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Last Song for Valentine Part 2-4: New York is Full of Lonely People

Jakob Baekgaard By

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Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

It was late in the evening when Cory left the club. As always, he quickly became exhausted when he left the stage. It was not playing that was difficult. He was comfortable in his own skin on stage and often felt a real connection with the audience. It was a transient feeling and he could not catch everyone, but he played for someone and those who heard understood.

Afterwards, when he met the audience, the feeling disappeared, and words came between them. People clapped his shoulder and shook his hand and told him what they liked and why. A young man had said, "when you played that tune by Bird, I felt as if he returned from the grave. Man, it was beautiful."

"Bird's music is beautiful" was all he could say and then there was silence. Because everything had been said. And then the inevitable, "would you like to buy a CD?" The young man had turned around with a puzzled look, as if he was looking for someone. "Thanks, I'll think I'll pass, but I'll definitely keep an eye on you. Thanks for the music." "No problem, thanks for listening."

The young man had disappeared swiftly. Now he was also outside and that was the real stage. People played a role and it was hard to be yourself, whatever that was. A businessman in a steel-gray suit passed by with glazed eyes. Two women with dangling necklaces were chatting loudly. "Well, I'm telling you, it was just outrageous!" "Yes, I know, some people just lack class." He caught their eyes for a moment and did not know whether to ignore them or smile.

He smiled sheepishly, but was met with a cold stare and turned away. He thought about communication. How easy it was to dismiss and accept people without words. The best way to move through the city was like an empty shell without any signs of life, but he liked the days when he was brave and met the eyes of people, passing through the changing crowds of colors and smells, knowing he had a place in the world and deserved it.

Tonight, he was overwhelmed with emotion and just wanted to go home so he could be alone. Nothing was more difficult than walking the streets with a burden of sadness. People wanted other people to be happy and he wished he could wear that mask more easily and play the part, or just walk machinelike through the urban landscape.

A middle-aged man in a purple shirt stopped and stroked his beard like a cat, and then he proceeded into the heart of the city. The sound of sirens was heard in the distance. Cory heard a bass line in his head and then the silver of Lester Bowie's trumpet emerging from the fog. In the background, bells, triangles and drums. "New York Is Full of Lonely People." He loved that title. It said so much. He felt the mood of the piece.

While he walked the streets with the memory of the music, he could be himself without pretending. He saw people moving about, exchanging quick glances. Sometimes a smile broke through the loneliness of the crowds, but mostly people just ignored or assessed each other. Some were scared, some caught up in their private world, others high on alcohol and drugs.

In a street corner, an old man in rags was mumbling to himself. He smelled of piss and stared into the darkness with bloodshot eyes, emitting a sound between crying, growling and groaning. He was the invisible person that everyone pretended didn't exist.

Cory thought about a story told by the pianist Cooper-Moore. On a train, he once encountered a homeless guy who was talking crazy. While everyone else was backing away, Cooper-Moore approached him and listened to what he was really saying. He touched him and said, "I hear you, I hear you." The homeless guy reacted by crying silently. Cooper-Moore summed up his experience afterwards: "I heard his heart crying and he was a gentle person. For me that was music, too. You know, he was playing, he was playing his horn, and I couldn't help but feel that."

He didn't approach the old man. He was too scared about the situation and wanted to get away. As often before when he met a homeless man, he thought of whether he should give him something or not. No matter what he did, it seemed wrong. By giving him something, he would keep him in his position as a beggar. Besides, wasn't it society that should take care of the outcasts? Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. But nobody seemed to want them.

He felt how not giving made him harder. For a moment he imagined himself in the gutter while people walked away pretending not to see. You could hurt a person by looking at someone in a certain way, but you could also hurt people by not seeing them. The real tragedy was that looks could be misconstrued. They could be denied or received. It was about confirming or denying the existence of another human-being and how you did that.

Cooper-Moore had seen that homeless guy and he had heard him. More importantly, he had given language to loneliness and recognized the music in the homeless man's voice. The soulful cry for understanding. "I hear you." Three simple words involving a sender, a message and a receiver. By recognizing loneliness, its spell had been broken. Crazy babble became communication.

Cooper-Moore had done it, but it was hard. It was easy to ignore each other and so hard to reach out. Because every time you reached out, you ran the risk of getting hurt. But some people had no choice. They were naked in their sorrow and pain and could not pretend to be happy or carefree. They moved through the world with despair so intimidating it had to be ignored. Those who needed love the most were the ones least likely to get it. The so-called insane, ugly, poor and imperfect.

As the old man's figure gradually became a shadow, Cory thought of the cries of the many lonely souls in the city. You could be lonely in many ways. The loneliness of not being understood. The loneliness of being left out and left behind. Existential loneliness. The loneliness of losing another person. The loneliness of losing yourself. He remembered his bewilderment when Valentine told him she was lonely. He had always considered himself the clumsy one in social situations while Valentine seemed to brighten up in a big crowd. At parties, she beamed and moved easily from conversation to conversation while he would hide in a corner and think of something to say.

She had said it to him one night. "Cory, do you know how lonely I feel?" He was dumbstruck. "But you are always with people and you smile all the time." "You know, Cory, you can be lonely in a crowd and you can hide your tears behind a smile." As she said this, she smiled in a way that broke his heart, but he could not think of anything to say. There was just silence, and eventually Valentine changed the topic. When he thought of it, it was around this time when she started drifting away. She wouldn't answer his calls, she was always busy, and so their friendship withered.

On his part, he couldn't let go. He kept sending her his music and told her about his projects, but it was like shouting into an empty universe. There was no response and yet he kept sending his little messages, hoping they would arrive somehow.

He closed his eyes and heard Lester blow again among restless percussion and windchimes. The walking bass strolling across the city and then the theme. Lester's theme, a lucid melody emerging between silence, swing and chaos. Saying I feel something. I'm here. Listen to me.

Note: Cooper Moore's story is told in William Parker's book of interviews, Conversations, RogueArt, 2011. The quotes are taken from the interview in the book.
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