Podcast: Elvis Presley – Are You Lonesome Tonight

Is your heart filled with pain?

Shall I come back again?

Tell me dear, are you lonesome tonight?

Are You Lonesome Tonight, sung by Elvis Presley

Hi, this is Thanh Dinh, and welcome back to another episode of the Radio of Resistance, where we, no matter what happens, believe that there will always be something left to love in this world.

Unfortunately, or really, fortunately, there are no heavy books nor depressive poems to discuss this week. I was just sitting there brainstorming for a perfect episode this week and the song was still on. So there you have it: a not so pretty decision on how I will discuss Elvis Presley’s “Are You Lonesome Tonight” for today’s podcast episode.

You know, I came across Elvis Presley’s “Are You Lonesome Tonight” once, when I was struck by the beauty of the moon and took a step down the abyss too quickly. And though the abyss was beautiful, and though only by lying underneath it, I can truly see how sad and lonely the moon was beneath all her beauty, I swore to myself I would never do it again.

But listen to Elvis’s “Are You Lonesome Tonight”? That I still do. Not religiously. But when the song comes on randomly on a moonlit night on my playlist, I let it bring me back to the same abyss.

Do the chairs in your parlor seem empty and bare?
Do you gaze at your doorstep and picture me there?

Are You Lonesome Tonight, sung by Elvis Presley

I had fallen in love once, when I heard Elvis’s“Are You Lonesome Tonight.” And the time I had fallen out of that love, I had cried listening to Elvis’s “Are You Lonesome Tonight.” Till this day, many things had changed. I moved out of the old apartment, so the chairs in the parlor are no longer there. The doorstep had been painted a new shade of white. The lightbulb in front of the doorstep had been broken far too many times and I just refused to change it. The new apartment has a night balcony where I can place a night couple of chairs there. A set of coffee table, perhaps. But I don’t.

I guess all I ever did was just that. Running away from the moonlit abyss. Running away from the empty and bare chairs in the apartment’s parlor. Running away from the familiar shadow under the lightbulb at the doorstep.

And I must say, I have never been quite successful with it.

Honey, you lied when you said you loved me
And I had no cause to doubt you.
But I’d rather go on hearing your lies
Than go on living without you.

Are You Lonesome Tonight, sung by Elvis Presley

I remember the time when I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Of Love and Other Demons.” There is so much to talk about it that I believe I must devote a whole episode to discuss that novel. But here, within the frame of this episode, I will just discuss how love could not save anything.

The next part might contain spoiler of the novel, so if you don’t want to hear it, you may fast forward to the part where I return to the moonlit abyss.

So, “Of Love and Other Demons.” How is it relevant here when I used the quotes above from “Are You Lonesome Tonight”?

It is because when I reach the ending of the novel, when the little girl, who believe that the young priest who had confessed his love for her will try his best to save her from the torture of the church, can finally be saved by love. But as with all of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novels, and as with all that happens in life, the secret passage leading to the girl’s room was blocked by a wall. The girl was, thus, taken away and killed by the church’s horrendous exorcism, leaving the young priest on the other side of the wall, scratching at the walls, hoping that by sheer will, he can take the wall down.

I always think it’s strange. How we always know that love can never save anything. How, by instinct, we know that the words of love spoken to us are almost all filthy lies. And yet, we all choose to go on believing in it, living on it, building a house with it as our foundation.

Because I’d rather go on hearing your lies, than go on living without you.

Once when I was still a young student, I made an intelligent mistake by taking a Psychology 101 class, which I believe I had mentioned once before in one of the episodes. Pulling an all nighter reading the chapters for the classess, I still remembered the part where they said being single brought about as much happiness as being married.

I have very little knowledge on how they conduct the experiment, nor how they come up with the result. After all, I am far from a perfect Psychology student. You can see it in the way I never take another psychology class during my university years.

But all things aside, if there is one thing I know for certain, from the many lives I see passing by and the many lives staying, is that human is an extremely lonely creature.

So like what they say in a song. I don’t like to sleep alone; it’s sad to think some folks do.

