Some time ago, I divorced music. It might be hard for my friends and family to understand this, especially in light of the fact that I used to play, write, and sing music. Music is such an integral part of life; it's woven into our days and our memories. And there was the problem. Music, like the sense of smell, has the power to transport us back in time to a particular moment and enable us to re-experience not just the memory of the time, but also the associated feelings. Music is very powerful. It can inspire imagination, fill the soul, stir anger, and even break a heart.
A few years ago, my brother died. After the funeral, I found that songs of almost any type no longer soothed me. In fact, music felt like a rough hand chafing the raw nerve of my grief, especially the songs played at the memorial service. Music is inextricably tied to my memories, to my past. And in my past, my brother was still alive. Therefore, all songs up to the point of my loss reminded me of a time when my brother was still with us, even if they did not directly remind me of my brother. No music was comforting to me at that time; all of it laid bare emotions that were just roiling under the surface.
Then, my cousin died. He was my biggest fan. He had always loved music and my singing in particular, so when the family asked me to sing at his funeral, I could not refuse. But, it was one of the hardest things I've ever done. I almost didn't make it through the song, which happened to be Vince Gill's "Go Rest High on That Mountain", a heart-wrenching song even without the emotional association to my family's loss. Music can really hurt. The chasm between music and me widened.
If the truth be told, there was already some acrimony developing between music and me even before the deaths of my brother and my cousin. I found that certain songs reminded me too strongly of the mistakes of a misspent youth, and therefore triggered remorse. I also began to recognize that music had figured strongly in some of my worst decisions in life because I allowed it to manipulate me emotionally and warp my judgment. Music is seductive, insinuating its persuasive powers into our decisions, mindsets, and impulses.
Then there was the way repetition began to insidiously rob me of good recollections as well. I discovered with the proliferation of oldies radio stations, some of my most precious memories were being diluted. Here's how it works: if you don't listen to a particular song very often and then hear it out of the blue, it can take you back to a moment in time, almost like being there again. However, if you listen too often, the song can lose its potency as you become desensitized, and current events become linked with that song, replacing or minimizing older mental and emotional associations. So I had already become sparing with older songs, realizing that overuse of them might water down their impact.
And, I had already stopped playing and singing. It had nothing to do with my brother. I simply felt as if that chapter of my life was done and I moved on from it. Though I had enjoyed it immensely, my interests changed. I don't even remember the last time I took my violin out of its case. It was not with regret that I drifted away from performing, but with a feeling of accomplishment. I had wanted to do it, had done it for years, and was now finished with it. It took days of intense practice to convince my voice it needed to sing again so I could honor my cousin with a song at his service. I was so rusty.
After the loss of my brother, I wanted to hear absolutely no music. None. Of course, it cannot be avoided entirely. I couldn't in all fairness expect my family or friends to stop listening to music just because it was difficult for me to bear. When they listened to music, for me it was like an ex showing up at a social function. You have to put up with him, but you don't have to fully engage. So, I managed to keep music out of my life to a great extent, even when its presence was thrust upon me by others. It's a challenge to avoid music; it's in movies, television shows, commercials, etc., so I created an emotional distance. I heard without listening.
When writing our novel Tangerine, I wanted to make the future a place devoid of music. My co-author was appalled and nixed this element from the plot immediately. "I can't even imagine life without music," she said. So, we compromised and created a future where "real music" existed only on rogue planets and wild outposts, a future where most music was computerized and strictly purpose-driven, never for pure enjoyment. She went along with that idea, as long as we put old music into the story somewhere in some fashion. The point is, I was so divorced from music that it was easy for me to envision a future without it. PJ, however, couldn't even conceive of the idea.
After some time had passed, I found that I could gradually reintroduce music to my life. This was good for my writing because music is highly inspirational. But I had to be careful. Songs written after the death of my brother were fine. Unless the content was overtly emotional, I could listen to unfamiliar music without too much angst. I found I could tolerate and even enjoy some new-age music, especially the very relaxing sort or the celestial soaring-the-sky type. Generic music was also acceptable, for instance, certain types of jazz (which I rarely listened to before), hook-less instrumentals that flowed over me like soothing water, 1950's detective music, space music, silly music, scary music.
Now that several years have passed, I can even bear some of the older songs. There are certain songs I may never listen to again; it's too soon to tell. I would mention them by title, but I don't want to think about them.
I am limited in many ways. Mountain music, which I love, is still off limits because of its strong connection to family memories. Opera has always been off limits because of my distaste for it. Vocals with exaggerated choral-type vibrato are too irritating. Loud, abrasive music is unappealing. Even before my divorce from music, I had begun to veer away from music that assaults my senses, aggravates my peace of mind, or shocks and disturbs me. After years of allowing myself to be battered by fate, I finally latched onto the idea of controlling my environment, at least as much as possible, to be soothing and uplifting. It finally occurred to me that we have a lot more power than we realize, starting with the ability to select what we allow into our eyes, ears, hearts, and minds. They say "if it's too loud, then you're too old". Perhaps it's true. I may be too old for I don't want songs to scream at me, annoy me, toy with my emotions, or abuse me in any way.
So, music and I are reuniting, even if the reconciliation is somewhat narrow and strictly defined at this point. Music will be fine. It has never needed me; I needed it. Until one day when I began to question the relationship.
Perhaps it's avoidance on my part, a refusal to finish the grieving process. I'm okay with that. My grief may never be fully complete. It may remain unresolved for the rest of my life. I keep it in check, only allowing it out when I am able to contend with it. The rest of the time, it resides in some rarely visited corner of my mind. Some things in life hurt so bad, the only way to deal with them is to refuse to think about them.
Tags: music grief songs death memories writing inspiration sorrow
blog comments powered by Disqus