Archive for March, 2014

Regretfully yours

March 10, 2014

Now man is born to go a’loving, a woman’s born to weep and fret, to stay at home and tend her oven and drown her past regrets in coffee and cigarettes.          “Black Coffee”

It’s an emotion that gets less air time today than obscene words.  Granted, it’s not uplifting to hear someone linger over their mistakes.  When it comes to music, we’re more used to Sinatra’s approach:  “Regrets?  I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention.”  Once he’s neatly laid those aside, he can go on to belt out unapologetically how he did it his way, the arrogant bastard.

Are we doing anyone any favors by acting as if there weren’t a few journeys we traveled too far or for too long and from which we’ve never really returned?  Who would we have been if we’d taken a different road, if the timing had been different, if we’d known the things we know now?  Piaf was 45 when she recorded “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien.”  She’d be dead in three years.  You can’t tell me that she didn’t regret some things.  It’s there, isn’t it, just below her voice’s quaver.

Maybe we don’t want our art to echo despair our hearts already know  too well.  I’ll admit I’d rather hear Connie Francis’ spiteful “Who’s Sorry Now?” than Brenda Lee whiny “I’m Sorry.”  Or could it be that regret is less poetic than prosaic?  I watched a 1980 Dick Cavett interview of Richard Burton recently, and when Burton talks about alcoholism, his description pulls us hypnotically into the depths:

I think that nobody quite knows which drink it is that takes him over the edge of being merely a social or hearty, laughing drinker into a morose and hungover wretched creature who shakes and creaks and sweats and has nightmares, and it’s always November and it’s raining and it’s 3 o’clock in the morning and there’s nowhere to go and you reach out for a cigarette and smoke and think of all the horrible things you’ve done in your life and all the shames you’ve endured and suffered, and the shame you gave other people, and all the wrongs you’ve done other people.

It’s a dark place to dwell, a desperate emotion to have.  We’ve said some things, hurt some people, hurt ourselves.  In regret’s airless cellar, we store what we would prefer not to face, and in its dim light, there’s no need to pretend everything’s “all good.”