Monday, June 22, 2015

Tarzan, The Karate Kid, and Sappy Ballads

I've never seen Disney's Tarzan movie. Wikipedia tells me the movie came out in 1999. But it never really registered with me beyond some familiarity with Phil Collin's uptempo ballad, "You'll Be in My Heart." I do have this crystal clear memory of being on a flight once, years later, coming back from a conference, waiting to deplane, and hearing the song blaring from the headphones of a passenger behind me. And--because it takes forever for people to get off a plane--I could tell that whoever was listening had the song on repeat. I found that sweetly amusing, even more so when I saw who the listener was as he walked past me: a young man (maybe in his early 20s), tough-looking, the kind of guy you'd never expect to be listening to an already-old, never-that-popular, Phil Collins Disney ballad on repeat. Because I always like to imagine stories for the people I see at airports or on planes, at the time, I imagined he was smitten with some girl, and perhaps having just said goodbye to her before getting on the plane, he was listening to their song. I imagined her, young, pretty, crying at the terminal, maybe even listening to the same song as she drove home. I never forgot this silly memory, maybe because I so enjoyed the juxtaposition of the listener and his song.

When I was driving back to WV from Ryan's funeral, "You'll Be in My Heart" came on the radio. I instantly remembered that guy on the flight and smiled. When it got to that chorus, though, I started tearing up:

"'Cause you'll be in my heart
Yes, you'll be in my heart
From this day on
Now and forever more

You'll be in my heart
No matter what they say
You'll be here in my heart, always"

And then this verse:

"When destiny calls you
You must be strong
I may not be with you
But you've got to hold on
They'll see in time
I know
We'll show them together" 

Look, it's not Shakespeare, but it's simple and moving. And there I was, driving down I-81, a blubbery mess. It was, though, a good kind of sad. Cathartic. Since then, I've thought about this silly Phil Collins song from time to time, about how perfect it was for that moment, even if it's really only the chorus and that one verse that "fits" my situation. Looking at Youtube comments on the video, I see that the song reminds lots of people of those they lost. And I've thought about that young man from the airplane, now wondering if he was listening to that song on repeat not because of a girlfriend, but because he had just lost someone. I thought about him again tonight, as I found myself listening to the song more than once. And that got me thinking about yet another sappy song from a movie...

My brother was a real tough guy on the outside, even as a little kid. Hated any movie with a love story (or said he did). Rolled his eyes at schmaltzy stuff. But inside, he was a marshmallow. For instance, when it came out way back in 1986, he secretly loved this song, "The Glory of Love." He never admitted it to me, but we shared a bedroom wall and that summer, the summer my dad took me and a couple of friends to see The Karate Kid, Part 2 for my birthday (the movie that featured that song), I heard my brother play it again and again, a far cry from his usual rotation of what you'd expect from an 11-year-old boy. (Just like I never imagined that the young man on the plane would be the one listening to the Tarzan song.) I even remember seeing the cassette tape on which he had copied the song from the radio. (Remember when we used to do that?)

Even then, when I was just 9, I imagined stories, and in my mind, he was pining after some girl from church or school. We teased each other all the time, and I so easily could have teased him about this. But I never did. I never even told him I knew. I don't think I even told another soul about it until after he died. It always felt too intimate, like this piece of himself that he didn't want to show. And I think I must have liked knowing it, liked knowing this secret, liked imagining this part of him, so different from the version of him who frequently made my young life miserable with his teasing.

So yeah, years later, another sappy ballad that another guy had listened to on repeat kind of made sense to me. Ryan would have appreciated the connection, even if he never would have admitted it. He never would have said the words of that last verse of "You'll Be in My Heart" to me ("too cheesy," he would have said), at least not when he was "the old Ryan," but he would have felt them. Anyone who knew him and loved him knew that that guy was deep and full of feeling. He didn't always know what to do with all that emotion, though. He spent a lot of time feeling unworthy or misunderstood. I wish I could have told him more how wrong he was, how much I appreciated the depth of his feelings and his mind, even if those very fathoms are part of what haunted him so much. I did say it, but it never seemed to sink in. And by the end, when he was such a different person, I guess I stopped trying so hard beyond just telling him that we wanted him around, that we wanted him to fight and stay with us. Priorities change.

I'll never be able to hear either of those songs without thinking of my brother and his hidden depths. And despite the sadness I've felt writing this post, I think that's a good thing, because I've smiled, too.