Weeping Song

Nick Cave is one of those rare artists who can make his teenage fans feel like they are deep and tortured and special, while also being great for a jolly good sing-along. But it has to be the right sort of sing-along.

You cannot sing Nick Cave songs while clapping your hands around a campfire with a bunch of boy-scouts. In fact you shouldn’t be hanging around with boy-scouts at all. I have never quite been able to put my finger on why, but there is something dodgy about boy-scouts. It’s just unnatural for kids that age to be that focussed on complicated knots and waffle-top socks.

 

He looks nice. Let's send our kids out into the woods with him for the weekend.

He looks nice. Let’s send our kids out into the woods with him for the weekend.

No. Nick Cave sing-alongs are reserved for the end of parties when a few die-hards refuse to go home and everyone is three or four glasses beyond any sensible measure of “enough to drink”. You have to be young enough to feel the echo of teenage angst and old enough to realise that Nick Cave, being Australian, has always had his tongue at least partially in his cheek.

Nick Cave, you see, is a master droner. This is by no means a criticism. It is high praise, a title he shares with deep and meaningful gods like Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. And it is a happy coincidence that once all the sensible people have gone home, the die-hards left sitting around on the kitchen floor and staring off into the middle distance are droners too. It’s just a thing that happens. Give Enrico Caruso two packets of cigarettes and a bottle of Old Brown Sherry and he would be rasping out “Suzanne takes you down, to her place on the river…” with the best of them.

But that’s not what this post is about. It’s about this song, kinda;

The Weeping Song. When I was young enough to feel the echo of teenage angst and old enough to find myself staring into the middle distance on people’s kitchen floors at two in the morning, it formed a very clear image in my mind. Of Gypsies.

Maybe it was the clapping, but whenever I heard the Weeping Song, I pictured wild eyed, raven haired beauties and hatchet-faced, snake-hipped men with roses clenched between their teeth whirling and stamping around bonfires encircled by painted wooden caravans. The Weeping Song was a ritual; an aching, arcane ceremony in which all of the sadness and isolation and unbelonging of a homeless and unwanted tribe was poured out in a throat-tearing orgy of wailing. A cultural catharsis. An annual cleansing of the stain of unhappiness to fortify the people for another year of alienation and mistrust.

 

The rest of the year is one huge party, apart from the prejudice, poverty and pogroms.

The rest of the year is one huge party, apart from the prejudice, poverty and pogroms.

I’m older now. If I find myself on the kitchen floor at 2 am I’m generally cleaning up dog vomit, and my angst is reserved for serious issues like balding. I know the truth. The Weeping Song is not about Gypsies. It’s a parenting song.

It’s one of the many aspects of parenting that none of the books warns you about, but should you choose to bring another person or two into the world, prepare yourself for the fact that, at round about five years old, they are going to spend a year or so being bloody miserable. That old “Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, I’m going to go eat worms” song is not a fun little comedic ditty. It is a piercing insight into the psyche of your child.

Since no-one bothers to warn you about this, when your fist child starts to do this, you are going to be rather alarmed. “I”, said our sweet little boy about five years ago, looking up at us through piercing blue eyes limpid with tears, “don’t want to live anymore. I just want to be dead. I am going to kill myself”. Jesus! That’s a bit rough for a five-year-old, even if he hadn’t been allowed to stay up late and watch Scooby Doo!

 

Nobody feels my pain.

Nobody feels my pain. It was the ghost pirate episode!

Mrs 23thorns and I stayed up deep into the night, earnestly discussing how sensitive the boy was, and how it might be time to find him a decent therapist and start him off on a course of bubblegum flavoured anti-depressants.

And then he woke up the next morning as happy as Larry, and went skipping off to school for all the world like a small person without a death wish. It was the beginning of a rather long year. Sometimes, the boy was very, very sad, crying himself to sleep and clinging to the will to live by the thinnest of threads. Sometimes. The rest of the time he was as sunny and cheerful as he’d always been.

It didn’t take us very long to work out what was going on. Have you ever seen a fledgling bird learning to use its wings for the first time? They don’t just leap into the air and soar off into the heavens. They sit on the edge of the nest flapping their wings awkwardly, learning how the wind flows over their feathers and how tiny changes of angle and pitch can shift their balance. But they are not flying. One wrong step and their soaring will be both limited in time and downward in direction.

 

I believe I can flyyyyy!

I believe I can flyyyyy!

Small children do the same thing. Emotions don’t just arrive fully formed. Five-year-olds need to practice using their emotions properly so that they are fully prepared for the all-important teenage years. And practice they do. We soon learned that the boy-child was suffering from very selective form of depression. If he was thwarted, or thought he might be in trouble, he would launch into a protracted and oddly poetic monologue.

“I”, he would announce between sobs, “am very sad” Mrs 23thorns and I would brace ourselves. “I don’t know how I can feel this way. Sometimes I think that you don’t love me, and that you wish I was dead”.

