The Winner Is… – DeVotchKa/Mychael Danna – 2006

So I have known for a couple days what I would write about this song.  And today it seems even so much more relevant than it did when I first had the thought.  But now I think it’s important to relate how that happened.  And to say that my wife is in the hospital right now because our daughter wants to be born early.  So she is literally going to be in the hospital until our daughter is born.  That might be weeks.

So about two weeks ago my wife sent me a link to this song.  As soon as I heard the opening, I knew it was from Little Miss Sunshine and I knew I had to write about it.  Obviously she knows me well enough to know that I would have to write about something like this.  But I didn’t know what that might be.  I just knew I had to.  But two days later I was driving down the freeway, and as I listed to this song, this scene popped into my head.  The scene from the movie where they are all running after the van that they just push started.  I started crying.  It just welled up out of me, and it was very surprising.

In 2003, when Iggy was born, we had a CD in the stereo of our car from Interpol.  The song was the ‘200 couches’ song and it became the soundtrack for Iggy’s birth.  And there was a lot of relevance to what this meant to us.  Iggy was born in the light from his planet in the obscure but poignant relevance of an Interpol song.

This last week, I took Justine to an appointment with the perinatal specialist and I played this for her.  Before we got 30 second into the music, she started crying the same way that I had.  Just a surprising well of sobs pushing out of her chest.  She said that it was just as powerful as the Interpol song.  That she wanted to listen to it on the way to give birth to Lucy.  It didn’t occur to me to play the CD as we drove to the hospital just now, but she isn’t giving birth yet.  She’s still incubating.  She’s just on bedrest in the hospital now.  And maybe she can listen to it online while reading this because she’s going to be there for a while.  Because there’s something that feels so relevant to this birth.  To Lucy’s anticipated arrival on this planet.

For so much of our lives, we are presented with lofty ideals and impossible aspirations.  The world is filled with greatness.  Or so it would seem.  Men putting their boot prints on the moon.  Prodigal musicians playing parts that only they can play.  Politicians uniting people who only a day before seemed completely opposed to each other’s existence.  Men and women of all races doing incredible things for the first. time.  Discovering things that no one ever thought were possible.  It would seem we have only to look to the sky to find an ambitious path to greatness laid out before us.  It is only to be dreamed.

The reality of each day is so much different from this, and it makes me think a lot of the time that our best laid plans lead to far too much disappointment.  Our aspirations are so beautiful.  But our failures are so private and catastrophic.  And really even the burden of greatness that we put on the truly great is too enormous even for an exceptional human being.  We carry our own burdens in our dreams.  Especially when the greatest thing we do on a daily basis is get out of bed.

It would seem to me, and this is what I am getting to as the essential emotion in this song, that for most of our lives, the drudgery is the average.  The soul searching.  The private struggles with mountains of inanity and cruel helplessness.  And when we show ourselves all of this greatness, it feels like it should just be possible every day.  Like we should just be able to pop out of bed every day and fly to the moon and plant our flag.

But there are 6 billion of us alive at any one time.  All of our aspirations of flying to the moon are manifested in the dozen or so people who have actually done this.  I’m not saying that we all aspire to this one feat.  But I think we all aspire to some ideal that may or may not be possible.  And I think that it’s not necessarily our fault that we do or don’t accomplish this.  And I’m sure that it’s not our fault that we blame ourselves for not being able to achieve everything we set out to do.

I don’t know what it is about this piece that does all of this for me.  I seems like it’s climbing toward something and falling down.  But the attempt at scaling whatever harmonies are available with the adjusted melody is not interrupted by contemplation.  They don’t even dust that melody off.  They just toss it right back on the rhythm of the ostinado and ride it.  We can reach that amazing place in the sun with the strings and the wind in our hair.  The whole piece aspires to so much but is so close to our suffering.  It’s down in the mud and up on the mountaintop at the same time.  Mychael Danna and DeVotchKa use the instrumentation perfectly.  The conversation that happens is so defined and contrasted.  So freely giving room to what needs to be said.

But for some reason the sobs that welled up out of my chest when I listened to this song in the car that day had everything to do with finally being okay with not being great.  Iggy and Lucy, I am not a great man.  But I am a man.  And I have lived in a time that is my time.  And for a large majority of the 6 billion of us that are alive in our time, the most amazing thing we do in our lifetimes are like running to get in a van that shouldn’t be running to begin with.  That we live in a house that shouldn’t be standing.  That our house of cards doesn’t collapse when it rains.  That we make it through the night when it rains and the wind blows.  That we have extra food to give to our neighbors.  That we are witnesses to other people’s tragedies.  That we are witnesses to our own tragedies.  That we raise and love our children and have compassion for one another.  That this life happens at all is a miracle.  And nothing is to be taken lightly.  It’s a proud and beautiful thing to be a human being.  And none of us agree on everything.  And our wars and disagreements and threats are sad and unfortunate.  And sometimes it feels like it’s not worth it to run and jump in that broken ass car but it’s an indescribable miracle and there is nothing more noble and worthwhile than getting up and trying again.

We are the sum of our attempts.  Not the product of our accomplishments.  It doesn’t mean you get a trophy in the end.  It might just mean a lot of heartache.  And this is important to note and the heart of everything that I am trying to say.  Even the great aren’t great.  Any great accomplishment is the sum of all of our attempts.  We acknowledge the individual effort only because of the mountain of definitions that help us understand that a particular effort is noteworthy.  And when I see my son in the morning or think of my future daughter and all of the effort that goes into making a single day happen.  I think that is noteworthy.  We are small.  But our spirit is infinite and we stand together on this little ball of dirt and look to the sky.  And everything is ours.  All of it…

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2 thoughts on “The Winner Is… – DeVotchKa/Mychael Danna – 2006”

  1. This is one of the most beautiful things I have read in a long time. You worded everything about this song that I didn’t know how to say. Thank you.

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