Dan Mangan & Shane Koyczan | Making Grown Men Cry

Dan Mangan | Source: www.genius.com

A man with a guitar leaves the room, his A and D minor’s play out over the heart monitor, harmonising sweet nothings. I sat, head in hands, wondering if I could have done more? Wondering if there were other options I could have found?

Instead I replay the same words, “move pen move”.

Now that that delightfully depressing intro is out of the way, allow me to introduce you to quite possibly the saddest song you will ever hear. The artists involved with this particular little ditty are Shane Koyczan, a Canadian Olympic poet and Dan Mangan, who I am led to believe is the Canadian equivalent of Ed Sheeran. Both monsters in their own crafts. If you need proof, just check out the time they collaborated their ‘Roboteering EP’, with Dan Mangan as the main artist. You can find it on the label ‘File Under: Music‘.

This song is a mash up of ‘Tragic Turn Of Events‘ by Dan Mangan (which, to my understanding, was written specifically to accompany Shane’s poem) and ‘Move Pen Move‘ by Shane Koyczan. I was lucky enough to hear Shane perform that very track live in London when he was doing a UK tour and rest assured, he burst into tears upon its completion (yeah, it’s so sad that even the person who wrote it broke down).

Now allow me to tell you why it is the saddest song pretty much ever!

Basically, when Shane was growing up, he was raised by his grandparents as his parents were young when they had him and weren’t quite responsible enough at the time, leading to his grandparents took him. Years later, when he was grown, he reconnected with his mother who was unfortunately, ill beyond repair. So, the poem/song is a conversation they had had whilst she was in hospital.

Allow me to share with you some delightful lyrics from the song:

I write “Move, pen, move. Write me a bedroom where cures make love to our cancers.” But my mother just motions to a bottle full of answers and says, “Help me go.” Now I know something of how a piano must feel, when it looks at the fireplace to see sheet music being used for kindling. Smoke signalling the end of some song that I thought it would take too long to learn, so I just sit here watching you burn away. All those notes that never had a chance to play, to hear the music of what you had to say. But I count out the pills, just to see if I can do it. And I can’t even get halfway through it before I turn back into your son and say “Stay.” 

Now for anyone that has ever lost a loved one or watched them drift through the unknowing of ‘When?’, these words resonate, they hold on to a part of you that turns you back to a child who is afraid of monsters under the bed ‘Stay’, which is perfectly demonstrated in the following verse:

If could hook up to my heart to your ears and let my tears be your morphine drip. And maybe it’s easier to let you slip away than it is to say goodbye, so I hold my breath. Because in the countdown to death, the question of “Why?” melts into “When? How much time do we have left?” Because if I knew then what I know now move pen move. Write me a mountain because headstones are not big enough. None of this is. Stop it. “Write me a poem to make me happy.” I swear I write this, “stay.” She smiles and says “Gotta go.” I know, goodbye“.

The total acceptance of death.

I think particularly with Shane’s verses, you can hear the emotion ripple through his voice like wind on water. In fact, I have no qualms with saying that as I listen to this song on repeat, it breaks me, it pulls me to the floor and with a great weight in my stomach, keeps me there. It is the perfect example (for me anyway) of empathy being used to destroy someone completely. I just completely feel his loss.

It’s interesting that in this song, Dan Mangan, who has a penchant for making people feel sad, is actually the more positive part of the song.

Over the hill and gone, and I’d never been that far.
Some boy along the way, taught me to play guitar.
And you said that you’d read to me, if I fell asleep.
Rock me awake again, promise me.
But you make such beautiful words”.

Now, I don’t know what it is about this verse by Dan but something holds in me, sort of chipping away at any defences I have. I think it is the childlike manner of being read to till sleep is all you know.

Also the use of “promise me”, that archaic idea that if you can be promised, it can refute even the notion of death, that a promise will hold back the coming deliverance of children into adulthood. Plucked far too quickly, told to grow up because somebody has to.

I realised that my words had fallen flat, that I just couldn’t save you. If I am honest, that is the saddest part.

About Alex Vellis 13 Articles
Alex Vellis is an award winning poet, published author, and playwright from Canterbury, Kent. He is the poet in residence for Wise Words Festival (Kent), the Eleto Chocolate Café, and Canterbury Connected (BID). Alex's writing draws on the ideas of love, loss, and feeling lost; of family matters, sex, gender identity and hope. He was the 2015 Wise Words Grand Slam champion, and has since gone on to set up his own slams across the city, in addition to running the ‘poet in residence’ scheme with the “Rough Cut Collective” in Canterbury. He has been support for Shane Koyczan, Kate Tempest, Anthony Anaxagorou, Joelle Taylor, Vanessa Kisuule, and Dan Simpson, among others, and has performed at various festivals across the country, spoken at conferences in Paris, performed in Europe, and runs regular workshops on creative writing and performance. Alex launched his debut show, ‘Everything Is Terrible’, at a sold-out show at Wise Words Festival in 2017, and looks to tour in in 2018. Alex is a prominent member of the ‘Rough Cut Collective’ a Kent based group of artists led by Workers-Of-Art, and a main player in the artistic scene in the Canterbury community. He also mentors a group of young poets (aged 17 to 25) helping them achieve what they want from a literary career. As well as running a page for artists of different mediums that want to collaborate on new and existing work called “Vertex” Alex has been commissioned by the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury to write a play for their “Return Of The Unknown” project, celebrating the centenary of the end of the First Word War. The play debuted on November 10th 2017. In 2017, Alex was an assistant producer for the Wise Words festival in Canterbury. His first poetry collection ‘Everything Is Terrible’ was published by Whisky and Beards in 2016 and can be purchased on Amazon. Other collections of his work include ‘Journal Entries’ (self-published, 2015), ‘Talking With Impossible Gods’ (Whisky and Beards E-Book, 2016), and ‘Unmarked Graves’ (a pamphlet, Whisky and Beards E-Book, 2016). His next collection ‘Ships In The Night’ is set to be published late 2018. "Alexander Vellis makes the epic sound intimate, and searches for beauty in the ugly corners. His work is free verse, hip hop inspired, nuanced spoken word that works as easily on the page as it does in the mouth. A gifted poet." Joelle Taylor "I enjoy Alex's honest, accessible, and well-written poetry, which is delivered with an authentically friendly stage presence." Dan Simpson

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