Crying at the ‘Barber – Pretentious moi?

Prepare yourself for one of the most pretentious sentences you will likely ever read. (Unless you’re holding a book by Will Self. ZING!)

I’m not saying I always cry when I listen to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, just most times.

There. But it is true, and I can’t help it. It just gets me every single time. If you don’t know the Adagio for Strings then I can guarantee that you do, you just don’t know the name. It has been used many times in film because it is a profoundly moving piece played on poignant strings. It was used in the film Platoon, overlaying epic battle scenes. The scene however that always chokes me up is it’s use in The Elephant Man. The black and white masterpiece directed by David Lynch. It concerns John Merrick (John Hurt), a man with a terribly disfigured head and body rescued by a surgeon (Anthony Hopkins) from a freak show. If you haven’t seen it, do so. With hankies.


John Merrick dies at the end. Not much of a surprise but it is a sublime scene that even the thought of it makes me well up. (Yes, even now as I’m rattling this out.) Due to his disability John cannot lie down on his back to sleep, his lungs would fill with fluid, but finally he reaches the point of utter exhaustion with his life and suffering and chooses to lie down to sleep. The music sweeps in as he draws his last breaths and the camera slowly pans up as the music climbs in pitch, and slowly zooms out into the night sky beyond, as if his soul is leaving his body and ascending to heaven upon the beautiful music.

Kills me every time.

Every time.

Okay, you’re thinking, it is sad. Get over it. And you are right. I have seen plenty of other sad films that don’t affect me the same way. (Okay, Turner and Hooch does, and Toy Story 3; you know the bit.) But this is where memory starts playing tricks with us, scenes in films bind with memories and make odd connections in your head, sometimes not consciously. To give an example I’ll swing from the sublime to the ridiculous. The other day I found myself alone at home, a rare treat! So naturally my thoughts turned to the risqué and I enjoyed a little binge listen to ‘My Dad Wrote a Porno’ podcast while playing Minecraft on the ol’ Xbox. (Does this guy know how to live!) A week passed and I was back in Minecraft again and went down to the mine I had been excavating to find diamonds. (A boy’s gotta eat!), I entered the chamber and immediately thought of Belinda Blumenthal, the highly sexed and highly improbable central character in ‘My Dad…’ No  association  other than I had been listening to it last time I was there.

So, yeah, when I listen to Barber’s Adagio for Strings, although I am thinking the Elephant Man, it’s not what I’m feeling. I am remembering someone else lying down, exhausted from fighting a disease they couldn’t beat, and finally letting go. Someone very close to me who I was privileged enough to be with in his very final moments.

I wasn’t going to write about this now. But I had iTunes on shuffle and up it came, and, already being in a melancholic frame of mind, it got me again. No point to make this time, no moral, just wanted to share a a thought about memories. (If you want a moral then take this: Check yourselves over regularly; if you find anything strange then get it checked out quickly!)

And so, yes, it may sound pretentious to say it; that I don’t cry every time I listen to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, just most. But it is absolutely the truth.

Find me on Facebook –  and on Twitter – @fatbloketalking or email

My Dad Wrote a Porno is an incredibly funny podcast, where three friends read aloud an erotic novel written by one of their dad’s. Over 18’s only but the combination of shock, discomfort, sarcasm and terrible writing is ‘snorting aloud on the bus’ funny. You will be surprised at the A list celebrities who are avid fans and have rung into the show!






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