Once, when my mom and my sister had to come back to Vietnam before me, and I had to stay alone in the two-bedroom apartment filled with the memories of human connections, it’s obvious to say that I rarely stay there. I hung around the nearby mall from the opening hour till the closing hour, then I went to the nearby coffee shop, where, at that time, the owner opened 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And I would stay there, waiting for the warm coffee to turn cold, watching people come and leave, until my eyes tired out. Then I would cross the park and sit on the cold bench, watching the waning moon on the dawning sky.

During that period, I didn’t sleep much. I just let life tires me out, like normal people my age do when they get lonely. Because even if I get sad, even if I get hurt, or even if the empty and bare chairs at my apartment keep reminding me of the jump down the moonlit abyss, there’s no one there to save me. Either from myself, or from the memories that were threatening to pull me down the abyss again.

So I don’t know if being single would really bring about as much happiness as being married. Judging from the marriages I know, which is not that many, I would say it does make some sense.

But the part of me who still lied down at the abyss, looking up at the sad and desolate moon, seeing all her beauty and sadness, still think of a happiness in marriage. A compromise of some sort. Not the kind of compromise where one needs to go on hearing lies because one doesn’t want to go on living without the other. Nor the kind of compromise where one is dying on the exorcist bed while one is scratching forever at the wall, hoping love can save something – anything – from the cruelity of itself and of other demons.

I am talking about a compromise where even if love was lost, I hold onto the agony, watching you leave, and wishing that you can find someone else who can love you as much as I did love you[1].

Or the kind of compromise where you can just leave, because I am a madman in the garden of love and a drunkard on the roadside: a madman doesn’t know sadness and a drunkard can hardly remember anything[2].

Or the kind of compromise where:

Now the stage is bare and I’m standing there
With emptiness all around
And if you won’t come back to me
Then make them bring the curtain down.

Are You Lonesome Tonight, sung by Elvis Presley

And just so you know, I am still under the abyss, waiting. I never tell anyone to bring the curtain down. Not that I believe that the “you” in Elvis’s song will come back: that is far too optimistic, even for someone like me. I am just enjoying the abyss. Or as my therapist puts it, I am afraid that once I bring the curtain down, once I climb back on, I fear that I will have to jump again.

It seems to me you are running away, he says to me, under a thick layer of mask. And since our time is up, I can’t tell him that we are all running away. Be it me or him or anyone else. We are all running away in our own way. We know that we will have to bring the curtain down. We know that we will have to climb up the abyss. But just for a little while, as we are tired out, and while the blue is so blue and the green is so green, while the moon is still sad and desolate on the star-lit sky, let we run away. Let we lie here. Let we take a break from being the strong us, the never broken us, the willful us, the undestroyable us. Let the moon take us in her bosom.

Let us be weak.

Once I read Alice Munro’s “Runaway,” and the most impressive sentence that still remains within with me was how the poet’s widow was sorry for mistaking the female protagonist’s happiness for her freedom. And coincidentally, recently, when I listen to Elain Page’s “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina,” there is the line, “I chose freedom.”

And so, it seems freedom and happiness are not so closely co-related as I imagined. So if you are still trapped inside that empty and bare apartment, waiting, longing; if you are still standing on the bare stage and getting ready to tell them to bring the curtain down, do remember, you have the choice.

Like how the father in “Of Love and Other Demons” said, though it might be true that love can save everything, it’s best if you don’t believe in it.

It’s all in your hands. You can choose to go on hearing the lies, and you can also choose to walk away. You can choose freedom as much as you can choose happiness. You can choose to believe in the power of love as much as not to believe in it.

And though it might be true, that humans are the most lonesome creatures on this Earth, we also have a powerful imagination to combat against it. As children, we fight against the night with tales from far, far away countries’ princesses and princes. As adults, we fight against the loneliness with the moonlit sky, a one-person waltz as Chopin is blasting in our apartment, a one-night-only performance of Cher’s song.

It seems to me you are running away, my therapist says.

No, I say to him, you know what else I call it? I call it doing everything to survive.

