Communication and miscommunication seem to drive every human action. They’re responsible for the slow build of every strong and worthwhile friendship and the skulking, sinister suspicion and hatred that anyone can develop for some “other” who isn’t like them.
Miscommunicating even with yourself can spell all kinds of trouble, as people lie to themselves or refuse to acknowledge troubling thoughts and memories.
Music, though, has its own way of acting as our thoughts. It can communicate for us in ways that we can’t bring ourselves to do otherwise.
I seek out and listen to music every day without fail, and unless I’m in a boring mood, I never actually have to do the work of consciously selecting the genre, artist, or song.
That’s because I already know what I need on some level. I need the music that’s going to communicate to me what I’m struggling to tell myself.
Notes and chords and words and voices are made by and for humans. Some song, somewhere, in some far-away corner, is going to resonate with me, and it’s going to get in me and probably never leave.
At this point, my own long-curated selection of music is everything in the world. I can find it anywhere because it lives everywhere.
It’s in my bones.
It’s in my organs.
It’s in my blood.
It grows everywhere because I plant it everywhere. And I would bet that others like me feel the same.
The music that communicates to me, that whispers in my ears every day, that can never leave. It helps me understand the world. It helps me to know myself. It lets me connect feelings to thoughts and memories and times and places.
Songs that hit me in the chest have driven me to action and inaction.
The songs of my teenage years, my twenties, from 2007, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2021, this very day, will both remain in those times and always be with me because I’ll always carry them. They’re in my head when other songs play, when I traverse the streets of some city, when I stand idle in an elevator.
It must be the same for others. It has to be.
Music can mark the most significant, ecstatic, grim, and poignant moments of our lives. The music that lands with you seems almost completely arbitrary. It depends on who you’ve discovered, what you’re inclined to like, what you’ve lived through, and how much you’ve matured.
The music that lives in me can take me across the world, really. I visit my hometown neighborhoods, I go back to school, I go to a 1940s jazz club, I go to the Middle East, I head up to Russia. The musical DNA of the human family shows me the ancient world, the halls of royalty, the family birthday parties, the world wars.
Led Zeppelin’s “The Rover” is a 14-year-old huddled in front of the kitchen radio.
Rage Against the Machine’s “Roll Right” is that long highway commute to an exciting new job in the dark of the early winter mornings.
Mark Knopfler’s “Everybody Pays” is the devastation.
Bob Dylan’s “Up to Me” is waiting in the wings, wondering if shame or courage could drive me out on what I believed to be the biggest stage of my life.
Phish’s 2/28/03 “Back on the Train” is cruising.
Even that foolish 2008 era of Lady Gaga has its place.
Charley Patton’s “Going to Move to Alabama” is my first real experience of adult life.
John Coltrane’s “Naima” and Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Lenny” are tender love and tribute that can never go away.
And if the original “Proud Mary” is the last song that I, too, ever hear on this earth, that will be just fine with me.
What do you think you wanted when you got here? What do you want now? What do you still want? How can you get it? Will you vow never to step over others to get there? Do you think that you could? Will you comb through the trust you’ve built and decide which ones would be best to betray? There really are no consequences for you if you’ve already rationalized it.
I find that music can help me address so many of these things, just not always in the most obvious of ways. No matter how loud it is, music really is like a whisper. You might need to do the work to hear it.
Sometimes, I wonder if the past is a time and place that can actually be touched again, either through wormholes or black holes or some other disruption in space and time.
But I think even if it isn’t, the connections people have to the music that means something to them will live on in some way. You won’t see them or hear them spoken about, but if you stop to realize the breadth of what the human animal is capable of synthesizing in its mind, you might meet up with those connections yourself, someday down the road.