Wednesday, September 26, 2007

It's the sound that brings it back

I know that smell is supposed to be the sense that is most associated with memory. And I agree it is up there. However, for me, music will always transport me to very specific places. Certain songs have an ability to bring me to the spot in the dream that you can never remember when you awake, confused and trying to get back to that moment. Last night, k-os's "Dirty Water" (ignore the homemade video) put me in Nieka's old apartment: smell of claypot chicken, November air, candles, blonde Philly's smile as he sings towards Randy. A moment of peace before things shattered for a while. The pieces have been picked up, rearranged and glued back together with a polymer that seems strong enough. But we all know I hate change, and sometimes I wish to see the original again. Music lets that happen.

I've also always been jealous of musicians because a musical ability allows you to emote when the words are missing. In the heyday of my depression, I wanted to be able to express without having to give words to those thoughts rolling around in my head. I wanted a visceral release. I still do. I'm doing ok, but I feel as if I am struggling for the words. Or more honestly, I am afraid to think too deeply to get the words. It's affecting me. Not writing, even just not writing thoughtful letters or emails, is weighing on me and causing me guilt. But, I'm Catholic, so everything causes me guilt. I just want to feel without analyzation and precision.

Anyway, these are the thoughts that have been bouncing around when I stumbled upon this Wired interview with Oliver Sacks. Thankfully, he has words when I do not. He describes in a way similar to my favorite Conrad quote about the commingling of emotions in the dream-like experience.

"Sacks: Music doesn't represent any tangible, earthly reality. It represents things of the heart, feelings which are beyond description, beyond any experience one has had. The non-representational but indescribably vivid emotional quality is such as to make one think of an immaterial or spiritual world. I dislike both of those words, because for me, the so-called immaterial and spiritual is always vested in the fleshly — in "the holy and glorious flesh," as Dante said.

So if music is not directly representative of the world around us, then what's inspiring it? One has the feeling of the muse, and the muses are heavenly beings. This feeling is very, very strong with Cicoria, the surgeon in my book who was hit by a bolt of lightning. He felt that he was actually tuning in to the music of heaven — that he had God's phone number. I can't avoid that feeling myself when I listen to Mozart. I feel differently about Beethoven. I think of Beethoven as a sweating Prometheus, a terrestrial figure.

I intensely dislike any reference to supernaturalism, but I think there can be profound mystical feelings which do not have to call on fictitious agencies like angels and demons and deities. The whole natural world is bathed in wonder and beauty and mystery. The feeling of the holy, the sacred, the wonderful, the mystical, can be divorced from anything theological, and is conveyed very powerfully in music."

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