Now Muriel plays piano every Friday at the Hollywood
And they brought me down to see her
And they asked me if I would do a little number
And I sang with all my might
And she said “Tell me are you a Christian child?”
And I said “Ma’am I am tonight”
-{Marc Cohn, Walking in Memphis}-

I saw a movie last night that I hadn’t seen in some time.

A girl I once dated said that she fell in love with me when she read a novel that I wrote. After that, she said, all it took was meeting me to make it complete. Things never worked out between us. They never came close. I was more than justified in walking away, but it was still hard to walk away from someone that had glimpsed into my soul and actually liked what she saw.

A while back I had a cavity somewhere in the front of my mouth. I knew it was there because it hurt whenever I sucked in. I just couldn’t quite place it. One day I saw something on the front of one of my teeth. I painfully brushed my teeth the night before and yet it was still there. I decided to swat it with a toothpick. When the toothpick made contact with the nerves behind the cavity, my body was awash in pain. Every muscle screamed out in agony right down to the nerves in my toes. It was an amazing experiencing, feeling something so completely. When I recovered, I took the toothpick and touched the nerve again.

When art works, the same thing happens. A feeling that had been gnawing at you for a while takes a frontal assault, knocking you blindside and making every bit of you feel like it hadn’t in a very long time.

You’re sitting there on a couch or in a movie theater. Maybe you’re laying on the floor. You’re enjoying the show or the movie that you’re watching. Points of it make you uncomfortable in its familiarity, but it keeps you engaged. You have nothing in common with the main character who is a little robot girl or a transsexual rockstar or a man almost twice your age whose best years would be behind him if they had ever existed.

Sometimes you don’t know you’re lost until someone, or something, shows you the way.

Somewhere in the work, a culmination of story comes together in a climax or sometimes even an anti-climax. The curtains are drawn and you see distant you on the stage, naked to the audience that really only consists of you.

You want to cry. You also want to vomit. You feel almost submerged in something. The same way you felt when you dived a little too deep in the cold water and for a split second weren’t sure you would make it up in time to breathe again. You were only underwater for a drop of time, but the moment carried on for an eternity. You take pride in your ability to maintain composure in even stressful situations. Yetyou still want to cry. Yet you still want to wretch. Part of you even wants to pray to a God that you don’t even know if you believe in to give thanks for the life you have or apologize for the one you’ve finally seen yourself to be living. Penance and thanks and panic all merge in to one.

You don’t even know what it means when you think to yourself “I can’t live this way any longer.”

You suddenly know that you’ve known for some time that you must walk away from the relationship that you’re in. Or you finally know that you’ve always known that it has been over for months. The art rarely tells you something you didn’t already know. But you no longer know it just in your mind or your heart, but in your soul. When you wake up the next day, it somehow feels like it was all a dream. Like that thing you once saw that you momentarily thought might be a UFO or that voice in the wind that you thought was God’s, you try to rationalize it away.

It was just a show. It was just a movie. They saw it with you and they may or may not have been impressed, but either way they were not phased. It was just you. Alone and naked on the stage in the dream. But reality has a way of following those in denial until they finally face up to it — whatever it is.

The sky is still blue. The shower is still warm. The answering machine messages that she left you are still on the answering machine. You can finally face up to it, though, because you just saw something bigger than the words of apology that she has left for you. Or the words of jealousy or fear or guilt. Or whatever it was that she’s been saying over and over again that you are only now beginning to hear. Or he.

You see the show again from time to time. It reminds you of that moment in your life. That person you used to be. But it is as much a part of you as the person that you were when you saw it.

I’ve had five such experiences in my life. If you never have, I hope that you do someday.

Category: Theater

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One Response to Walking in Memphis

  1. Barry says:

    I’ve had similar experiences with the musical, “Into the Woods,” which has (to me) a profound message on how we should raise our children.

    The second sequence of “Fantasia 2000” (the one with the whales set to the music “Pines of Rome”) was a symbol of deific ascension to me – almost a glimpse of what it might be like to go to heaven.

    I could probably say my first viewing as a 10-yr-old of “Star Wars” in 1977 had a similar affect on that young man’s life… 🙂

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