Anyone’s who ever built a sand castle could tell you that one of the hardest things about life is that the world seems indifferent to your desires. You can keep rebuilding your sandcastle for as long as you like and the ocean will just keep smashing it down.
But the idea of a indifferent universe is hard for human beings to swallow. We like to think we’re a bit more important than that. So, for many sandcastle builders, the idea of an indifferent universe is replaced by a cruel one. You know, where the universe actually wants to make you suffer.
And if you do believe, as many of the Romantics of the 19th Century did, that the universe is essentially hostile then you can easily end up spending your life fighting a one-woman war against reality. This is what we find Beth Ditto doing in The Gossip’s song, ‘Heavy Cross’.
Historically, when people have found themselves faced with a meaningless universe, they’ve invented religions and the Romantics were no different. In Richard Wagner’s opera – Tristan and Isolde; Tristan, the hero gives up on reality for good. To him, life is so pointless as to resemble a foolish dream, an illusion which will past. But he can afford to say this because he’s found something better. No, not Jesus but romantic love.
This was in many ways a brand new kind of 19th Century love. In romantic love, the loved one becomes a personification of the possibility of happiness. And love becomes the means by which the lovers can transcend their meaningless world.
It’s almost like the old romantic dilemma; the individual against reality has been re-written for two — the odds are still against them but when they’re beaten, their deaths can be seen as sacrifices to an ideal. As is the case in ‘Tristan and Isolde’, or ‘Heroes’ by David Bowie, or Peter Cetera’s, ‘The Glory of Love’.