The Friday Morning Listen: Elvis Costello – The Juliet Letters (1993)

I was pretty much off the media grid on Monday when the bombs exploded in Boston. I had the day off and was in the middle of a viewing of Louis Malle’s The Lovers. TheWife™ called from work to inform me of the unfolding situation, and to express concern for her older son (known around here as Stepson #1) because he often attends the marathon. It was a strange and jarring exit from Malle’s dream world.

After sending John an “Are you OK?” text (and not “R U OK?” because, I’m sorry, it’s stupid) I checked the news on the web for a bit. After obtaining the basic facts I should have gone directly back to “The Lovers.” Instead, I made the mistake of testing the winds of social media. Big mistake. Five minutes of this and I was witness to various forms of blame assessment: it’s the “stupid libs,” it’s President Obama, it’s the right-wing nutjobs, it’s Fox news, it’s the towel heads, it’s the sand niggers. I killed the browser tab shortly after seeing yet another dubious connection made between the events of the day and “the government coming to take away all of our guns.”

Fine. You guys keep suckin’ on that tailpipe, I’ve got a movie to watch.

On the way to work the next day, I listened to a short radio segment on a fascinating topic: the processing of letters sent to Juliet. Yes, people still write her letters. Some 6,000 per year arrive in Verona. They are actually read (by staff of 15) and each one receives a reply. I had absolutely no idea this was going on and for some reason was quite moved by the whole phenomenon. Unsurprisingly, most of the letter writers are dealing with various forms of loss. But the replies? It was touching to hear these people — who volunteer their time for the “Juliet Club” — employing such high levels of empathy and compassion. Perhaps that empathy isn’t such a rare commodity but on most days it sure does feel that way.

A few hours later, I read a beautiful piece by a writer friend of mine named Mat Brewster. Titled Van Morrison – Caravan: Overcoming Hate With Joy, Silencing Ugly Noise With Beautiful Music, the article paralleled my thoughts. I have often said that I need to jettison the darkness of current events in favor of the arts. As Mat said, “More joy, less anger”:

My heart goes out to those who suffer. But today and the next and the next day after I am going to turn it off. I will not participate in the ongoing noise. I will not engage the anger. Let there be joy where there is hate. Let there be comfort where there is suffering. Let there be songs to fill the air.

There are always stories of great compassion attached to horrific events, and Boston is no exception. But there’s a certain meanness that seeps out too, creating a kind of negative opposition. I want to feel good about my fellow humans, but some people make that very difficult.

Maybe I should write a letter to Juliet …

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he writes several weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.