Music

 

Music is so powerful in evoking emotions. During a recent visit, my Mom and Aunt Diane were recalling times when a piece of music brought tears to their eyes. Not tears of sadness, but tears inspired by the beauty of the sound. Aunt Diane recalled a time when she was driving home from work, on the FDR Drive, when she pulled her car over to listen without distraction. They were talking about classical music, identifying particular works of Bach and Beethoven that triggered the tears.

I have had occasions, especially with a live performance, where I have gotten shivers down my spine and my scalp prickled upon hearing something that touched my soul. Most often, for me, I’ve had that happen when voices harmonize and I feel uplifted. But even when I don’t have that physical reaction, I almost always have a response to music.

As a teenager and young adult music was central to my life. I think many people share that experience during that time of their life. Perhaps there are those for whom that isn’t true – my brother Mark comes to mind, but I think, not surprisingly, he may be the exception rather than the rule.

In high school, I have vivid memories of putting an album on my turntable, in my room the size of a closet, lying on my bed, and letting the music take me away. I didn’t do anything while I listened. Occasionally I may have read or done homework, but mostly I just listened…to Simon and Garfunkel, Seals and Crofts, Carole King, James Taylor. I put on my headphones, turned up the volume so that my head was filled with their voices, their melodies, their poetry.

The combination of the music and the lyrics in songs like Fire and Rain, The Boxer, Only Living Boy in New York, America validated my own feelings of alienation, loss and sadness. Sometimes it felt good to wallow around in my loneliness – I may have overdone that a bit as a teenager. But, the music could be hopeful or soothing, too. You’ve Got a Friend, Beautiful and Bridge Over Troubled Water reminded me that I did have connections, there was another way to look at the world.

Somewhere along the line I stopped doing that – just listening. Of course, life intrudes, especially when you work and have a family. But, I waste plenty of time – there could be time to do it. Concentrating fully on music, other than when I am in the car or at a concert, is just not something I consider doing anymore.

Music was a significant part of bonding with other people, too. We took it quite seriously. I remember going to my friend Cindy’s house (not the Cindy I played hooky with in elementary school, for those of you keeping track) to hang out. We weren’t long out of high school. She put on Turnstiles (Billy Joel) – a newly released album at the time. As she was setting it up on the turntable she turned to me and said, “Let’s not talk during it, ok?” I nodded in agreement. “And, I hope you don’t mind if I sing along to some of the songs, I really love James.” Cindy had already listened to the album many times over. It was still new to me. I was fine with her singing, she had a good voice. If we wanted to discuss a song, she paused the record so we could talk – we wouldn’t think of talking over it. This was one of many times that I bonded with someone over the shared experience of listening to an album.

At college, especially freshmen year, this shared ritual was an important part of establishing friendships. Merle introduced me to Jackson Browne and Dan Fogelberg. I remember sitting on her bed in her dorm room, we weren’t roommates yet, and she handed me the album Late for the Sky. “You have to listen to this,” she said. The evocative photograph on the cover, a solitary old car parked in front of a house as a day draws to a close with a still bright blue sky with fluffy white clouds, set the stage for the intense, searching songs that followed. We sat together and listened, cementing our friendship and a shared love of Jackson Browne. The same thing happened with Fogelberg’s Home Free. I heard the first notes of To the Morning and knew it was special to me. We eagerly awaited the release of their new albums, hoping one of us had the money to buy it.

Alison introduced me to Joni Mitchell. Aside from listening to Ladies of the Canyon, Alison played the guitar and we sang the songs. Again, a bond was formed that has withstood the test of time.

Music had another role in that time and place (the mid ‘70s). It was often used as a complement to getting high. I managed to make it through high school without trying pot. At times, I felt literally alone in that status. In college, I decided to relax my rules a bit and experiment (thank you, Merle, for getting me to loosen up!). One friend, Rob, fashioned himself as a kind of pied piper for those getting high for the first time. He liked introducing people to weed and I was one of his subjects. I went to his dorm room, where he had created an appropriately mellow environment with low lighting and wall hangings. He put on the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour and we rolled up. I admit it was kind of pleasant and relaxing. I remember walking back to my dorm in the dark and feeling like I was watching a movie where I could see the campus scenery as frames of film. Fortunately, it didn’t freak me out, I just took it all in. Although it was a positive introduction, I never fully embraced getting high. It was fine now and again, but not something I wanted to do regularly. I wonder if my feelings about pot relate to my failure to embrace the Grateful Dead, though that may be a ‘chicken or egg’ thing. Did I not like the Dead because I didn’t love getting high? Or, was it that I didn’t love getting high and therefore didn’t love the Dead? Either way, it wasn’t my scene.

