74. Song No. 802: “Bartolomeo and the Buzzing of Bees,” Ted Leo and The Pharmacists
The Brutalist Bricks, 2010
I love Ted Leo so much, and both The Tyranny of Distance and especially Shake the Sheets are two incredibly significant albums that I just adore. Unfortunately, everything after them never got much play as the early-aughts stuff did so songs like “Bartolomeo and the Buzzing of Bees” completely passed me by for a decade until maybe a week or so ago.
There aren’t many universal truths these days but I think the infinite surreality and upheaval of 2020 are among those scant few mutually recognized facts. It’s been a hard, weird year but it’s also brought a little bit of forced growth and change along with its unwelcome intrusion and inelegant wreckage. While its methods leave a lot to be desired, it was the catalyst for change or awakening that a lot of people needed, even if it was the last thing they wanted.
I am certainly among those questioning things I thought were unassailable truths, and it’s not terribly fun when something you had taken for granted as a resolute certainty turns into a parody of itself. Or lets its basest instincts and worse impulses come shamelessly to the forefront.
But change is the nature of things and only dead fish go with the flow. It’s a comfort to know that even the hardest times will pass but it absolutely sucks to know that the good ones will shuffle their way into the past-tense, too. And that latter point is what I’ve been struggling with on both a personal level and a macrocosmic one.
Selfishly, sure the world’s literally on fire, the current state of everything is playing out a little too much like 1930s Germany to anyone who’s ever read a history book or spent a day in a Holocaust museum, and class disparity is barreling toward its inevitable crescendo, but the real problem here is that I am increasingly disappointed in if not outright righteously pissed off at a handful of friends I thought would always be among those at the heart of the family I chose for myself.
I know I’ve been distant
But I feel a change coming on
I know I’ve been resistant
But I feel a change, way too strong…
The recurring verse that first introduces then underscores the central thesis of “Bartolomeo” is what smacked me in the face with its painfully relevant echoes of how I’ve been keeping everyone but my husband and a handful of close others at arm’s length throughout the pandemic, partly because I don’t know if I’ll ever have this much of an excuse to keep to myself again and am leaning into my introvert inclinations as hard as I can get away with, but also partly because I’m not liking what I’m seeing in people I thought I loved unconditionally.
Of course, there’s that little voice that warns maybe I shouldn’t judge people by who they are at their worst but then you have to wonder what’s the difference between people lashing out like scared animals in the throes of panic and folks just finally showing their true colors? (Because I can never resist a chance to indulge in some Long Winters, a lyric from one of my all-time favorite songs observes that “it’s how you are when you’re down that counts,” which feels like the validation my ire needs.)
Actively evolving dynamics and strange times aren’t easy to face. When do you adapt to new terrain and when do you realize it’s a fool’s errand to pretend like epochal shifts aren’t harbingers of a permanent change? When do you know to keep extending the benefit of doubt over and over again or when it’s okay to accept that maybe some behaviors will never change as long as you keep enabling them? When do you admit that while reciprocity was never why you rushed to help others, you’re starting to feel habitually taken advantage of in lopsided friendships where the only compromise seems to be yours?
Everything is a risk because nothing is a guarantee. Just like romantic love, platonic love is giving someone your heart and trusting them to care for it as you will theirs, and sometimes you’re asking too much from people who only have a finite amount to give, which isn’t a problem in and of itself but can certainly become one with a growing disparity of balance. And sometimes puling away is all you can do, because sometimes some people don’t realize you’ve been slowly disengaging until you’re not there to give them what they’ve come to expect from you.