Jul 8, 2009 at 5:00 am

Last time, when our theme was “Wish You Were Here,” I knew the phrase would make you think of that song by Pink Floyd.

This was a bit of irony on my part because that song, written by Roger Waters and his buddies, was a tribute to Syd Barrett, the founding member of the band who had famously broken down and had to retire his position in the group before they really started to engage their commercial potential. Thus, it wasn’t about being on vacation at all, as I would have had you believe; it was about the rift between the sane and the insane. So you think you can tell heaven from hell … a smile from a veil … Etc.

Insanity has a long tradition in American pop culture, going back at least as far as the 1830s and the work of Edgar Allen Poe, who typically created narratives from the perspective of mentally troubled individuals who fiercely defended their sanity. It seems like everybody’s heard of Poe, but you’d be surprised how many people choose to insist they are sane, even to the point of spitting and turning red in the face.

Having recognized the value of Poe’s observation about human psychology, I can only wonder how sane I might be. As complicated as modern life has become, I doubt sanity is even possible anymore. Seems like even the simplest of lives requires a committee to cover all the bases. Those of us with skimpy support systems aren’t likely to make it very far.

One of my favorite songs about this kind of crazy is Merle Haggard’s “I Can’t Hold Myself in Line.” This here is a pretty funny little song. It seems the singer has a drinking problem and suggests that his listener would be better off to just leave and forget me. Isn’t that the way all these country songs go?

The version I would like to play for you was recorded by Will Rigby, the drummer for the band The dB’s. It appeared on his first solo album, Sidekick Phenomenon, a lo-fi masterpiece released in 1985 by Ira Kaplan’s doomed Egon Records. Sidekick Phenomenon was the only record Egon released; 20 years after its initial pressing, Kaplan, the primary force behind the band Yo La Tengo, was still trying to get rid of the last box full at his band’s shows, selling them for a dollar each.

If that demented mess of noise doesn’t quite work for you, I’m sure our next selection will strike a chord close to your heart. Patsy Cline’s quintessential version of Willie Nelson’s “Crazy” describes a kind of crazy we can all identify with. This is the one where the singer is carrying a torch for a former lover in spite of her better judgment. If you are lucky it has been a long time since you felt this way, but I’m sure you can summon up some of that heartache in sympathy for those unfortunate individuals who might be stuck in the middle of that sad circumstance.

Listening to that song again after so long makes me think about how love itself is a kind of madness. Sane people, after all, don’t get all excited about stuff and things. Consider an example from the movies: In “The Age of Innocence,” directed by Martin Scorsese, Daniel Day Lewis, a young lawyer, gets engaged to Winona Ryder because they are a good match with lots of potential for success within their social circle. All that business of getting up in Michelle Pfeiffer’s business — well, that’s crazy.

Then there’s “Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down,” written and directed by Pedro Almodovar and starring Antonio Banderas. That one’s about a soap opera star who gets kidnapped by this crazy guy who just escaped from a mental institution. Seems the lady has been really stressed, and the guy recognizes that she needs a vacation, so he locks her up and takes good care of her until she falls in love with him. I am almost certain that kidnapping is not a good way to start a healthy relationship, but I guess that’s the point: Love is for crazy people.

Well, that’s the end of another hour. Hope y’all had fun. We’ll end with a little ditty from Prince’s Purple Rain soundtrack. You know the one.


For further consideration: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” has a lot to say about what’s crazy and what isn’t. You should check that out.