11/25/2005: "on. some. faraway."
I haven't been listening to music for weeks, which is strange. It's partially because all of my CDs and vinyl are in storage--stacked and packed neatly away in black milk crates--and that my stereo isn't even plugged in. I'd been thinking about selling all of my records. It was such a pain to move my record collection to a new apartment; sometimes I think my record collection is like a kidney machine or a catheter, something bulky and faintly embarassing that I'll have to drag around forever to keep myself in working order. And with the recent death of someone I'd known for years and years and years, music suddenly seems more irrelevant than ever. I'm finding that mourning the loss of somebody you knew is a gradual process; it's not something that's over in a week; it's something that takes time. It grows easier as the days go by, but half-buried memories keep flickering into my mindframe. And because remembering is how the healing process begins, suddenly music seems more important than ever.
What is it about music that makes us remember? What is it about particular songs, tracks, albums--that makes us cry, that makes us recall people and particular feelings and places? What is it about music that helps us to remember love, and helps us to forget it? In college I was interested in the answers to these questions, and I looked to neuroscience to help me out. Maybe there were some answers in the auditory cortex, in the hippocampus, in the amygdala, in neurons, in connections. I never found much solace in neuroanatomy, but maybe I wasn't peering deeply enough into its fissures and folds. Why do I instinctively reach to music for comfort? Is it some kind of sad rock-critic autism, some desperate inability to cope with the real world except through music? Can I only experience my own life through records?
I went to Boston this past weekend for the memorial service. For the several days before that, I spent all of my time obsessing over a memorial CD, a compilation of some favorite songs of his that I could give to his friends and family. I had a lot of trouble making the CD because so many of the tracks brought back such powerful flashbacks. It was comforting to be in Boston among friends I knew from many years ago, instead of pacing around my apartment in a state of neurotic Manhattan aloneness, obsessing over the track listing of a final mix CD. I wanted my friend's life to go on, shimmering and magnificent and endless. It wasn't supposed to end like this. Once, many years ago, I crudely looped the guitar solo at the end of Pixies' "No. 13 Baby" because I didn't want it to end. Shimmering and magnificent and endless. When I saw Brian Eno speak in New York a year or so ago, he said the way he got into electronic music was by making loops of his favorite guitar solos because he never wanted them to end. Well, I think he said guitar solos. I think he said Hendrix, but I may be forgetting. I'm always forgetting.
I spent most of the day after the memorial service at my friend's house in Massachusetts, sleeping. And staring at the wall, and listening to music. I ate a bowl of homemade cream of broccoli soup--strangely comforting in its thick, dull greenness--and put on David Bowie's Outside. I think that album's beautiful; it's so underrated. It doesn't have that patina of bygone cool that his late '70s records have (even though Eno produced it); it has stupid song titles like "Algeria Touchshriek"; it's painfully melodramatic and has all of these lame concept-album cod-creepy segues. But Outside has some of Bowie's best-ever ballads, hands down. I put on "The Motel" and got really lost in the song, in the stately, elegiac air about it, in the piano parts winding up and down like so many spiral staircases leading nowhere. I love the way the song bursts into a radiant, breathtaking climax in the most ungainly way possible. I love the way Bowie barely forces out the words "I don't know what to do," pausing before "do." I love the way he keeps repeating the words "re-exposing you." It was so comforting to hear Bowie's voice, somehow; for years when I was living in Massachusetts, I listened to almost nothing except David Bowie. I associate him with a particular time and place, and I wanted to be back in that time and space. Shimmering and magnificent and endless.