(not sure why they include the photo of Josephine Baker with this tune on You Tube, but I chose it for the performance not the picture)
Several different places the last several days, I’ve seen it mentioned and I didn’t want to let it go by without saying something myself. This is the time of the year when we see so much joy and familial togetherness all round. It’s not just the media. Everyone’s on social media talking about how lovely it is being with their family. Your neighbours are happy and it’s entirely possible that you are, too.
But the statistics show that many people are very alone. Not simply physically isolated, though there is certainly that, but completely at their wits’ end with the family that they might otherwise avoid the rest of the year. Again, I’m not talking about you. As a matter of fact, if you’ve had a wonderful holiday time and don’t want to be brought down with morose talk, then you should really move along now anyway.
I’ve seen a few helplines advertised that’re there for desperate people to call. If somebody feels helpless in these dark, short, cold days, he or she is encouraged to call the number and talk to an understanding voice at the other end of the line. I suppose if a person is truly down, one might call such a number. Despite all of that, the people I’ve known in such dark places would rarely reach out even to close friends much less a stranger on the telephone.
Don’t misunderstand me. I like the idea of emergency helplines for people in trouble. And I’m sure there’re plenty of instances where it was essential to help someone out in a difficult situation.
But what about that person who’s too proud to reach out? Or too desperate?
This is where Billie Holiday comes in. If you consider how depressing some of her songs are, you’ll probably wonder how on earth she might help. But that’s actually why I’ve turned to Lady Day in my life’s darkest moments. Possibly because you can hear the pain in her voice. Maybe because she’s somehow transmitting that inexplicable thing that makes one a survivor.
Whatever reason I might come up with to convince you that listening to her music somehow lightens your load, it doesn’t really get to the heart of the matter. I can skate around the edges, but that inexplicable thing that’s always under the surface with her is eerily buoyant.
The song I included above, which was actually written by the singer herself and Arthur Herzog, Jr, is actually a bit of tough love if you think about it. Your parents may have made something of themselves, but essentially in the grand scheme of things, you’re on your own. Not exactly optimistic, right? The song goes on to say that if you’re strong, you’ll have more. If you’re weak? Not so much. Oh, and money? Yes, you’re going to need money.
What a bummer of a song, you say? Oh, it gets worse. The bridge goes on to say,
‘Money, you’ve got lots of friends
Crowding round the door
When you’re gone, spending ends
They don’t come no more’
Once again, I’m not even going to try convincing you this song is cheerful. It’s anything but that. In a strange way, it might actually make things a bit worse before they can get better. From my perspective, it’s somehow more helpful not to sugarcoat things for someone when things are going poorly.
Other than listening to music that soothes you, there are plenty of other things one can do to get out of a foul mood. For some reason, simply standing up and going outside can sometimes make a world of difference.
The only other thing I’d say if you’re just not feeling yourself in these sometimes depressing days is that no matter how bad things might get, nothing lasts forever. Things always change.
In the meantime, I’m going to listen to some more Billie Holiday.