15 January 2008

Knocked down by a song

Last night, I set the mighty iPod Ratatask to playing random tracks from a "not played in iTunes yet" playlist. That was interesting. I still have to figure out how to avoid having it play one movement of a symphony, but that is a gnat.

I'm not sure I'm up to Random anymore, though. When it hit Lucinda Williams's "Something About What Happens When We Talk" without warning, I was overcome. I just buckled right down to the floor sobbing.

In my gut, that song is tied tightly into a bad end to an intense relationship. I thought I had gone through all the stages of grief on that, have done my period of listening to the song over and over while moping, all the usual pity party stuff. I was completely unprepared to be hit so hard by it after all this time. Then I thought about how many songs in there could blindside me the same way.

Some songs are like old shoes that you have worn out and don't fit anymore. (Or that period with the flattop and shiny shirts that you wish no one had pictures of.) But some music is part of your fiber down to the bone.

It's no wonder people get so obsessed with musicians. Until we develop smell artists, they are the artists whose work touches our feelings and memories most directly. Is there anyone who can hear that doesn't have a gooshy-in-love song and a plumb-pitiful-breakup song woven into his emotions?

And it's not all just timing, what happened to be playing when something important happened. Is there anyone who hasn't felt that some musician is singing a story from your life?

This is where my thoughts wander off to Sir Philip Sidney's Defense of Poesy and Blake's "all the world in a grain of sand." How can musicians so often come up with music that is more emotionally true than mere truth? Most music is not at that peak, but there is always plenty of the True stuff coming out.

What is the cost to musicians themselves to channel that kind of emotional truth? How can they keep giving that part of themselves under the pressure of producing music that will bring a living? That makes my thoughts wander on to Achilles's choice to take fame over a long happy life and Emily Dickinson's candle, burning at both ends.

What a strange relationship we have with the people who make our music.

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