In praise of the timid

Harold and Maude
“Harold and Maude” hits the big screen of the newly refurbished Parkway Theater Feb. 20. Graphic courtesy of Parkway Theater

It’s a loud, loud, loud, loud world, and I’ve still got a soft spot for the quiet ones.

I scribbled as much in my notebook on Saturday night after playing some acoustic songs at the Riverview Cafe with my friends and fellow songwriters Joe Fahey and AJ Sheiber.

We did not cause a sensation or change the world. We appreciatively played our songs to our appreciative friends and a few coffee shop regulars. My guitar cord fritzed out. The coffee bean grinder interrupted a few sensitive passages. In between songs we talked and joked about the world. And the entire room pretty much cozied up to one another as the packed wine bar next door crackled with early nightlife, while across the street, at the Riverview Theater, long lines of movie-goers queued up down 38th Street and 42nd Avenue to take in the big nominees on Oscars eve.

We were the thin-sliced turkeys of an entertainment sandwich that evening, and come Sunday night, Janelle Monae opened the Oscars with the symbiotic shout-out of, “Tonight we celebrate the art of storytelling … the outcasts, the misunderstood, those voices long deprived.” Once again it occurred to me that at this loud juncture of human civilization, we need to make room in our diversity discussions for voices that are not influencers, or yellers, or politicians, or media stars. Wallflowers, loners and introverts may not always make their way to the soapbox, but it’s been my experience that the shiest and quietest of the bunch are often the kindest, wisest and most thoughtful people in the room.

And I’m not, uh, alone. Consider the following perspectives of noted loners on the power of introversion:

Diane Cameron: “Introverts crave meaning so party chitchat feels like sandpaper to our psyche.”

Stephen Hawking: “Quiet people have the loudest minds.”

bell hooks: “I really like to stay in my nest and not move. I travel in my mind, and that’s a rigorous state of journeying for me.”

Nikola Tesla: “Originality thrives in seclusion free of outside influences beating upon us to cripple the creative mind. Be alone — that is the secret of invention: be alone, that is when ideas are born.”

Charles Bukowski: “People empty me. I have to get away to refill.”

Rainer Maria Rilke: “The highest form of love is to be the protector of another person’s solitude.”

This week I’m appreciating the quiet ones and loners anew, as I watch and reconsider “Harold and Maude,” Hal Ashby’s 1971 cult classic about a couple of outsiders who find each other, and which takes to the big screen of the newly refurbished Parkway Theater later this month.

It’s a quiet and quirky little film, and its celebration of loner love and romance is timeless: Maude and Harold are a couple of innocents who acknowledge that life is short and death is permanent by going to funerals for entertainment. They have no other friends but each other, and they explore the world together for a few sweet days, falling in love and saying goodbye and, in the end, saying hello to love and the rest of the world. It’s beautiful, and sad, and has all sorts of lessons in the here-and-now (Maude as tree-liberating climate crisis patron saint!).

As does the music, some of which will be performed by my friend, singer/songwriter Courtney Yasmineh, at the Parkway event. For me, the soundtrack’s highlights are Cat Stevens’ “Trouble” and  “If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out,” but the film starts with “On The Road To Find Out,” the chorus of which is buoyed by the very Buddhist sentiment of “the answer lies within.” True enough as all meditation experts know, and at the end of the road/film, Harold chooses life, learns how to play the banjo and skips his way into the world as a changed loner/lover.

Rarely has a film captured the magic of a couple of free thinkers finding one another so solitarily and sweetly, and in that sense “Harold and Maude” makes for a perfect post-Valentine’s Day date night, as it tells one of the great modern love stories of opposites attracting, seeing something of themselves in one another, and making a glorious go of it.

Watching it in the context of the world newsfeed and social media, I’m left to wonder about the ones we don’t hear from, or if they even exist anymore. The ones who go deeper, weirder and more soulful than the loudmouths and all the loudmouth-created racket. So here’s to the anti-Donald Trumps and Rush Limbaughs — all those good souls who don’t want to take oxygen out of the room unless they have something to say, and who think outside the box because they live outside the box.

In that sense, there’s a lesson for all of us near the end of “Harold and Maude,” when Harold says he’d like to be a daisy in a field full of them, “because they’re all alike.”

“Oh, but they’re not,” says Maude. “Look. See, some are smaller, some are fatter, some grow to the left, some to the right, some even have lost some petals. All kinds of observable differences. You see, Harold, I feel that much of the world’s sorrow comes from people who are this (a single daisy), yet allow themselves to be treated as that (a field of daisies).”

“Harold and Maude” screens at 8 p.m. at Feb. 20 at The Parkway. See it with someone you like to be alone with.

Jim Walsh lives and grew up in South Minneapolis. He can be reached at [email protected].