Tuesday, April 8, 2008

On, "Operator (That's Not The Way It Feels)"

In the realm of contemporary pop music, there are a few utterly bleak songs that have permeated every facet of daily life, regardless of content.

Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark" is one of the most ironic, as his tale of apathy, frustration, and willful disregard is easily The Boss' catchiest tune. Also worthy of mention is The Gin Blossoms', "Hey Jealousy." Patrons in any bar across America will put everything on hold to sing along with the chorus, ". . .and we can drive around this town and let the cops chase us around. . . ." That the song is a drunken/desperate man begging his ex-girlfriend to have sex with him is irrelevant. It's got a good beat, and you can dance to it.

Since I first heard it, Jim Croce's "Operator (That's Not The Way It Feels)" has struck me as one of the saddest songs ever written.

A man stands in a phone booth. With the receiver to his ear, his eyes water as he attempts to make out the scrawl written on the inside lid of an empty matchbook. He's abandoned his attempts to stop the cracks and falters in his speech. He's rambling. He's asking the operator to repeat the numbers she just provided and explains that it's to contact his ex-girlfriend and her new love, his former best friend. He just wants to tell them that he isn't hurt. That's he's gotten over it. The operator knows otherwise, but to our subject, his words are as much a mask as his actions. He doesn't want to talk to them. He can't stand to think of them, together. But, he just needs someone to hear him. He needs to know that what he's feeling can be felt by someone, anyone. The desperate need for human interaction is what prompted him to pull over and make this call. To hear a voice so he knows that he isn't alone in this universe.

And they play this fucking song in every goddamn grocery store! This song holds such meaning and value to me, that it's not unusual I'm left frozen in time amidst so much jelly and ketchup while the song plays out - a single tear streaming from the corner of my eye.

For most, the busy guitar picking keeps it a toe-tapping AM standard. For me, it's desperation. It's inhumanity. It's empathy.

It's one of the most beautiful songs, ever.

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