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    Simple, Man

            When I first heard the song “Simple Man” by Lynryd Skynyrd, I connected to it immediately. In my teens, introspective but not yet very emotionally articulate, I knew I liked the song. I knew that it touched something inside of me. But I didn’t know what. And I didn’t know why.
             I was aware that a big part of why you like one song as opposed to another is unknowable. Like trying to figure out why one painting is beautiful to one person and hideous to another, most of it has nothing to do with cognitive processing. It touches something else in us besides our minds. Art has the ability to evoke our hearts for reasons we may never know, because it’s not a head thing. It’s a heart thing. It’s a spiritual thing. The mind certainly plays a role, but a relatively minor one.
             The melody and the musical passages of “Simple Man” were what first attracted me to the song. I learned the lyrics pretty quickly, but they didn’t resonate with me until years later. One day, about six years ago, I was listening to the song, and I started to cry. I had cried to songs plenty of times before, but never this one. And I had been listening to this song for over twenty-five years. Why now?
             When I asked myself that question, I came up with some answers. I cried because the lyrics finally touched me in a way they never had before. And the unique beauty of music is that it can transform words. Some words, some phrases and passages, have minimal impact when they are written or spoken. But if you put those words to great music, they have the ability to transcend the page they are written on or the mouth they come out of. Now those same words, that a moment ago evoked very little, are touching your heart and soul. I have a word for that. Magic.
             Going deeper, I asked myself what was it about the lyrics that were making me cry. I was able to isolate certain passages that really hit me.

    “Don't get your lust from the rich man's gold
    All that you need now is in your soul”

             Here’s what it was about that line; I knew and believed that everything I needed was indeed in my soul. But I also believed that I would never be able to get to it. There was just too much shit inside of me that would forever block me from being able to mine the depths of my own soul. For the first time, I made the devastating connection between having it all inside of me but never being able to get it. Starving in the midst of a feast. That idea of that being what the rest of my life would be about absolutely crushed me.
             The next line that hit me like a cold slap across a hot face was this one:

    “Oh, don't you worry, you'll find yourself
    Follow your heart and nothing else”

             I believed I was incapable of ever truly finding myself. I had done so much work on myself, and I still felt so lost. When would I find me and what was it going to take? I had no idea. And it wasn’t from a lack of trying.
             Following my heart felt as impossible to me as writing a novel in Chinese. I knew I had a heart. A big one. But I could rarely get to it. I couldn’t hear what it was trying to tell me, because my mind was creating so much noise that it was drowning out my own song. I wanted to follow my heart, but I was horribly frustrated because I could not get to it. Or I couldn’t get to enough of it to hear it or feel it over the drowning sound and omnipresence of my mind.
             Then there was the chorus, which spoke to me the loudest.

    “And be a simple kind of man
    Be something you'll love and understand”

             Three strikes on this one. I wasn’t simple. I didn’t understand myself. And I sure as hell didn’t love myself. Worse, I felt I never would. I felt far too complicated and messed up to ever consider myself simple enough to ever understand. I was after all, a defective model. Like a car that doesn’t work right, but no mechanic on earth can figure out why. “Everything appears to be in good working order, Mr. Piatelli, but the thing just doesn’t run right. It’s missing something, but we don’t have any idea what.” That’s how I thought about myself.
             And the self love thing was so far out of my experience that it didn’t even feel like an option. I didn’t hate myself all of the time, but I certainly didn’t love myself. And I was very familiar with self hatred, and I did it plenty enough. I was a pro at beating the crap out of myself and I didn’t see the benefits of becoming an amateur or hanging up my cleats. After all, beating myself up was the only way I could improve myself. I still believed that, even though all the evidence completely contradicted that.
             So what this song now represented to me was a path to redemption that I could never take. A way out of pain that I could see but not find. Like holding a gallon of cold water in front of a man dying of thirst. The weight of the words buckled me. And I broke down.
             When I hear the song “Simple Man” today, I sometimes still cry. But for completely different reasons. Please join me for part two, where I’ll tell you why.

    ©2009 Clint Piatelli. All Rights (and a simple amount of Wrongs) Reserved.

    SIMPLE MAN written by Ron Van Zant & Gary Rossington
    © Duchess Music Corp., Longitude Music Co.

    To hear a sample of the song "Simple Man", click here

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