Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Melody (08/24/06)
TITLE: Bars, Casablanca, and Beauty
By Evan Peck
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The voice should have belonged to Mr. Humphrey Bogart himself, the timely wink, the corner of his mouth curling up ever so slightly, the stale smoke-stained breath, even the language itself – the man might as well have been demanding Sam break his heart with the piano one more time.
I picked “Hallelujah”, a tune which I thought would please Bogey, or perhaps it was the type that would have left him hovered over a half-filled bottle of vodka and a bar full of empty glasses. The song has been somewhat tainted by pop-culture icons, untamed voices, and a large green ogre named Shrek, but it could have been played in a 50s flick about love and detectives. I am sure of it … but that is not why I chose it.
I chose it because it can break your heart. I chose it because it is beautiful. I chose it because I think it is true.
Mr. Bogart’s eyes didn’t light up when I played the opening chords. Why should they? I have never seen them shift from the mud-gray vacant gaze. Someone did him wrong a long time ago, of that I am certain. It’s something I’ve never really been told, but I am still convinced of it.
I played the song anyways, pretending not to notice the talking heads at the bar or the rickety, splintered stool my feet explored in nervous anticipation. The room had a dry, musty taste and I made myself believe I could wipe it clean when I played. I was convinced my music was more beautiful than the room, so why couldn’t this composition triumph it?
“Baby, I've been here before
I've seen this room and I've walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you
I've seen your flag on the marble arch
but love is not a victory march
it's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah”
Ah, the chorus … that was the meat and potatoes of the song. You don’t cry at the broken lyrics or the floating guitar solos. You cry at ‘hallelujah’. You cry because it is a word that holds something holy in it, because it holds hope and pain and goodness, but most of all, you cry because, in the company of that melody, it is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever heard.
As I played, I wondered if it was possible that something so wonderful could not have come from God. I mean, it must have. Is there any other option? If God is beauty and God is goodness and God is love, then I have to claim these things for Him. You cannot convince me that, when you see absolute beauty, you are not seeing something from God Himself. Where else could it come from?
And so that was what I contemplated as the tune made the turn from the triumphant climax to the delicate conclusion.
To tell you the truth, I’m not sure if Mr. Bogart knew God. Hell, I’m not even sure if he knew [i]of[/i] God. But he knew beauty, that much I am sure. There was this moment - and I do say that it was just a moment - this instant when I caught his eyes before they ran back down to his clenched, dirt-worn hands. Do you know what I saw? I saw blue – bold and daring blue. I saw those stone-gray eyes change to a color even the skies and oceans could not recreate if they tried. It was then I knew that, even if this man had never climbed the front stairs of a church, he had heard beauty. I knew that today, he had heard a part of God. And that, I thought, was beautiful in and of itself.
Mr. Humphrey Bogart departed in a fitting manner. He left two tattered one dollar bills on the table, stood up, and pushed in his chair. The bartender turned on a ceiling propeller to cool the room and Bogart walked, trench-coat flowing, through the cigarette fog out the door.
I know there are times I like to embellish the story to make it sound all the more wonderful, but as Mr. Bogart disappeared into the night, I heard something in my head murmur, “Someday you’ll understand. Now, now… here’s looking at you kid”.
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