By The Landlord
"Cover your ears and open your heart."
A new French film now on general release, Marguerite, set in the 1920s, is based on the real-life socialite Florence Foster Jenkins, an amateur operatic soprano whose massive musical enthusiasm was matched only by a lack of self-awareness and a phenomenal inability to sing in tune. Delicately touching, tragic and funny, the film follows the fortunes and painful dilemmas of her friends and family, who try to support, but gently discourage the performer no one has the heart to inform, that when she sings, everyone wants to run for cover and hide.
But can music, or the love of it, override all such problems? Well ... perhaps we can answer this one by nominating songs where pathos plays its own part in lyrics or performance. This may be the story, emotion or delivery. Your nominations will hopefully be in tune. And perhaps your suggestions will land in our playlists in a more sure-footed manner than that less subtle film also out this week, Eddie the Eagle, all about the hapless British ski-jumper from the 1980s (who was, as it turns out, quite a good athlete). This week, then, pathos certainly seems to be in the air.
Pathos stirs a strange dish of mixed emotions. From the beautiful, bittersweet and tragic to outrageously funny, it hovers in a different, perhaps lighter place than melancholy, but can also be passionate and powerful. Pathos highlights the sadness of human frailty. It can cover any genre, from blues, to jazz to folk to country, in deep emotional tragedy of Billie Holiday, both in her life and performance. Pathos even slips into slapstick farce of Laurel and Hardy trying to move a piano up several flights of stairs. It clip-clops along with the long-suffering Harold Steptoe unable to escape his dad, to the more ecclesiastic, and ecumenical travails of Father Ted and his sidekicks Jack and Dougal.
"Arm wresting with Chas and Dave? ... Knowing M.E. Knowing You? Where I talk to M.E. sufferers about the condition. You know, we intersperse it with their favourite pop songs, make it light-hearted, you know? .... Inner-City Sumo? ... Cooking in Prison? ...A Partridge Amongst The Pigeons? ... Youth Hostelling with Chris Eubank? ... Monkey Tennis? ... Smell my cheese!"
This is barrage of TV programme ideas pitched by the increasingly desperate out-of-work presenter Alan Partridge to boss Tony Hayers in the series I'm Alan Partridge. Yet in their absurdity, in each is a kernel of stupidity and cry for attention, a need to be loved. And also of course sharp satire on today's reality TV. I've no doubt there's a huge number of song titles that cry for attention too, as after all, the deep-rooted message behind many a songwriter, or performer is: "Love me! Listen to me!"
Pathos can crop up in surprising places. Singer-songwriter Ryan Adams said that "I have found in black metal the lyrics are profoundly beautiful... a pathos and mythos at the same time." Rock on, Ryan. Pathos is a plight, and at its most extreme, is the stuff of Darwin Award winners, the terrorist who failed to put enough stamps on a package and opened his own returned letter bomb, or the man who decided to fight a lion and lost.
Pathos is about inspiring pity and a certain empathy, but also laughing about the pitiable. And our reaction recognises that we too could cock things up. Pathos celebrates the pathetic in life, the inevitability of failure and the strange self-aware wallowing in it. Pathos throbs in the films of Woody Allen, it is etched deep in the lines on the serious faces of actors John C Reilly or Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Pathos lives on in Lord of the Rings' Gollum and his yearning for 'The Precious'. Pathos lives and breathes in the songs of Eels' Mark Oliver Everett, who has also written an autobiography of astonishing tragic self-awareness and family tragedy. From dog-faced boys to awkward, uncool girls, pathos is the all about the losers, loners and freaks of Beck or Radiohead, or the tattooed tears of a downtrodden woman in a Tom Waits song, in the country of Tammy Wynette, or in the passionate piano of Rachmaniov, especially when it accompanies the touchingly tragic scene in Brief Encounter. Pathos celebrates those who try, those down at heel who carry on regardless, because, quite simply, they must.
So then, helping with all the hardship and humour, and no doubt showing a passion and pity for the pathetic, as well as making another Song Bar debut, we welcome another old friend in song circles, the brilliant Barbryn. Please then forward your pathos in comments below until Monday when time is called, before playlists are published on Wednesday. We shall not be unmoved.
New to comment? It is quick and easy. You just need to login to Disqus once. All is explained in About/FAQs ...