Words and music by John Popper.
Track 8 on Travelers and Thieves (1991)
If Cyrano de Bergerac,
Fell prey to the blades of fifty men,
With a heart and a sword, he'd drive them back,
Perchance to see Roxanne's eyes light up the sky again.
And when Beauty, kind and full of grace,
Again denied the Beast her hand,
The Beast, he turned and hid his face,
And tried with all his might and madness to understand.
And once upon a time,
You know, I used to wonder why,
You know no one should need to cry
In vain of a heart forbade to fly,
But you learn to say goodbye,
As you whisper beneath a sigh.
Can't you plainly see?
You know it matters to me,
Won't you make me feel at home?
Don't you dare leave me alone...
Sometimes a life that seems hard to take,
Is soothed for a while by an old friend,
Leaving a bad need in its wake,
Sad how some friendships never ever seem to end,
Well, all my heroes up and died,
Songs and a dream are left for me.
What did them in, not suicide,
Just a lengthy friendship, and a dream of how it could be.
And isn't it a crime?
Was it more than they could bear?
You know they did not even care, at all.
And they might have something there,
But I'm here and I don't see where,
All I hear is their silent prayer,
Is it so terribly wrong?
To want to come along,
Won't you make me smile?
If only for a while...
Can you feel what I can feel?
So we can establish that the pain, is real.
Don't be afraid and I'll do the same for you,
And we'll just hang on, and we'll make it, make it through.
There's got to be a reason it works out this way,
And there's something deep inside me,
That makes me have to play,
In no position to give advice,
My heart, it spoke, and I wrote it down.
And you know every wisdom has its price,
My head up in the stars, and my feet planted firmly on the ground.
When will I embrace this life I see?
I've been wondering for so long.
Thinking back, the truth may be,
I've been unaware, but I've been living it all along.
And it didn't cost a dime,
And it did not come for free,
It just would not let me be,
But it never conquered me,
Just a doorway and a key,
And I feel we both agree,
It's sometimes what you need,
It allows the blood to bleed,
From the moment of your birth,
You know it keeps you here on Earth...
Sweet pain is the ache of a muse that needs to be expressed, and the pain that inspires the muse.
The first two stanzas of the song are of classic French stories. Cyrano de Bergerac is in reference to the play written by Edmund Rostand. The scene of Cyrano and the blades of fifty men (according to the plot summary, it was 100 men though "one hundred" probably didn't fit the meter) never occurs on stage (it is mentioned at Act I).
The second stanza refers to the story of Beauty and the Beast. The original story in full can be read at Beauty and the Beast. The second time the Beast asked Beauty to marry him is told as:
"Beauty, will you marry me?"
And it seemed to Beauty, now she understood him better,
that when she said, "No, Beast," he went away quite sad. ...
Both stories (aside from being French) are of initially unrequited love, and fear of what is thought of as ugly - Cyrano afraid of himself, the Beast feared by all. The passages mentioned in each stanza are not explicitly part of the stories - though it is assumed that they did happen. At the end of each story love does win out with Roxanne admitting her love of Cyrano and Beauty her love of the Beast. Love is a powerful inspiration for the muse.
People keep imagining a world where everything is perfect and ideal. The realization the singer came to after wishing this was that the need to cry and the disappointments in life are some of the most powerful ways to inspire the muse.
The refrain talks to "Sweet Pain". Here the singer is talking to his pain as if it was another person - that some dull ache or pain is comforting in knowing that he is alive. To an artist or poet, being without this knowledge that there is something to express is to feel all alone.
When things feel at the worst, it is the outlet of creation and inspiration that often sooths things. The expression of a muse often acts as a 'pressure release' valve upon our life, letting the artist to express the feelings and share them with others and thus finding peace again.
Many of the great artists committed suicide. The singer blames this death upon the 'lengthy friendship' with the inspiration of the muse and the dream of what could be. All that is left for us today from their works are songs, words, and dreams.
The question is was this inspiration more than a person could bear - that it broke them... their hearts, their souls and their minds. However, the singer admits that they didn't care and were happy in their slavery to the muse. Still, the singer misses them and what could have been.
The refrain this time is the prayer of the artist - wishing for more of that inspiration that hurts.
The quest of the artist is to let others feel what the artist feels - a glimpse at that inspiration. The sharing of the
works of art with other people. Deep down, there is something within the singer that forces him to sing for us.
People often ask the singer "how do you do it" looking for advice as to how to write and express themselves as he does. To this the singer says that he is in no position to give advice. He simply sits down and lets his heart speak and he writes it down.
The inspiration doesn't cost anything financial - its not something that one can go and buy inspiration for any dollar amount. However, at the same time its not free - it eats at your soul and needs to be expressed. Some artists are conquered by the muse, though the singer claims not to be.
The sweet pain of the muse is sometimes what we need - to allow the blood to bleed, or feelings to be expressed. It is this muse that keeps the singer here.