The comedian Mitch Hedberg had a line about music. He said:
I was walking down the street with my friend and he said, “I hear music,” as if there were some other way to take it in. You’re not special, that’s how I receive it too. I tried to taste it, but it did not work.
Funny as this is, I take issue with the pretense, because in my experience music has the power to affect, alter and infuse much more than just the ear.
Death by a thousand cuts
Several years ago I had a bit of a rough patch. I found myself making some less than ideal personal choices. These decisions not only affected me adversely, but they also were a negative force for everyone around me.
It was definitely time for some self reflection.
I dug deep into my past, analyzing everything from childhood experiences to my adult relationships. I delved into details professional, personal and social. I looked left, right, up, down and all around.
I have never been the victim of a horrible event. I have always been well cared and provided for. I have never committed an atrocity. The issues I was struggling with were tiny by most standards, but there were a lot of them.
I began the process of working through them, one by one, little by little, day by day.
One day I was driving to work and listening to my satellite radio, like I do every day. A song came on by the band Dawes. I happen to own the album from which this song comes, and in fact I knew nearly all the words to the song.
What I had never done was actually listen to what the writer was saying. Driving down the highway at sixty miles an hour, the words of the song, the message of the writer and all the things going on in my life collided like a semi-truck with a bridge support.
I had to pull over.
In that moment, Taylor Goldsmith (the writer), touched my soul with his song. Moments later, I both understood, and believed I would be okay. Not because anything in my life had changed, but the idea that a song could so perfectly mirror what I was going through meant I was not alone… nor crazy.
The song is called “A Little Bit of Everything,” and if you’ve ever felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of tiny disturbances in your life, it should give you some hope.
Across Four Decades
In 1977, I was nine years old. My brother and I were heavily into music and we listened to the local radio stations in constant pursuit of the latest and greatest the world had to offer.
We tended to lean more towards the more progressive rock at the time, and not so much towards the more popular Top 40 types of “hit” songs. The first time I heard them, the band Kansas caught my ear, not only because they had a different sound, but also because they had a violinist in the band. At that point in my life I had been playing the violin for four years and it had never occurred to me that my weekly Suzuki Method lesson could one day lead to a job in a rockin’ band. I knew the chances were small, but now they were at least real.
The very first record I ever bought with my own money was “Point of No Return” by Kansas.
I played it to death. I knew every note, every word, every detail and almost every fact from the liner notes. I spent hours figuring out how to play the violin parts simply by ear.
One song in particular, a 6.5 minute anthem called “Closet Chronicles,” was my favorite. I would close my eyes and imagine the sights, sounds, smells and feelings conjured up by the notes, the words, and the fusion of them both together.
Over the years, I have kept this album in my collection in a variety of forms. From the original LP, I made a cassette. Years later I purchased a CD, which I lent out and never saw again. Last year I purchased the album yet again on iTunes, and now I have access to it on all my devices.
Just this past week, I was driving 750 miles from North Carolina back to Western NY. You see, in a few weeks we are moving and had to do some stuff for our new house in Charlotte, NC. My wife got a great new job, so we are leaving our home of nearly fifteen years to start a new adventure with our four teenagers and one dog.
The logistics of such a move are massive and evident daily, but the emotional impact is more subtle and shows itself in funny, unpredictable ways.
After three days of mad running around (which I wrote about in another piece – CLICK HERE to read it) I was finally on my way back home. After finishing a recorded book, I decided to put on some music, and the “Point of No Return” album seemed like a good choice.
Since I was in the car all alone, I could crank the volume as high as I wanted.
So, there I was driving north through the mountains of West Virginia, when my favorite song “Closet Chronicles” came on. I paid close attention to every detail and it swirled up a wide spectrum of feelings, and memories across the forty years since I heard it first.
Then it happened.
The final two lines of the song are:
The closet’s fully empty now, it’s occupied by none
I’ll draw the drapes, now destiny is done
As the words and music flowed into my ears, I pictured myself closing the door on our home for the last time, and officially embarking on our new adventure down south. I lost it. All at once, the emotional toll this decision has been having on me came pouring out, and for the next 10 miles I was a sobbing mess.
The remainder of the album served as a soothing balm on my wounds, and by the time the last note played I was ready for lunch at a roadside Chick-fil-a.
Mr. Hedberg is technically correct that the ear is the orifice through which we receive music, but if you open your heart, mind and soul to it, music can be as fulfilling, sustaining and nourishing as food, drink and air.
And sometimes you can even dance to it.
My name is Steve and I’m a problem solver. I am the bridge between things technical, things practical, things verbal and all things imaginable. My blog The Penny Collector is all about creative and unconventional solutions to the problems and challenges we face every day. Problem solving can be a messy business, so, read up, dig in and get ready to get dirty. I’m here to tell my stories, but I want to hear your stories too.