There are criticisms–judgments, appraisals of your personal shortcomings, offhand snide comments–that stick. These are maybe spoken by a parent, a teacher, a departing lover; they are maybe accurate but also often a function of the moment, and so not even remotely neutral. Still, you come back to them again and again, long after you’ve shaken off more damning comments with more far-reaching implications. (You sort of have to shake those off in order to live with yourself.)
I remember in a creative writing class someone once wrote on a story of mine something like, “This writer has talent but he’ll never go anywhere if he doesn’t learn to break out of his nice-guy perspective.” As they say, ouch. Because my work did have, continues to have, a nice-guy perspective; it’s something I never did learn to break out of. I certainly tried, but over time came to realize that I was never going to be a person who could write “American Psycho,” that truly evil (or even unapolagetically loathsome) characters were beyond my imaginative reach.
Perhaps great literature does require a deeper appreciation of evil than I have, but I also think there are artistic opportunities in the nice-guy perspective. So this week I give a shout-out to some fellow travelers for coming up with my favorite nice-guy song of 2013. It’s the end of a relationship; over strummed, delicate guitars, the singer tells of how he knows the “shorter days and long nights” of winter have been the only thing holding him and his partner from breaking up, and now that winter is over he understands she’s going to leave, that the “lives [they] lead will weave on their own.”
Is he sad? You betcha. But bitter? No way! Instead even right in the thick of this break-up he is philosophical, understanding, warm-hearted. (Perhaps he was practicing over that long anticipatory winter). He has not a single rancorous word to say about the person about to leave; and regarding their relationship, he maintains he will “reach for the best of what was/And leave all that wasn’t behind.” He’s just grateful to be able to cherish:
Your heart beats for another day
I still believe you love me but in a different way
All of this is sung in a trembling, Ben Gibbard–ish voice, against synthesizer washes and toward the end strings. Such earnest sentiments expressed in tasteful, jewel-box-like musical settings can sometimes get on my nerves (hello, Avett Brothers) but here I’m totally with this guy. I believe he believes this relationship has been a growing experience for him, and I believe he believes no one’s at fault for its demise. I even swallow his Zen-like detachment, at least within the song. In real life I’m guessing there were at least some frustrating arguments, slammed doors, and maybe even a snide comment or two that one or the other will carry around for years.
But that’s a song for someone else to sing (hello, Lou Reed). In the meantime, I wish these guys more success in bringing nice-guy to the masses than I managed. (Below, one of my personal favorite fictional nice guys, Mr. Lloyd Dobler.)