“That”, we would reply, “is just not true. We love you very much. Why don’t you come over here and get a nice big hug. After you take those chocolate biscuits back to the kitchen. The ones we said you couldn’t have any more of”.

Then it was on. “YOU JUST WAN’T ME TO DIE SO YOU CAN HAVE ALL OF THE CHOCOLATE BISCUITS! YOU DON’T CARE ABOUT ME AT ALL!”

 

He's on to me. Perceptive little bugger...

He’s on to me. Perceptive little bugger…

It was, as I said, a rather long year. But, like all phases, it passed. After flapping his emotions around like untested wings for twelve months, the boy took flight. He was done with his Weeping Song. A new person emerged. One who had been through a rite of passage and learned his first grownup secret. Emotions are better wielded as a scalpel than they are as a sledgehammer.

This doesn’t mean that he has stopped trying to manipulate us. He is both smart and incredibly sensitive to the emotions of people around him. But these days, managing the boy is more like playing chess with a grand master than it is like entering the ring with a heavyweight boxer. Not that this affects the outcome much. The little bugger still manages to get all the chocolate biscuits.

The boy might be done with his Weeping Song, but Mrs 23thorns and I are not yet in the clear.

“I”, announced the girl-child a month or two ago, looking up at us through enormous blue eyes limpid with tears, “am going to go and live in Zambia. Sob. You don’t want me here anymore!”

 

A wise choice. The views are just spectacular.

A wise choice. The views are just spectacular.

Bugger. Both Mrs 23thorns and I are now old enough and wise enough to recognise a Weeping Song when we see one. Oh, well. At least we knew what we were dealing with this time.

“I am very, very sorry to hear that, Mouse. Do you need our help with your packing?”

“What?”

“Packing. You can’t just go to live in Zambia like that. You’ll need some spare clothes. And a toothbrush. It’s absolutely vital that you brush twice a day. And floss. I don’t think there are any good dentists in Zambia.”

 

Zambian dogs. I didn't have the heart to post a picture of the people.

Zambian dogs. I didn’t have the heart to post a picture of the people.

“YOU SEE! I TOLD YOU YOU DIDN’T WANT ME HERE!”

“But of course we do, Mouse. We love you and want you to stay with us. Moving to Zambia was your idea. Now, I believe that it’s quite warm in Zambia, but I still think you should take along a jacket of some sort. And a raincoat. What about your bumblebee one?”

“AAAARGH”

It was, I suppose, a little unfair of us. We knew the rules of the game and she didn’t. We had a year of experience; she thought she’d just invented the game. We needn’t have feared. Her brother might be the sensitive one, but she is every bit as smart. She went off to restrategise.

 

My children frighten me.

My children frighten me.

“You”, she said a few days later, fixing me with an imperious stare, “don’t care about my feelings. You are going to live in Zambia”

“Don’t you mean you are going to go and live in Zambia?”

“No. I like it here with Mommy and the dogs. My brother can stay too. You can’t. You don’t care about me so you have to go to Zambia.”

Oh, well. At least it’s something new. We’ve done our year of self-pity, and now we get to play a different game with different rules. She’s rewritten the song; “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I’m gonna make the soulless bastards go and eat worms.”

So far I’ve been threatened with both deportation and death, and had the heat in my room cut off while being told that both Mrs 23thorns and I would only be allowed to wear short sleeves in winter. At least she’s being creative, I suppose.

 

It's going to be a long, hard winter.

It’s going to be a long, hard winter.

We know, this time round, that this will pass. And we know something else, too. You see they aren’t really weeping, these peculiar small people. They’re learning. Nick Cave said it better than I could;

“Father, why are all the children weeping?

They are merely crying son

O, are they merely crying, father?

Yes, true weeping is yet to come.”

So there you have it. If you are busy slowly putting together your own first small person, and are watching in horror as they suddenly turn into the world’s unhappiest angry people, relax. They are merely crying. True weeping, as the good Mr Cave points out, is yet to come. They’re going to be teenagers one day. Brace yourselves.

God help us!

God help us!

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30 thoughts on “Weeping Song

  1. Rob says:

    Where have you gone?

  2. mariekeates says:

    Ah, the joys of parenthood :)

  3. barbielea says:

    This is pretty much exactly where I am with my son at the moment. Thanks – in the longer term, when I’ve had a chance to mull it over, I’ll probably find this comforting or something. Right now, the sense of horror I experience every time he says something grim and age-inappropriate is just a bit too fresh in my mind …

  4. Kami says:

    You could teach math and I’d be entertained. What a lighthearted warped perspective you have to make me laugh so!
    Thank you for that!

  5. sula1968 says:

    Another brilliant blog post!! How do you do it?

  6. Brilliant! How anyone can listen to Nick Cave though escapes me though :-)

  7. This is one of my favourites, Mr23. I would have laughed more in the reading of it if I had a jersey or at the very least a long-sleeved shirt.

