Dartmouth Therapist Jim Dalling’s Pop Psychology November 1985

Working as a therapist in Downtown Dartmouth, I meet people every day who are plagued by the paradoxes of existence. Life is absurd. However, many of us have been fed the lie that life is supposed to  make sense. As such, people come to see me and attempt to ‘figure things out’ and have an answer as to “why things happen”. In this search for simple answers, subtlety and nuance are frequently lost.

November of 1985 is a great example of a time where pop music had room for both simple answers and nuanced poetry. Sure pop music has been home to silly, playful, fun for as long as there has been pop music. However, 1985 cursed us with one of the worst songs ever.Marconi plays the mamba indeed. Or perhaps it was this Eddie Murphy gem which was on the charts the same week.

Regardless, the 1980’s were a time of optimism for many. No song better captures this optimism than the Love Theme From St. Elmo’s Fire as performed by John Parr.

Burnin’ up
Don’t know just how far that I can go
(Just how far I go)
Soon be home
Only just a few miles down the road
I can make it
I know I can
You broke the boy in me
But you won’t break the man

Rah Rah! GO TEAM YEAH! There are times I find this kind of milquetoast optimism nauseating. As a therapist, I understand there are some things that people don’t overcome. Part of being alive means we experience pain, we experience loss. Our losses contain wisdom. When we take the time to listen to what our pain is teaching us, grief can be transformative.

Having said that, I really can’t remember a single thing about the movie “St. Elmo’s Fire”. This song, I remember as the Man in Motion Song. I associate this song with Rick Hansen. It was the theme for his  Terry Fox inspired epic tour where Rick rolled all the way around the world in a wheelchair. Impressive? Damn right. Inspiring? For sure. What Rick Hansen managed in the 1980’s is still having an impact today. As a therapist, I want to help people experience this kind of optimism:

I can see a new horizon
Underneath the blazin’ sky
I’ll be where the eagle’s
Flyin’ higher and higher
Gonna be your man in motion
All I need is a pair of wheels
Take me where my future’s lyin’

To find these bright skies of optimism? It typically takes a trip through the shadows. 1985 was a time of gloriously shadowy songs.

Simple Minds with Alive and Kicking created a stellar anthem to vulnerability:

You lift me up
To the crucial top, so I can see
Oh you lead me on, till the feelings come
And the lights that shine on
But if that don’t mean nothing
Like if someday it should fall through
You’ll take me home where the magic’s from
And I’ll be with you

Kate Bush calls for compassion from her lover in Running up that Hill (watch the video it is still quite lovely)

So if I only could
I’d make a deal with God
And I’d get him to swap our places
I’d be running up that road
Be running up that hill
With no problems

And Sting, oh Sting you beautiful human you. Never a fan of his music, and he captures the pain of wounded relationships so beautifully in Fortress Around Your Heart:

And if I’ve built this fortress around your heart,
Encircled you in trenches and barbed wire,
Then let me build a bridge, for I cannot fill the chasm,
And let me set the battlements on fire.

I know that in my closest relationships, I’ve hurt people. I’ve helped build a fortress around their hearts. The true test of love is how do we build bridges to cross the chasms of pain we inflict upon each other.

It’s funny though, so much pop music is reduced to four letters. One word. LOVE. So, in early November 1985, Sting had another song on the charts that truly captures the dark and optimistic 80’s. Love is the Seventh Wave. It’s a joy-filled proclamation with a playful reggae sound and self-referential mockery as it fades out. Despite its playful sound, Sting sings about some of the most troubling aspects of life:

All the bloodshed all the anger
All the weapons all the greed
All the armies all the missiles
All the symbols of that fear

At the still point of destruction
At the center of the fury
All the angels all the devils
All around us can’t you see

Ugly stuff right? Sting has the answer:

There is a deeper wave than this
Rising in the land
There is a deeper wave than this
Nothing will withstand
I say love is the seventh wave

How do we bring light to the darkness? Love. As a therapist working with people who struggle with living “At the still point of destruction / At the centre of the fury”, I am always looking for the love, softness, and compassion in a person. Where is it? Is it healing, helpful or harmful? How can I help my clients connect with this deeper wave that nothing will withstand?

So, what’s the point of this long meandering post? Our lives can be simple. And complex. Hopeful and pessimistic. Dark and bright. Full of love and despair. Together we work to make room for being comfortable with the full, uncomfortable truth of human existence.


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