Crying at the Sing Sequel
Also—I made some nice things. I want to give them to you.
Warning: this issue contains some not-horrible words about Bono. Consider yourself warned.
Since my son was born, I’ve found myself crying at movies all the time.
I don’t know if there was a tipping point. Maybe it came fast, a rock launched into a glass case of emotion. Perhaps it was slower, akin to the gradual opening of a valve marked empathy. It’s not like I didn’t cry at movies before. The Green Mile is seared into my mind, a movie I watched alone at the age of 17, the postman frightened when I came to the door with tears streaming down my face, as he could only imagine what had occurred behind closed doors.
But it’s no longer just the big tear-jerkers. Becoming a parent makes you experience all kinds of movies differently, with kids’ films one of my weaknesses. I’m destroyed every time I watch Moana crash across those waves, a young girl asserting her independence, leaving her family behind to forge her own path, Opetaia Foa'i’s beautiful Samoan lyrics gliding alongside Lin Manuel Miranda’s melodies. Or watching Riley struggle with her Joy, Anger, Sadness, Fear and Disgust after her parents move her to San Francisco for a new job (that one hit a little too close to home.) Don’t even get me started on Coco.
I’ll never forget that transatlantic flight—my first child a few months away from making her first appearance—when I watched Finding Nemo afresh, the shift in perspective that can only come from the imminent arrival of a child:
“I cried more during that 1 hour and 40 minutes (including credits) than in the 3 months previous. You could blame the high altitude, or the fact I was drinking for two, “taking one for the team” while my wife wasn’t. But looking back, the tears were driven by the first complete perspective shift I experienced as a soon-to-be father. I thought about the first time I saw Finding Nemo: 20 years old, after falling out with my own father, having not been on speaking terms for a few months. Back then, I saw the movie from Nemo’s perspective: Why wouldn't his dad just leave him alone? Let him live the life he wants to live? To go and experience the world outside of their tiny coral home? To see what adventures the great sea could bring?
Flash forward, Lost-style, 10 years later, and I experienced a completely different film. A man who was working through the trauma of losing his wife, just as their son was born. Navigating that grief by being overprotective of his only child—all he wanted to do was protect Nemo!—to keep him safe, knowing the danger that was clear and present out there. You better believe I was in bits.”
It’s been a slippery slope. I’ll well up at anything now. It’s a running joke in the house. As soon as the strings begin to stir, my family will look around inquisitively, seeking the telltale glint of the moistened eye. Take Sing 2, which we watched over the summer. It’s a lot of fun for the whole family. The voice cast is top tier, with superstars like Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon and Scarlett Johansson, supported by folks like Adam Buxton, Nick Offerman and Pharell Williams. The songs are enjoyable for the kids (my son won’t stop asking the Google speaker to play “Sky Full of Stars”) whilst having enough nods peppered throughout to keep the grown-ups locked in. The sequel’s soundtrack includes, but isn’t limited to, covers of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Prince, The Steve Miller Band and Drake, and shockingly manages to squeeze in The Weeknd’s “I Can’t Feel My Face,” Abel’s ode to his one true love: cocaine. One moment features Mercury Rev’s stunning “Holes”, which never fails to make the hairs on my neck stand to attention.
The thrust of the movie centres itself around a touring group of performers who, in an attempt to strike it big in Redshore City—an ersatz Las Vegas—pitch a studio executive with a sci-fi musical. During the middle of an audition, they launch into a rendition of U2’s “Where The Streets Have No Name” and convince the exec that they’ve already locked down the rights to the band’s entire back catalogue for their show. The only problem? They haven’t done anything of the sort. So they set off to convince a grumpy old lion to come out of retirement and help them out, said lion voiced by Bono himself.
The first time I cried during the movie I just put it down to a normal emotional reaction. But the second time, watching it intermittently while I was in and out of the kitchen making dinner, I had the required space to realise it was something more. It was The Joshua Tree. The soundtrack of my childhood. The album that transformed a popular Irish quarter into a worldwide tour de force, a stadium-filling rock band that filled the diaspora of the Emerald Isle with pride, and a not-insignificant amount of relief that their home country would be known for music more than the fiddle, tin whistle and the bodhrán drum.
Is there a better opening trio of tracks, on any album, ever, than "Where the Streets Have No Name,” "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For", and “With or Without You"? You could argue they’re three of the greatest rock songs committed to tape. And that’s just the start. Coming down from the highs of Live Aid in 1985, U2 wrote The Joshua Tree whilst touring across the US, Bono reading Raymond Carver novels and experiencing the American Dream through the eyes of an Irish immigrant. He spent time hanging out with Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Bob Dylan, having his eyes opened to the potential of marrying traditional Celtic folk with American blues. The Edge took a while to be convinced of this new direction, but after the tour bus was tuned into local public radio stations, and he was introduced to guitarists like Howlin' Wolf, Robert Johnson, and Lefty Frizzell, he came onboard.