  8. Marc Latilla says:

    My kids are quite fond of Nick Cave (not the later Grinderman incarnation though…). It hasn’t stopped them listening to all the other rubbish kids listen to. I live in hope that the early years driving back and forth to school soundtrack of Cave, Cash, Clash, Crystal Castles, Cat Power and Calexico (along with quality bands from other letters of the alphabet) will somehow balance things out. Problem is how to answer a 7 year old who asks, “Daddy, what is a ‘mercy seat’?” while navigating William Nicol…

    • 23thorns says:

      Your kids are blessed. My father was a Jethro Tull fan. He played Locomotive Breath on auto repeat for four solid months, until my youngest sister had an emotional breakdown on the school run one morning, and had to be institutionalised.

  9. I did plenty of laughing and weeping reading this post. As one who went through the most horrid of weeping teen years, hearing the worlds “I just want to die” from my eldest’s mouth had me weeping too. How relieving this post is to my soul! Gods help me when they reach teenage years.
    My kids haven’t yet threatened to run away but the older 2 have both told me they hate me and to move out so they can live with just Daddy. I told them Daddy would still go to work. They would get no more sleeping in as they would be at school and kinder and playgroup from 7:30 in the morning until 6 at night and they would then come home and go to bed. No playing, no spending the day at home like they do now. Thankfully they were bright enough to realise what side their bread was buttered and I could stop packing. ;)

    • 23thorns says:

      The “I want to die” speech is a little alarming the fist time you hear it. By the seventy third time, it’s hard not to offer some assistance.

  10. narf77 says:

    There you go again Mr 23Thorns, casting nasturtiums on the scouts now? For shame! I fear you fell prey to that episode of “The Goodies” where Graham and Bill became naughty scouts who did nefarious things in order to get ALL of the badges. I am sure that sort of thing only happens in the old country and we Antipodeans are not prone to that sort of scout excess.

    Mr Cave has the ability to smoke constantly, eat, drink, and play the didgeridoo and all whilst droning on tonelessly. I fear he is able to do it in his sleep. I feel a deep sorrow for Mrs Cave. I also fear that only masterful drunks with a skin full who are three sheets to the wind can actually understand the lyrics let alone the deep undertones of nuance that Mr Cave is attempting to imbue his “art” with.

    (It certainly takes Mr Cave a LOOOONG time to get around to actually singing doesn’t it? I guess he is setting the mood with music…) whenever I am (forced to) listening to Mr Cave I have to fight the urge to slit my wrists. I will resist (hiding knives in the lowest drawer as I type with one finger) the urge to indulge you sir…

    It is indeed a weeping song and the end result of your own personal son-and-heirs year of on again off again emo angst and a proclivity for chocolate biscuits and a desire to manipulate eh? Looks like he is indeed becoming a fine young man. When he has completely overtaken you on the “chess” stakes and Mrs 23Thorns has just given in and is just throwing an extra packet or 7 into the shopping trolley to satiate that beast you can smile knowing that one day his trousers won’t do up…THEN the weeping song shall truly begin…

    Oh dear, emo number 2? And this one is a girl! OH the wailing and the gnashing of teeth you have in store. Good luck, I did my penance, time to do yours sir! It’s a parental rite of passage that once you managed to survive (IF you manage to survive) will deliver you baffled, bewildered and bollocksed out the other side with about 35 minutes until the collective progeny start dumping grand kids on you and it starts all over again…

    • 23thorns says:

      Fear not. The boy child eats like a machine but is built like a famine victim. We have to tie his pants around his waist with baling twine. Mrs 23thorns thinks he has a fast metabolism. I think he has a tapeworm.
      As for having the grandkids dumped on us, I have already set about becoming an old curmudgeon. I will rule the little buggers with an iron fist, and they will only visit at Christmas time when there is material gain to be had…

      • narf77 says:

        And Father’s Day…don’t forget Fathers Day as then you get gifts from your son/daughter AND the grandkids…always got to look for the positive…

  11. I laughed as I read this, as I remember my daughter telling me that I was no fun as a parent, as she was the only one among her friends whose mum helped her to pack so she could run away to the circus – I’m so lucky I remembered my own childhood in time to cope with hers! :)

    • 23thorns says:

      One of my sisters tried to run away from home. She even had the foresight to pack a lunch. But her plan collapsed in on itself when she got out of the gate and realised she wasn’t allowed to cross the road…

  12. I discovered Nick Cave too late – my children were grown before The Weeping Song arrived onto my ipod.

    Somehow I survived the practise years, though without your insights. Intuitively I knew when to offer to help pack the suitcase and even to drive whichever one was leaving to the nearest bus or train station – I found that to be quite effective. Neither of mine was as savvy as your girl-child [a fact for which I am most grateful!]

    I think this tale proves the theory: the smarter the parents, the smarter the kid! I send my condolences for the teenage years you have yet to endure.

  13. ksbeth says:

    oh i understand this so well, it is a battle of the wits and the will and an ever moving target. i raised 3 girls, have 6 grandchildren, 6 and under, and teach full day kindergarten, 4 and 5 year olds. somehow i am still here and in the game. they won’t take me alive! i loved, loved this post!

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