As life continues to fluctuate in & out for me I came across a frequent nemesis from my bar tending days at Frankie’s Restaurant in Hollywood…Frank Sinatra. Tending bar while Frank Sinatra blared throughout the restaurant nearly killed any chance I would ever listen to another Sinatra song without cringing. Then tonight as I lay here for nightly worry session before falling asleep, Frank spoke to me through my I-Pod’s shuffle function. “Ol Man River” as unconventional a Sinatra song if there ever was one.
If ever a song meant more to me at a point in my life I have already filed it away in my mind file. The file that makes time machines out of songs, escorting me back to a moment in a moment in my life when that song was the soundtrack of a milestone.
“What’s Up” by Four Non Blondes were there singing in the background in Gina Hubbard’s bedroom when I realized that I was in love for the first time. Consequently, every time I hear that song I think of her dark brown hair, her deep brown eyes & every curve of her bronze skin. It takes me back to a time when life was simpler. When in the Summer of ’93 I fell in love with a girl that would eventually become the first girl to break my heart.
“Ol Man River” speaks to em in a different way. The song plays like an old Negro spiritual as the Narrator speaks of how hard he works picking cotton & “plantin’ taters” but how his hard work is to no avail. He yearns to get away, to escape his bondage. Then he sees the river & envies it. It has stories to tell, but won’t share with the Narrator. “He just keeps movin’ along”. Water, the giver of life, has a secret that can’t be shared. The river does not suffer the indignities of hard back-breaking labor that no cares about.
So how does this fit into my life? I, too, see that river at times. Obviously not in the same context as the Narrator, I do long to get away. I, too, daydream of escaping some place where I can just be like that “Ol’ Man River”. I think of things often in black & white terms not in terms of race, but more in terms of generalities. However, when things get bad you find yourself being more open to gray areas. I see that “Ol’ Man River” now & I envy him as well. I see that river just keep rollin’ along without a care & wish I could see the things he sees, the secrets he holds.
As a people when hit hard with crisis we look for someone to help us. Often times we seek refuge from those we put in elected positions but they seek not to help the people, but merely to keep getting elected. There is another faction that seeks help from religion. It would be fashionable for me as a frequent critic of organized religion & a Catholic School survivor to condemn this practice as a bunch of fools letting hokie superstitions cloud reality, but when times get tough & I have seemingly nowhere else to turn I too will take that time machine back to my days as a Catholic School student & say a quick prayer or two hoping there’s someone out there that hears them.
Times indeed are tough. Circumstances are dire & we are truly at a fork in the road. We’ve been here before, though. We will come out of tough time much like our Grandparents did before us in their Depression. I won’t happen overnight, things rarely do, but much like that “Ol’ Man River” we will keep rollin’ along.
If you listen hard enough to that “Ol’ Man River” he’ll spill his secrets. He’ll tell you that the worrying, the ambivalence, the acceptance of things that are patently unjust can no longer be accepted. We will come out of this tougher, wiser, more resilient & eventually thankful for the knowledge that this experience will garner.
“I get’s weary. I’m so sick of tryin’. I’m tired of living, but I’m feared of dyin’. And Ol’ Man River he just keeps Rollin’ along”
You must make a decision at this fork in the road. Are you going to continuously be envious of that Ol’ Man River or will you jump in & see where he takes you? For one of the first times in my life I’m taking the plunge. I’m sick of being an observer while others succeed. I hope you’ll join me.
Frank Sinatra – Ol’ Man River – Live 1968 Oakland Coliseum
Frank Sinatra- Ol’ Man River