is in its own way resolved, it requires no out, it can go on forever. But his voice as it works with the rhythm and melody he chooses to live with for the duration of this particular proclamation – there’s the real alchemy.
There’s no explaining it. There’s no prompting it. There’s no using it. There can only be our attempts to deal with it. And maybe that’s some kind of love, or maybe it’s not.
But I’m going to play this song again tonight…