So bring out the dancers in you. Bring out the singers in you. Bring out everything in you. Because as a human race, we have survive the First World War. We have survive the Second World War. And though there is still a war for equality happening outside our windows at the very moment, there is nothing to say that we won’t survive this, too.

Thank you for making it to this point of the podcast. As you might, or might not, have known, I am doing poems and novel reading sessions on my Patreon account at https://www.patreon.com/bipolar_psyche. Your donation, no matter how small, will contribute greatly to the maintenance and the continuation of this podcast series. With as much as $3, you can get access to my monthly poems reading session, and with as much as $9, you can get access to my weekly novel reading session and monthly livestream where I talk about my life and work. So please get to my Patreon account and become a Patron today to get access to Patron-only content.

To any fighter who has made it to the end of today’s podcast, thank you for your continuation support. This is Thanh Dinh, and you are listening to the Radio of Resistance.


[1] Dù Tình Yêu Đã Mất, sung by Khánh Ly

[2] Mùa Đông Của Anh, sung by Khánh Ly

Dancing

Ta ghì cho tan vỡ trái tim này

Cho người ăn chơi nhíu đôi lông mày

Ta cười cho xanh ngát kiếp lưu đầy

Cho người vũ nữ khóc tấm thân gầy.

Chưa nói yêu nhau mà lòng đã đau

Chưa nói mê say mà tình đã bay

Chưa biết môi em mà hồn đã quên

Ðã qua một đêm…

Vũ Nữ Thân Gầy (La Cumparsita) – Vietnamese Lyrics: Phạm Duy
Vũ Nữ Thân Gầy (La Cumparsita), sung by Khánh Ly

Sir, I took the dancing to the new level,

she says, dunking the last of my shots for today.

Who knows, God forbid, if the shots tomorrow will be more or less

than what she has now?

And who knows, God forbid, what does it even matter to her?

Sir, I took the dancing to the new level,

she says, as he wraps his tired arm around her.

The night is coming to a close, and neither he or her

have a place to return to.

Sir, is it true?

What is? His voice blurs away in the blasting music.

Is it true that apologies are born

because no one can ever bear the responsibilities of their actions?

Sir, tell me, what does an apology mean to you?

Does it mean forgiving and forgetting?

Does it only mean forgiving?

Or does it have no meaning, at all?

He leans in, the smoke in between grows a thin foggy curtain,

separating two vengeance souls.

I don’t know, he says, what does it mean to you?

Is it why you take dancing to a new level?

They smile as she takes off her last piece of clothings,

Sir, that’s not it. I took dancing to a new level because all my life,

I always wanted someone to stay,

and all I ever had was someone walking away.

And sir, I took dancing to a new level because

apologizing will always come too late

and what does it have to do with me anyway?

She wraps her legs around him as her glistening eyes stare down a man

who will walk away after the night ends,

Sir, I don’t like apologies. And in return, he whispers into her ears, soft with sorrow

Me neither, little girl, me neither.

Chapter I: At My Age

“You know, people at my age often forget how their life ends up in a nursing home,” I scream as I climb down said nursing home’s gate. My voice, muffled by the beating rain of the coming storm, gets lost in the wind and the uselessness of the nursing home’s guards. “Or worse,” I don’t give up, “they are all dead. So what’s there to worry about?”

I make the final jump in front of the resounding round of applaud of the imagined elderly crowd and take a bow. “Buh-bye,” I wave at them and run away into the darkness of the (also) imagined stage. Behind me, the guards are screaming my name. Sorry sons, no encore this time around. With the small backpack on my shoulders, I leap through bushes and earth, and rock and wind and rain like the thief all my old friends dream of being. I’m stealing the crumbling remains of my withering life from the hands of – I don’t know – of some villainous guy who I never see eye to eye, Old Age. The gate opens. The flood of nursing-home-guard chases after me along with the infamous flood that occurs every damn rainy season in Saigon. Some guards speak to their walkie-talkie, demand for more guards and even the police to come over. But I don’t care.

The only thing I care about is to run. And run I do. Against the flood. Against the wind. Against the rain. Against the shaking legs and the crackling bones.

