Romanticism was introduced to my desperate mind at the worst possible time of life: adolescence. It came partly in the form of film, that visual medium that traces and captures vivid and unforgettable images as moving tableaus, but cinema was not quite as outrageous and ubiquitous compared to classical music. In fact, some of the first composers I stumbled upon: Johannes Brahms, and then Franz Schubert.
The music of Brahms is so drenched in melancholy and pain associated with unrequited love that even his Hungarian dances will make you weep. Most of it I believe came from his own impossible love for Clara Schumann, the wife of his fellow composer and friend Robert Schumann. For most of the time, Clara was “taken”; even after Schumann's madness and death when she was technically “available,” Brahms did not “take” this widow and make her his. Instead he remained a bachelor for life, lamented his own love and yearning in compositional form and twisted and confused the hearts of sensitive adolescents like me.
My own habit or tendency of idealizing the female species by elevating them so high up on the pedestal that they disappear beyond the clouds and achieve goddess-hood I blame not so much on poetry (though it did have a definite hand in it) but more on music. In fact, never before was music so romantically meshed and integrated with poetic words than in the case of Franz Schubert and his wonderful collection of Lieder (songs). Although there are a few quite “happy” songs, most of them make one want to jump off high buildings or bridges or both.
Such dramatic obsession, the quest for impossible romance, fueled most of my adolescence right into young adulthood. It blurred my vision to such a degree that I saw gold where there was not even an inkling of glitter. Idealism is always dangerous, but when it comes to love it reaches its utmost distorting and damaging effects, just ask poor Madame Bovary.
Sure, we can claim that Brahms and Schubert were the main inspiration for my turning to writing since all this nascent and unrealistic love could not possibly find release and expression except in and through poems and stories, and we can also say that my graduate thesis (on the aforementioned Madame) was inspired by their palpable influence. However, the psychological and emotional damage has been beyond repair, and as a result, I am asking for a class action suit against these two composers in particular (the full list would be in fact much more extensive).
I am suing them for ruining human relationships for me, especially in my younger years. Instead of “banging chicks,” which would have been the normal staple of teenagers, I was musing about the gaze of the mistress or of finding ways to get her beloved attention. A simple touch of the hand or a pat on my back felt like heaven to me while I always ended up not getting the girl due to my shyness or the sense of paralyzing fear.
Love is (and perhaps must be) out of reach. Once it is attained, it feels suffocated and imprisoned and slowly wrinkles and dies in its cage, metaphorically speaking. This might have been a subconscious impulse of mine to make sure that I never reached my goal. It may sound negative, but it seems that romantic and passionate love are fueled by the quest; once the target of one's affections is captured in the spotlight, it freezes and becomes immobile. Romeo never attained love; nor did Johannes Brahms or, to put it in more popular blockbuster terms, neither did Jack and Rose from Titanic.
In a way, I can say my youth had been wasted on those romantic notions. No worries, I am fine now, happily married with the blessing of a child. So this is all speculative and idle musings of a man who is about to enter his first series of serious midlife crises. It seems that in one's hair-thinning days one recalls most vividly the past where hair was not an issue. As Bob Dylan (a post-adolescence influence on me albeit also not too wholesome either regarding romantic notions) puts it, I was older then, but I am much younger now, that is in spirit, of course.
If I had a magic wand and could go back in time and erase Brahms and Schubert from my past and relive my adolescence again, would I do it? That is a difficult question to answer. Part of me definitely feels cheated. It is like living day by day under the spell of a romantic lie. It can be interpreted as both religious and mystical where Woman, the right and chosen one would come as a Savior and release me from a dull existence and turn it into never-ending bliss. But that person never comes year after year.
I used to watch the Wonder Years, and felt that part of my own maturing process was captured there. Kevin was in love with Winnie and throughout the years searched for her like one would for the Holy Grail. Except that in his later years (and I believe final season) he realized that it was all futile. Winnie was just another woman, a human being with flaws like all the rest of us since even females were not exempt from it.
Yet part of me still cherishes those romantic notions. There are moments when I watch movies or read books where I fully identify with someone I used to be in the past. Deep inside I yelp out yes to the suffering and heartsick character on the screen or the page. I can understand and pity them, the same way I pity the old version of myself. Or perhaps I feel envy.
Perhaps it is not happiness that we seek, but something else. After all, it is suffering that gives shape to lasting art, and Brahms and Schubert have suffered the pangs of love for us, for you and me. And their works will always stand the test of time, and I will drop my lawsuit and go back to listen to their heartfelt music after this post.