Music was also an important part of my relationship with Gary. In our first year together we spent time listening to each other’s favorite albums. I had heard Bruce Springsteen before, but I didn’t fully appreciate his artistry until I listened to it with Gary. Our taste in music overlapped quite a bit, but Gary tended to like a grittier sound. I was drawn to prettier, more melodic songs. I remember playing James Taylor’s You Can Close Your Eyes for him, expecting him to be similarly moved. Gary said something disparaging about it. I’ve blocked out what he said – but he made fun of it.  I nearly broke up with him right then and there! His dismissive attitude cut me to the quick. We had a real fight (maybe our first?). We had to learn to respect each other’s taste in music – this was serious business. Clearly, we figured it out or we wouldn’t be here almost 38 years later (34 married).

There is one thing that remains different about Gary and me and our attitude toward music. Gary is happy to listen only to music from before 1980 – unless it is Springsteen or Jackson Browne. He listens to their new music. If something that sounds remotely like rap comes on the radio, he immediately changes the station or turns it off. I, on the other hand, like to hear new things, new musicians. While I’m not particularly interested in Top 40 or hip-hop, I do like trying out new artists. I listen to an alternative radio station. I’m still drawn to singer-songwriters, but I’m open to hearing new people. I listen to my old favorites, too, but I’m curious about new stuff.

As I write this and reflect on what music has meant to me, I have made a decision: I want to devote more time to listening, without distraction. Maybe I’ll borrow a page from my teenage self:  Put on a CD, lay on my bed and let the music envelop me.

6 thoughts on “Music

  1. Hey- in defense of Gary- he will, eagerly, seek out and embrace the best modern singer/songwriter of our time (or any other time).

    LInda, when seeking out a CD to listen to today- try Gary’s favorite post Springsteen musician, the one who created “This Quiet Life.”

    Guarantee you that this musician will provide you all of the inspiration/ delight one could possibly seek.

    Also… I know lots of music stuff too. I just don’t share this with you because of my innate shyness.

    Mark

    Like

  2. Linda is really correct about my being stuck in 1980. I think I tend to want to really listen to an album and get to know it well and if I can’t dedicate the time to it, I have a hard time just listening casually. That’s probably not fair and mostly I’m probably just being lazy about it. In any case, I really enjoy Bruce Springsteen. When I was in high school I remember enjoying some of the older rock and roll of the anti-Vietnam War protest music going back to Bob Dylan. But that was my sister’s era and they were the ones at Woodstock (she was really there). The music of the time felt so meaningless.
    Then I heard a new album called Born to Run and everything changed. I was longing to get out of my parents’ house and find some independence. And he spoke the words that I felt inside and even some that I hadn’t yet figured out I was feeling. As I got older and started dealing with the realities of a working life, I remember the lyric to the Promised Land on Darkness on the Edge of Town. Here is the second verse:
    I’ve done my best to live the right way
    I get up every morning and go to work each day
    But your eyes go blind and your blood runs cold
    Sometimes I feel so weak I just want to explode
    Explode and tear this whole town apart
    Take a knife and cut this pain from my heart
    Find somebody itching for something to start

    When I got to college, I was on a floor with a great bunch of guys. Each of us simultaneously was dealing with a relationship that was ending. Our RA, Kenny Levy, was also dealing with a break up and he helped us with our group moping. We even had a sign saying “Moping” when you walked onto the floor. That is when I discovered Jackson Browne. First the Pretender and then Late for the Sky. Here is the beginning of the title track from that album:
    The words had all been spoken
    And somehow the feeling still wasn’t right
    And still we continued on through the night
    Tracing our steps from the beginning
    Until they vanished into the air
    Trying to understand how our lives has led us there
    Looking hard into your eyes
    There was nobody I’d ever known
    Such an empty surprise to feel so alone
    If that doesn’t speak to you when a relationship is dying, I don’t know what does. (If you want to go darker, check out the song The Late Show from the same album).

    I especially appreciate the way the phrasing of the words fits in with the melody and how the right music infuses the words with so much more emotion, substance, power. If I could write music, I would love to do that, but I guess I will settle for my occasional rhymes.

    Of course, some people who apparently actually know something about music believe good music doesn’t have to have any lyrics at all. Or you could just listen to rap and watch guys who believe grabbing your crotch is an art form. Wait; I checked the multiple choice test for that last sentence and that was not one of the possible answers. I would like to change it to: Even rap has some wonderful qualities that we could all learn and benefit from. Now I will leave you and try to find just one of those qualities.

    Great piece Linda. And you have wonderful taste in music.

    Like

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