Whatever you think about Bono (and I’ve certainly heard worse than you’re currently thinking) you’ve got to respect a movie that bases its entire plot around convincing a washed-up rock star to come out of retirement for one last hurrah, and get him to sign on to their back catalogue being licensed for a piece of family entertainment. I wasn’t expecting a dose of post-modernism with my family film, but I was glad to get it. The usage of some of U2’s greatest hits throughout, including a perfectly pitched rendition of “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” (originally written when Bono was grieving the death of his close friend Michael Hutchence) meant I was emotionally wobbly throughout, and was entirely done by the time—incoming spoiler alert for a kids movie—he slowly walks onto the stage, playing one of The Edge’s many iconic arpeggios, and begins to belt out the opening bars to “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” to a crowd of fans.
Five stars. Recommended viewing, even if you hate U2. Just don’t email me, furious, when your kids want to listen to the soundtrack for the 82nd time in a week.
3 things to read this week
“The Power of a Good Cry” by Wesley Morris in The New York Times. No context necessary as to why I’m sharing this one first. A beautifully written essay on how crying helps us connect—to ourselves, and each other. It also contains lines like “[feeling] was the ancient power of art to make a puddle of us.” Highly recommended follow-up to my U2-a-thon.
“Can we Escape the Tyranny of WhatsApp Groups?” by Sirin Kale in The Guardian. I saw a few dads for a drink last week and one told me he had developed a reputation as a serial deserter of group chats. Just straight up “I’m outta here.” Whatsapp are in the process of launching a new feature which means you can silently exit a group, and this piece in The Guardian looks into the social dynamics of the group chat, and the hold they have over us. “[He] left the group three times. Each time, a cousin has added him back in, usually to wish him a happy birthday or happy anniversary, and [he] has gone straight back out again, without thanking them.”
“The Unexpected Power of Random Acts of Kindness” by Catherine Pearson in The New York Times. Back in Manchester we had a saying: “manners cost fuck all.” It was typically said in return to someone being unnecessarily rude, as a reminder of how as easy (and affordable) it is to be nice to everyone. This article reminded me of the importance of sharing joy with the people you meet, and trying to inject little moments of happiness wherever possible. “We have this negativity bias when it comes to social connection. We just don’t think the positive impact of our behaviors is as positive as it is. With a study like this, I hope it will inspire more people to actually commit random acts of kindness.”
Hey! Wait! I made some things!
In the early days of The New Fatherhood, I was inspired by a quote from LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, who referred to their DFA Records project as “a production duo, a group of friends throwing parties, and a collective of people who did stuff.”
I’ve been thinking of TNF in this way, more and more. And over the summer I’ve been leaning more into the “people who do stuff” side of things, spending the last few months scratching all kinds of creative itches. Thanks to the ongoing support of the paid subscribers of the newsletter (all 151 of you) I’m excited to share the fruits of that labour: the very first pieces of TNF merch.
Starting with this heart-shaped badge, a beautiful, hard enamel pin, designed by Selman Design and produced by an ethical, artist-owned manufacturer. It’s 25mm / 1 inch wide, includes TNF logo on the rear, and will be a free gift for all paid annual subscriptions (for a week or two, or until they run out, whichever comes first).
For folks who’ve been paid supporters for a while (those with an annual subscription, or monthly subscribers for at least a year), send me your details and I’ll get one sent out to you.
I’m also going to throw in some stickers. Because I got those made too. And they look great.
The annual subscription still includes loads of tools and tips to help you be a better dad:
Regular “subscriber-only” essays across 2022 (and the archive of personal essays from 2021.)
Access to the 30-day “meditation for dads” course we successfully trialled in 2021.
“The New Fatherhood: Year One” eBook—22 essays on modern fatherhood, formatted for your Kindle (or other reading device.)
Regular subscriber events. Continuing our rotating book/movie club. This month we’ll be watching and talking about 2014’s Boyhood.
IRL events for dads in London and Barcelona, with cities closer to you coming soon (I hope).
The warm fuzzy feeling of knowing you’re supporting The New Fatherhood.
For those folks who would love a pin badge, but feel odd at the idea of paying for a newsletter, you can buy the badge direct—no recurring subscriptions, no extra email, just the old school “I give you money, you send me a product” kinda vibe.
How did you like this week’s issue? No request for feedback this week, the service I was using has sadly stopped their free tier. But hit reply if you’re eager to let me know.
I did get one bit of feedback already, from Tony Johnson who told me “I think [writing nicely about Bono] will be your most controversial/problematic essay yet [and] I might even block you.” If you’re planning on staying around, follow The New Fatherhood on Twitter and Instagram. Send me links, comments, questions, and general feelings about Bono.
Branding and merch by Selman Design, who should now have a better idea of what’s coming in the post. Subscribe to support The New Fatherhood and
join a community of like-minded folks all helping each other become the best dads we can be get cool shit for free.