I run down the hill to the street. I chase after the invisible Freedom and try to catch that thief before he’s long gone. In my fervent pursuit, I jump into the signature green taxi and shout, “RUN!”. The driver startles from his sound sleep and looks at me befuddled. The guards are coming on to the car’s trunk like a wave. I shake the driver’s soul back into him, “RUN! GOD DAMMIT, RUN!”. He pushes the accelerator, and the car finally sprints forwards into the rain. I laugh like a mad man at the commotion behind me while the driver’s eyes tear a hole on my wrinkled face.

“You don’t look like the age for adventure, sir.” He says, not fully grasps the whole two-cent-drama-action-horror-adventure movie scene.

“Nah. You know what they call my age?” I ask, wiping rainwater from my face with a damp towel from the soaking backpack.

“What, sir?”

I grin at him, roll down the windows, and scream at the commotion of guard-wave behind me:

“It’s THE AGE OF NOT GIVING A FUCK! ADIEU!”

With my final laugh, the taxi merges onto a dimly lit street and disappears into the night. And that is how I miraculously escape Old Age. Hearing this story, the taxi driver says, “My Ancestor always says that there’s never a madness that’s the same as other madness.” And I tell him it’s true. “You must hear the story about the guy who is my roommate,” I say as I squeeze the rainwater from my shirt.

“He also escapes?”

“That’s the tricky part, son. He never escapes anything. Not Old Age. Not the nursing home. Not the solitude that is closing in on him like a vacuum bag. He never escapes, and guess what?”

“You tell me, sir.”

“He died. Last week. So you tell me what’s the moral of the story?”

“I don’t know, sir.”

“The moral is, we are all dying, son. But dying without at least trying to escape? Nah, not me. Not this glorious bastard.”

“May I ask how old you are, sir?” The driver looks at me through the rearview mirror.

I grin at him. “This is not very appropriate but,” I lean back on the taxi seat, “ I’m currently not-giving-a-fuck years old.”

He is silent. It seems he has to think hard about my age, about the two-cent-drama-action-horror-adventure movie scene, and about the dead old man who used to be my living roommate. Then, with a solemn gravity, he says:

“My Ancestry is right. There’s never a madness that’s the same as other madness.”

#Postscript 3: “A Rose for Your Pocket,” A Translation

With inspiration from Thich Nhat Hanh’s “A Rose for Your Pocket,” The-My, Pham composed a song with the same title for the Vu-Lan Festival. In a time of political instability, his song resonated with the Vietnamese people and culture, whose respect and love for mothers are a universal truth.

As discussed in blog post #5, the core belief and ideology of “A Rose for Your Pocket” express themselves across the unreachable barrier of cultural differences and languages. In the process, like the Harlem rapper Tupac Shakur, people find their own way to pin a rose to their pocket.

What is in the song? Well, here is a rough translation. I hope, like The-My, Pham and Tupac Shakur, the lousy translation can inspire you to treasure the flower on your pocket, no matter the colors.

“A Rose for Your Pocket,” An English Translation

Here is a rose for my little sister,
Here is a rose for my brother,
And here is a rose for anyone
Who still have their mothers –
So their hearts can be filled with wonders.

And if one day, your gentle mother is gone:
Like a flower without the sun,
Like a child without laughter,
Like your life has, forever, stalled,
And the starry sky has gone.

Mothers, they are the gentle stream,
They are songs in a fairy’s dream,
The cool shadow at high noon,
The eyes of the stars and moon,
And the guiding light in the hopeless dark.

Mothers, they are the sweetest sugar canes,
They are the ripest Areca nuts and bananas, and
The crickets’ songs in the night,
The hard-boiled land’s warm sunshine.

Then one evening, you come home
And look at your mother, lovingly, tenderly.
You say, “Mom, do you know it?”
“What, dear?” your mother says.
“Do you know that I love you? I love you so much.”

A rose has just been put on my brother’s pocket.
And a rose has just been put on my little sister’s pocket.
Hence, I beg you – my brothers, my sisters –
Let’s celebrate with me, together.

The-My, Pham. (1966).