Holding her guitar like a freshly unsheathed sword, Neko Case was an hour into her powerhouse set at First Avenue Thursday night, her feet planted and that magnificent throat open full throttle and singing to the heavens, her demons and lovers, bursting through with shamanistic soul and raw feeling on such bruised beauties as “The Tigers Have Spoken,” “This Tornado Loves You,” “Wild Creatures,” and “That Teenage Feeling,” when I realized I’d been crying — softly at times and sobbing at others — the whole damn time.
Pretty sure I wasn’t alone in my weepfest, but just in case, when it was over, I snuck away from the throng and hung by the side of the stage for a few minutes to gather myself, sure, but mostly to savor the moment of rare catharsis, the dictionary definition of which (“the purging of emotional tensions, especially through certain kinds of art, as tragedy or music”) I was living out like a boss.
It had been a while since I’d cried that hard (I can name on one hand the times I have, all in response to life via music), and I was surprised and grateful for the flushing rebirth it provided: In the course of 90 minutes, my load was lightened, my burden laid down, and I found myself walking out of that storied music venue in a much better state of grace than when I walked in.
Thanks to the spiritual connection and emotional bloodletting provided by Case and her wicked band, but also to the freedom and privacy afforded by a dark nightclub, where no one passes judgment on the tears of a dude. Which is good, because I’ve cried more in the last year than in all my years combined, and I could enumerate exactly why here, what with the deaths of friends and family, personal growth and stumbling, the melancholia of autumn, and the exhausting and sometimes overwhelming task of being human in this confusing, depressing and sorrow-filled world.
The sum of which has normally been met by men with stiff jaws, bit lips, calibrated hearts, and the socially learned behavior of bucking up, shutting up and carrying on. Culture and parents have taught sons that bravery equals stoicism and dry eyes, but history and literature are filled with cry-baby leaders and heroes, and it says here that there’s strength and learning to be had in the so-called weakness of crying. Besides, sometimes a positive outlook doesn’t do it. Sometimes you need to let life bring you to your knees so you can walk on and make sense of things.
From Wikipedia: “According to the German Society of Ophthalmology, which has collated different scientific studies on crying, women cry on average between 30 and 64 times a year, and men cry on average between 6 and 17 times per year. Men tend to cry for between two and four minutes, and women cry for about six minutes. Crying turns into sobbing for women in 65 percent of cases, compared to just 6 percent for men. Until adolescence, however, no differences between the sexes was found.”
What’s more, a 1985 University of Minnesota study found that women cry four times more than men and that men’s tears rarely make it past their lids. The same study found that emotional tears, but not onion-induced tears, help rid the body of toxins released under stress.
Crying, then, is the ultimate detoxification ritual, and further research finds that crying steadies our breathing and heart rate, leads to a calmer biological and emotional state, and produces the body’s natural “feel-good” hormone, endorphins. All of which dovetails neatly with my own recent research.
Me, I’m getting leakier as I get older. I find myself dabbing at my eyes daily during talks with friends or while reading/writing/praying, and I confess as much here not to encourage a bawling band of brothers where there is no call, but to give all uptighty bros everywhere permission to completely lose our bleep now and then. Our fathers and their fathers were the strong and silent types, veterans and post-war family men who dealt with their emotions via silence and a stiff drink, and that’s one very solid way to go.
Another, as so many of the women and girls I know who can cry at the drop of “Project Runway” finale can attest, is to uncork all the masculine bravado and let the river roll. God knows we could all use a good cry in these troubled times, and for that and all our mass catharsis needs, Sunday’s Packers-Vikings game can’t come soon enough.