"Everybody got to die sometime, Red."
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Reading time: 4 minutes
Recommended for: Wet blankets
The classical 1936 Samuel Barber composition—widely regarded to be among the saddest ever—wasn’t something we did just once; in our best days, it was an entire epoch between us, a work we returned to time and time again. We’d put the record on and turn the volume up so loud that it filled the entire building, chins rising and falling as if in accordance with our very own hearts (as Mr. Barber intended), and then we’d drag out the props to recreate whatever dramatic scene from one of the twelve dozen movies that used this song.
My favorite sequence comes, of course, from Platoon, when Willem Dafoe, abandoned by his company on the jungle floor, bursts from the trees with swarms of VC at his heels, theatrical explosions rending the background, gets shot about a dozen times in slow motion, and then finally, falling to his knees, reaches his arms up, Christ-like, at the passing helicopters of his squadmates. I’ve always had a bit of a jungle fetish and a knack for pyrotechnics, and we can use your Gauguin plants as a backdrop, and I dress as Willem Dafoe and you dress as the Viet Cong and FINALLY get to wear your ghillie suit, and the entire second floor is rigged to blow. It’s breathtaking. 

Your personal preference has always been less adorned, favoring the tear-jerking scene in Lorenzo’s Oil when fatherly Nick Nolte reads the diagnosis “Adrenoleukodystrophy” for the first time in a darkened library, and then throws himself down the stairs rending at his chest in grief, because there’s nothing you like better than tearing a starched shirt to shreds, and our echo-drowned stairwell is just perfect for the job.
The tragedy of the movement is almost national: fitting, that its performance has become the go-to catharsis after every disaster, the soundtrack to every president’s funeral. The orchestral arrangement, the shifting melody and escalating suspense—it is calculated to stop every heart, and these afternoons are, in any case, long past.
Most striking is the four-chord climax of the piece, the shrillest moment of crescendo—in Platoon, when Sergeant Elias falls, the helicopters soar past (the ground’s too hot to go back), and Charlie Sheen grows into a man—which, when I hear it, always makes me imagine standing on a precipice outdoors, like on a cliff or bluff or something remote and windswept where maybe I’m about to pitch myself off, where I dangle my foot out into the salty air above jagged rocks, but for you has always summoned the exact moment when, from above, a beam of white light pierces the absolute darkness of a well or cave where you’ve been sitting for an indeterminate amount of time, your death presumed, and this light signifies hope or the idea of hope, and maybe as the song grows the light gets wider, the gap opens up and there’s someone on the other side of it, a rescuer, and that very contradiction—where one of us chooses death, the other life—maybe this ought to have meant something to our paint-splattered selves at the time, in our racist hats and fake medals, should have clued us in on something that we were always chasing, no matter the project (like, I was reenacting suicides while you did fresh-faced portraits of youth with fruit accompaniment), such that, however many months later, after our separation, when I turn the corner on a dust-covered street within spitting distance of where we once lived, no other humans around at all, and see you walking towards me from afar, unmistakably, and this basically sad song is somehow filtering through the air and through our heads like the scene in a movie where the army trucks are piping diegetic ennui through their loudspeakers and all the ladies and gentlemen and children and war-wounded soldiers take off their hats and look to the sky to say, Yes, this was a tragedy, and we start running towards each other as the music rebuilds, step by step, our faces opening up in recognition, the world desolate and wrecked around us, when the music reaches its pinnacle at the moment of potential connection, as our paths draw parallel, maybe it is in our best interests to just keep running.

Simon Jacobs 
is the author of SATURN, a collection of David Bowie stories, out now from Spork Press.

He may be found at 
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