John Boehner, former Speaker of the House and the representative from my home state of Ohio, faced incredible challenges during his years as Speaker. He left Congress when the only way he saw to keep the federal government running was to make a budget deal premised on his resignation. One of his admirable traits was that he was a politician known to keep his promises. Boehner was also well-known for being a crier. He choked up a bit when he spoke about things related to the struggles arising from his Catholic, middle class upbringing. To his credit, he never apologized for crying, which to some seemed inconsistent with his stature as one of the most powerful men in the world and to others was presumed to be (unsubstantiated) evidence of an alcohol problem.
While recently searching for songs for the class assignment on friendship, I found a song that made me cry. Unlike Boehner, I’m not a crier. Various songs over the years have made me sad and quite a few more have angered me, evoked joy, caused me to laugh or encouraged me to dance (which would make other people cry or laugh if I was willing to embarrass myself). But, since no song had made me cry before, I spent some time trying to figure out why.
Adele’s “Someone Like You,” is not the kind of music I typically listen to. As I watched the video, I was not reminded of any relationship from my past. So my cry, I concluded, was really due to the song itself or to the artist’s performance. I concluded that there were two reasons why the song had such an impact.
One reason why the song is so emotional is because it expresses a universal longing for love. It’s a longing for a connection so pure that the love continues, even though the relationship is ostensibly over. The singer wishes the romance would continue, but regretfully decides to move forward with her life by seeking someone like her lover, all the while wishing the best for the person who rejected her. A powerful contrast. She acknowledges that love is a gamble and accepts the risk of being hurt. This time, she lost in the end, but she remembers the good times. Adele’s song lamenting the passing of her relationship reminds me of a eulogy. When a relationship ends, a little part of us dies: the part connected to someone else.
Another reason for the song’s power to evoke emotions has to do with the singer, Adele. She is the author of the song, and she used the song as a vehicle to express her inner pain. We sympathize with the hurt caused by rejection. As we grow up, we learn to accept the fact that some relationships can’t be mended. Adele, by baring her soul–by expressing authentic emotions–touches her listeners in ways that today’s largely formulaic music can’t.
We don’t have many singer-songwriters like Adele today. In today’s musical world only a handful write music to reveal their own personal inner feelings. Adele reminds me of Joni Mitchell, who had hit albums in the sixties and seventies. Her songs were poetic, personal stories set to simple music. Like Adele, she spoke of her desire to be authentic. Mitchell’s work expresses things about her life and gives us a glimpse of her inner being. It tells us something about what it means to be human. Her voice, like Adele’s, is amazing.
We spend most of our lives hiding our emotions. We learn this skill at an early age because we realize that showing a different face is often necessary to get along with others. We save our deepest emotions for our close relationships. We trust our dear friends to accept us when we act like we really are, i.e., when we act authentically. Some artists find the universal in their personal experiences and risk revealing themselves to people they don’t know. When the lyrics, melody, and singer are mixed together well, people who listen are united. As Tolstoy once said, we identify with the artist and a bond forms with the audience because the work evokes an emotion that is an essential part of the human experience.
We should give credit to people who willingly take a risk and express their emotions for a greater good. The best art evokes emotions and makes us stop and think about ourselves and about our relationships. See how you feel when listening to Adele and Mitchell by clicking on the links below. Boehner’s not a great speaker, but even though he was ridiculed for crying, he continued to talk about his experiences. While I didn’t agree with his politics, and I think he excessively played the political game at times, in the end, he did the right thing.
Adele “Someone LIke You” with preamble
Joni Mitchell “A Case of You” with annotations