I had intended to write my next post on music from Night Vale yesterday, but I'm glad something kept me from doing so. For I read the final third of John Green's Paper Towns this morning, and realized what was keeping me from feeling a strong connection to Barton Carroll's "Those Days Are Gone and My Heart is Breaking."
The narrator begets a child, but "couldn't stick around" and never even remains in contact with the mother or the child. This attitude, the lack of responsibility for the child is foreign to me. I immediately start judging him as a bad person. It is easy to treat him as a one-dimensional character, just as several characters in Paper Towns realize that they had been doing the same. Yet ultimately I know that we are all people trying to live the lives we have been given. I don't know what kind of life the singer had before he left his town. It implies he had friends, but these friends are abandoned (or abandon him). He had a mean streak, and a rage over being held back from what he thought he deserved. I did not grow up with similar feelings. I grew apart from friends, and I've had feelings of being held back. But ultimately I always felt the responsibility was on me, and I couldn't imagine abandoning my children. I don't have the same wounds that the singer has, just as Quentin doesn't have the same wounds as Margo. I haven't read Walt Whitman's poem, "Leaves of Grass" but Quentin interprets it as showing that while we all are connected, we can't truly know one another. I don't think that is true with everyone, but there are people that I cannot relate to. This is not their fault, and I need to remind myself not to judge harshly because of this. The song's narrator has clearly grown as a person, no longer filled with rage but rather with regret. He no longer feels held back by others, recognizing that he needs to put in the work to make connections and to earn his keep.
The melody is very repetitive, within a major pentatonic collection of notes. But the third line of each stanza is performed very quickly, within a single measure, which changes the flow. There is a lot of space after this third line, setting up the fourth line as a different end-rhyme (AAAB). These unpredictable rushes and pauses can exhibit the narrator's nervousness in trying to reconnect with his old friend. He knows he has made many mistakes, and needs to come clean in this attempt to reconcile. Perhaps this is a first, easier step towards making things right with his son. The last stanza eases the rhythm of the third line and doesn't rhyme as exactly. Besides bringing things to the present day, the last stanza changes the refrain from "Those days are gone and my heart is breaking" to "Those days are here, and my heart is waiting." He is thinking about the future, I think he is trying to fix the damage he did to his son and his ex.
So maybe I can find connections with this wounded man. There are plenty of mistakes I need to repair, even if not at the level of abandonment. I can understand the nerves, and the relief once a hard step is taken.