I’ve got to put my cards on the table here. Finally. I’ve let my collaborator-extraordinaire do all the music-talking, and I’ve sat in the shadows and nodded (frequently without comprehension) and watched — and mostly listened. Sometimes I’ve even heard. The fact is, I can’t believe I agreed to this contract we have at all. As some of you now now:
I hate music.
I’ve been on a music strike, or sabbatical, or fast for nigh on almost three years now. Just can’t listen to the stuff, it gets me so angry.
The fact is that I’ve never been much of a music person to begin with. Saw it primarily as a vehicle for words. A selling of words. Even if those words do not manifest as lyrics or libretto, but as subtext. I was always Dylan over Beatles when that was an argument that mattered. I need words. Not just words, but words that matter. When music is present, my brain ceases to function properly. The way I imagine alcohol must affect people. The body responds without thinking. Everything else is subsumed in the face of its supremacy.
For me, music is never in the background.
I’m suspicious of music. I don’t trust it. I don’t trust musicians. I don’t trust myself in their presence. They make my knees quake. Make my body shake. And then they do it again. On purpose. I have no desire to fall under that spell anymore. To be honest: I don’t want to feel. I’m just too old for being putty in their hands.
Rationality has always been a refuge for me. If I can distance myself sufficiently. Be the observer. The anthropologist. I feel safe and quite happily engaged. I know what my place is, my role, and how I can help. Put music into the equation, and my nice little bubble gets disrupted — unless that music is ‘good data’ to be collected. Then, with notebook in hand, I’m okay again. Just collecting it.
As with alcohol, I don’t like what music can do to people. Especially music with a catchy driving beat. Or so sweet that your eyes cannot help but tear. Or so unbearably lovely that your heart just breaks to hear it. We are captives when we are captivated. We lose control. Our bodies sway. Or march in goose step compliance to the Fuhrer. How could I not despise such deliberate entrainment? How could I not suspect the motives of the musician? They wield the weapon called music, and before you know it, millions are incinerated. They play and our minds just nod in assent, as our bodies thoughtlessly respond.
Now, I know the argument: Music provides a well-needed release of emotions that have been repressed, suppressed, or just plain pent up. When we come under its sway, we are healed, eased of our pain, brought back into community. Our bodies release chemicals that change our brain chemistry. We are healthier. We live longer. It’s just plain fun, get over it. Bla bla bla. I don’t believe a word of it.
In North Africa, healing does indeed take place through music. Spirits are associated with particular rhythms, and those afflicted need those rhythms played. They dance, the spirits do. Even spirits need a good release once in a while, they say. And I take notes. No problem.
But I don’t want it to get me. I want to stay inside my rational-brain head. Stay inside my notebooks. Analytical mode. Don’t want to succumb to the power of musical entrainment. Why, you say? What’s your problem, you say? But you already knew. Like an alcoholic with alcohol, I know that I am terribly drawn and hopelessly vulnerable to its seduction.
Music gives me visions.
Maybe it’s a self-protective device. Instead of feeling, I see stuff. I think that keeps me fairly safe, but I’m not quite sure.
When I stopped listening to music, it was primarily because my car radio sucks. Sticking to NPR is really all my RAV4 can handle, and even that’s a tough sell. My otherwise sweet vehicle falls into static fits on a regular basis. And that’s after having Toyota try to rectify the problem, replace the radio, check out the antenna. Or maybe it’s just my hearing starting to check out. Or maybe I’m just a whole lot more impatient than I used to be. I still am drawn to the same music that I was before: Nusrat and Cheb Khaled, Rachid Taha and Ofra. The Pastoral and a three violin concertos. Il Trovatore. John Handy’s ‘Spanish Lady.’ Then there’s that certain beat that my daughter can identify. When she wants to move me, she’ll play it surreptitiously. Putty. My son could drag me into his room not by calling, but by playing a certain series of chords he knows I cannot resist. More putty, putty in his hands. I hear that certain-something walking past a cafe, and my legs refuse to pass it by. I am struck to the core by that beat I cannot describe. A sequence of notes. Powerless under their spell. There are sequences of individual notes that make my brain swoon. They know who they are.
And you know where I’m going with this. So I’ll just put it out there:
What on Earth am I doing allowing myself to a) collaborate with a musician, and b) come into daily contact with a manipulative little heartbreaker like Kogan’s Kaddish? How could I have allowed this?
But there it is. I did allow it. Thinking (as I do) that this project of ours is too important to forego. The Greater Good, and all that. Thinking as I did that I’m not immune to the power of music. That I’m tough enough to endure. Self-sacrificing enough to persevere.
But suddenly, Erin. It’s all her fault, of course. Well, I’d like to be able to say that. But as she reminds me, I’m the one who came up with ‘kaddish in two-part harmony’ as the title for what we’re doing. What was I thinking? And why wasn’t I paying attention? Ah, the little cosmic jokes we play on ourselves!
So. Confession: I am no longer neutral. No longer unaffected. The music is starting to get to me. And I don’t understand why. I don’t even like the piece. How could I have lost my objectivity? Lost my anthropological distance? Lost control over my heart? I thought a ‘project’ was a nice safe place to shove down all my feelings.
They’re leaking out now, and I’m in trouble. All that grief. All that love. All that loss. Before you know it, without some help here, I’ll be drowning in it. What I need is a good solid explanation.
Words. And then I’ll be fine again.