American Hit Parade

Ode to Miss Lonelyhearts

Miss Lonelyhearts, you’re on my mind these days. Your emerald taffeta dress and red vintage hair, the way you squint into the mirror to fix your lipstick and wonder how so much time flew by. Jimmy Stewart’s up there, judging you. He’s the one who stuck you with that maudlin nickname but I don’t think he meant to be cruel. He worries about you down there in your tidy garden apartment, the way you pace your dining room at night, waiting to be loved, waiting for the world to come inside.

I’m thinking of you, Miss Lonelyhearts, because I’ve been doing the same thing: solo dinners, listening to the house sighing and settling at night. Alone with the dishes and the mail and trying to write. I should go out and make the scene but I shouldn’t be in bars these days and I’m catastrophic at small talk anyway. I can never think of anything to say, so I pace along creaky floorboards and look out the window, thinking of all the glamorous parties I’m missing tonight, the flushed conversations and sparkling women in elaborately designed rooms, the adventure and intrigue that I’ll want to remember when I’m old. But the buzzy excitement is always elsewhere. It’s certainly not with me.

You’re setting the table for two although you’re dining alone and I can dig that. We do baffling things when we’re alone, when we don’t think Jimmy Stewart’s up there watching us. Last night I stood for ages in the refrigerator’s glow, hypnotized by the narcotic, almost amniotic bath of its astral white light, lost in the throes of some kind of primal hunter/gatherer/sunshine effect. I ping-ponged around the apartment, clutching two books and a fork, unsure what to do before entering the inevitable staring contest with this blasted computer screen, telling myself I should get up and eat some cereal or maybe go to the bathroom but I just kept scrolling and refreshing. A murder-suicide in Indiana. The latest features on the hottest new gadget. A man stalking a celebrity with a pair of scissors. Erupting volcanoes and dead astronauts. Politicians accusing each other of being unAmerican like we’re still living in the Cold War.

But you went out and did something about it, Miss Lonelyhearts. Well done. You went to that bar and found a friendly guy, maybe a little too friendly but what the hell, you brought him home for a nightcap and he went all octopus, arms sliding all over you. Really scary stuff but you belted him a good one while the neighbors carried on with their Friday night singing, oblivious to your good fight. You never can tell what’s in the hearts of people. Maybe it’s better to stand at the window and wonder rather than really find out.

Easy there with the wine, Miss Lonelyhearts. I know how that goes. I bought a self-help book and I’ve been trying to meditate but it’s no good. I hear an angry man’s crutches clomping down the street, ricocheting off the sleepy Sunday night homes, the only sound except droning powerlines and a few distant television sets tuned to the big game. My eyes are closed but I can picture him out there wobbling, struggling to light a cigarette, the right leg of his Levis stapled to the back pocket. Sometimes we chat but I can never think of anything to say.

Oh no, Miss Lonelyhearts. Now you’ve got a bottle of pills. Damn it. How many lonely hearts are there? We’re just peeking into one apartment building here. Zoom out and look at all those millions of little yellow squares with slumped silhouettes dotting the skylines of New York, Chicago, Taipei, Istanbul, Berlin, and the rest of the world. People pushed right up to the awful edge despite their best efforts to comb their hair, say hello, make a connection, and find some solid footing. Ah Miss Lonelyhearts, you’ve got that wrung-out look. I know that look. Don’t want to be asleep and don’t want to be awake. Can’t stay drunk and don’t want to be sober. But then: music. Listen. That composer fellow upstairs, he’s been having a tough time, too, but he’s been practicing this moody ballroom melody for weeks and he’s finally got it. You put down the pills. I can’t see from here, but maybe you’re shaking a bit. Good. You’re the heart of this movie, Miss Lonelyheart. Sure, there’s Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly, and all that intrigue surrounding mean old Thorwald in apartment 4G, but you’re the thing that makes this picture tick, the one we worry about because we can relate to you the most. We’ve all spent long nights waiting for music from above.

Roy Orbison – Only the Lonely

Monument Records, 1960