Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Music: A Personal History

I worked as a DJ in the miniscule, low powered, top 40 station at my university back in the day. That was when vinyl wasn’t retro and cool. It was just the most affordable way for broke university students to buy their music. If we had cars, we all dreamed of having a good sound system. Of course that meant mostly eight tracks or possibly cassette players. I drove an ancient Ford Galaxy 500 the color of an army tank and not much smaller. Since it had no stereo system, I just left the radio on. When the key turned in the ignition, the radio started. When the engine shut off, the radio stopped. In my world, there always, always had to be music.

We lived for music in those days. I can remember the pure pleasure of buying the latest album from B&B Records in Kirksville, Missouri. It was the only place in town where you could buy the latest album for a fiver. There was always a mad rush back to the dorm afterwards, or back to my house before I started university, to have a listen. While it was always fun to share the latest with friends, the best part, the most important part, was that ritual of shutting myself in my room and cranking the new album on my cheap stereo. Then I’d settle on my bed with a glass of tea and the album jacket, which usually had the lyrics printed on it. It was total immersion into a world that somehow touched me, like it did most people my age, in ways nothing else could. I think perhaps that was because in my teens and early twenties, I experienced the world through music. I was too young and innocent to have yet been knocked down by love that didn’t work out, or transported to heavenly realms by love that did. I hadn’t yet had sex that shook me to my very core, or heartbreak that threatened to destroy me. I hadn’t yet explored the big wide world or had adventures that would change my life. I lived and breathed through the music, going through the mundane motions of getting an education so that one day I could move out into that mysterious world of which music spoke to me so seductively. 

Music at that stage of my life was voyeurism into the many lives, loves, tragedies, adventures and beginnings that were not mine, but moved me as though they might have been. It made me yearn for a life larger than my own with the burning impatience of the very young, who somehow are certain things will go better for them and they won’t make the same mistakes as the people in the songs that tug at their hearts.

And then I graduated, moved away from Missouri, and found myself thrown in at the deep end of that real world that I’d only experienced in music. It was a different kind of total immersion. My first real job was in small market television in Kalispell Montana, where I did not find my true love. I ended up in Oregon and then went to former Yugoslavia. In Croatia, Ididfind my true love in a time that the country I’d come to think of as home was breaking apart and the Balkan war started. I was exposed to the seamy underbelly of organized religion and everything I thought I knew about the world I lived in and what I believed to be true crumbled. 

During that time of my life there was very little music. I lived in the experience. The immersion into survival was nothing at all like what I’d thought it would be when I was a teenager sitting on my bed listening to songs of love and loss and adventure. I’m an introvert and a writer, so I’ve always spent massive amounts of time in my head. But in that headspace music was replaced by my own thoughts and ruminations, and silence spoke volumes. The quiet became music in its own right, healing and soothing the scars that life left. Sometimes I just wanted to maintain a place of neutrality in myself, to just go through the motions away from anything that could overpower me like music might threaten to do. At other times, I was just lost in the experiences that life threw me, often faster than I could embrace them. It wasn’t that music no longer had the power to move me or to touch me on a deeper level. It was that I didn’t want to be moved to a deeper level. I knew the darkness that level could hold, and I often felt like I was already drowning in it.

Then a few years ago, on a holiday in Dubrovnik Croatia, my husband and I stepped into a pub that had live music – a bloke with a guitar and a really great voice. He played covers, and we listened, tapped our feet, sang along, even danced with the drunk revelers who had spent their day toasting in the sun. The next night, we came back to listen again. 

Somehow those two nights in that pub in Dubrovnik cracked open that space where music used to live in my life. My husband and I discovered that Guildford is a place alive and bustling with music. There’s a contemporary music school here, and almost any night of the week you can find a pub where some kind of live music is happening. We’re spoiled for choice. For the price of a pint, we can listen to some seriously amazing talent all evening long. 

But it’s different now, the way the music moves me and the places inside me where it resonates. I’ve lived a life. I’ve known love and loss and adventure and sorrow and depression and joy. I’ve known those long stretches of the mundane into which the tiniest breath of magic can make me rethink everything. And I’ve learned what it means to be terrified and yet move forward anyway because there’s something worth the effort waiting just beyond the fear. Perhaps it’s just the filter that has changed. Perhaps music now helps me to face my mortality as it helped me face my inexperience in my youth. Music is continuity. It’s there with or without our participation, always touching someone, always progressing, always finding a space and an emotion that can be expressed best through music. While there have been years in my life in which I hardly noticed music, there is powerful magic in being able to come back after being away so long and find a different kind of comfort, a different kind of pleasure and find that the joy is still there. I no longer feel like the voyeur, but rather one who has been there, who bears the scars of the journey and houses the memories of all the highs and lows along the way. That continuity that music offers is like embracing an old friend that I’ve not seen in a long time, and while we’ve both changed, we somehow can still pick up where we left off and continue our conversation.

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful essay, KD!

    I didn't know you lived in the U.S. I've always thought of you as the quintessential English author.

    I do wonder - when you hear one of the tunes that moved you when you were a teen, does that take you back? Or do you feel a gulf between the woman you are now and the innocent visionary of your youth?


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