Friday, March 19, 2010

Self-Discography #14 "Troy" by Sinead O'Connor

Places to listen to this song as a teenager:

--In your old, breaking-down car, driving as fast as possible in the middle of the night when you can't sleep, on a car stereo that crackles whenever the strings surge.

--On a darkened playground in the stifling heat of a summer night with no wind, with your Walkman's volume cranked so loud it may do permanent damage to your ears.

--Walking around downtown Portland after school in the rain, sun, or wind, feeling melodramatic and self-pitying.

Perhaps my first experience of musical catharsis, "Troy," ostensibly, shouldn't have had much to do with me. It's a song--built from quiet whispers to full-throttled screaming--about a relationship between a man and a woman (or a boy and a girl). Yet it is also a song about youth, memory, loss, and hatred (both projected outward and internalized). It made me wish I was truly brash, maybe even violent--that I could lash out and finally, physically, express everything that felt so crammed and twisted into my head.

To be aware of all of that at 16 going on 17 ... well, I suppose that's something to look back on and in which to take some pride. What's more difficult to feel is the memory of the pain I was obviously in and how it was brought to the surface when I heard this; it reminds me every single time I listen to it, even now when I can actually appreciate its musicality, vocal prowess, and emotional power.

At the time I discovered this song, I was in the midst of figuring out if I could legally emancipate myself from my mother. I was still mourning my father. I was working so hard that I was up til 2 a.m. or later every night to ensure I saved money and got the best grades to get as many scholarships as possible so I could get the hell out of Portland and go far away for college. I was anguished over the fact that one of my best friends in school was a girl whom I also called my girlfriend (and thus confused her and myself even more). I was bubbling with the fear of actually being gay (since you, know, in the late '80s, being gay meant you had sex and died soon thereafter). And what all added up to was that I was very, very angry--with no way to express it.

"I remember it. Every restless night. We were so young then we thought that everything we could possibly do was right...I wondered where you went to. Tell me, when did the light die?"

The words are whispered into the microphone in the beginning of the song, sounding like something that should be uttered only when you are in your 40s, not when you are this young. But wasn't "every restless night" right now? I was acutely aware that I was not acting my age. I was an old man already, looking back over only a few years of my life like decades had passed. Where was my childhood? Where was this time where I was supposed to, supposedly, feel carefree?

By the time the full orchestra kicks in and it ratchets up the drama, O'Connor's voice borders on unhinged. It's a transcendent moment of defiance and bitterness. It was also what I desperately wished I could do with everything sitting inside of me--scream it out and make it stab at someone else, as if to say "This is all YOUR fault."

"There is no other Troy for me to burn. You should have left a light on, then I wouldn't have tried and you'd never have known...Oh but I know you wanted me to be there, ohhh...Every look that you threw told me so. But you should've left a light on. And the flames burned away, but you're still spitting fire. Makes no difference what you say, you're still a liar."

In my listening, I was the liar. Me. No one else. No "partner." No guilty accomplice. I couldn't make anyone else hurt instead of me. I had only one choice: Say something.

It didn't happen that quickly. I was exceedingly hard on myself for many years, never thinking that I was actually expressing myself well or authentically, fearful of what someone else might say about who I was or the mistakes I made. Now, of course, it seems like a necessary part of being 16 going on 17. It's not unusual to feel like your head cannot handle all of the thoughts inside of it. It's certainly not rare for teenagers to struggle with their sexual orientation. Luckily, I had the tenacity to wait out my own melodrama (not to mention a handful of awesome friends who patiently waited for me to catch up with myself).

I've made jokes over the last 20 years with a few friends that "Troy" should be a song performed by an ice-skater. Can you imagine? I still secretly dream of someone choreographing all six and a half minutes and doing it--and acute adolescent angst--justice.