05 April 2013

Three Songs and a Life

In the middle of the 1970s, during a time when I was seeking desperately to break out of my family orbit, at the end of a day at school where I worked as a teacher, I would walk into my studio apartment in New York City, a domicile no bigger than Thoreau’s cabin because it was my cabin on the shores of Walden (I had even placed between the only two windows in my apartmentboth of which overlooked the alleyway and the windows of another buildinga framed sepia-toned photograph of a replica of Thoreau’s cabin I had taken several years prior during my first pilgrimage to the shores of the pond) and would head immediately to the turntable (yes, then I owned still a turntable) and put on Bruce Springsteen’s “Independence Day.”
Well say goodbye it's Independence Day
It's Independence Day all boys must run away
So say goodbye it's Independence Day
All men must make their way come Independence Day
I would turn the volume on the amplifier very loud as I would throw off my street clothes and change into my running gear for my daily six mile circle route of Central Park. I then lived in an apartment building occupied mostly by young people, some of whom were even music students, and no one ever seemed to mind the excessive volume. I played the song again and again until I was completely ready to leave the apartment and head into the streets. As I struggled for what I thought was my freedom, whether that struggle was right or wrong, legitimate or illegitimate, Springsteen’s “Independence Day” gave me strength to go on. That song is forever linked to those months of struggle and anguish.
Once, at an extremely low moment in my life, after attending the funeral of a friend who died a violent death, I headed out for a long-scheduled weekend with a dear friend. I recall very little of the long flight to the West Coast save a brief layover somewhere in a spot where the wireless access was free and I probably checked my email. Whenever I traveled there I would arrive at approximately 8:00pm and we would then go to a bar/restaurant where that night I drank two single-malt Scotch whiskeys and consumed a bowl of edamame beans. I think we probably arrived home at about 11:00pm, and after carelessly emptying my luggage, I changed into my nightclothes and went to bed.
But at 5:00am I awoke with the previous day’s events too fresh and raw. I carried my reading book—I hope it was something by Philip Roth, but I can’t recall right now—and my journal and fountain pen downstairs, turned on the electric gas fireplace and a small overhead lamp, and sat in the corner barrel chair and before any one else awakened read and wrote for several hours. And then, when it became just light enough to ensure I would not get lost, I put on the running clothes I had brought with me, strapped on my runner’s watch and my iPod and headed out on the roads. I remembered that I had yesterday grieved and that I was now very much still grieving. The iPod control was on shuffle, and there were hundred of songs that might play on it. I was not ordering the playlist. And the first thing I heard that morning following the burial of my friend was “The Gathering of Spirits” by Carrie Newcomer.
Let it go my love, my truest
Let it sail on silver wings
Life's a twinkling and that's for certain
But it's such a fine thing
There's a gathering of spirits
There's a festival of friends
And we'll take up where we left off
When we all meet again
And as I listened as I ran I felt myself begin to breathe again and to think that, yes, perhaps all would be well again. That song is forever linked to that moment of difficult comfort and hard-wrung joy, and whenever I hear it I experience some calm.
And there was one more moment. I had taken too many drugs that day and just the right kind. I had spent part of the afternoon at the movie theater watching a re-mastered print of Disney’s Fantasia. Now, it was the end of the day, and even from my meager windows I knew it was night. I was alone at Walden, and for some reason that I no longer recall I put on Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks. I was standing in the middle of the room probably with a glass of wine in my hand and I heard Dylan sing,
Purple clover, Queen Anne’s Lace
Crimson hair across your face
You could make me cry if you don’t know
Can’t remember what I was thinkin’ of
You might be spoilin’ me too much, love
Yer gonna make me lonesome when you go
And I understood for a moment a relief from my dread. Everything does end, must inevitably end, but in the meantime I could enjoy being spoiled. That song is forever linked to that moment of insight, and whenever I hear that song, I experience some relief and can sense for my life direction and hope.
I know that there have been other such moments in my life when I could not have lived without the music and when the music gave me life. For this I am so very fortunate and grateful.


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