I am harboring a theory that the reason we like music goes back to our earliest childhood, when we didn't understand language and lived in a world of incomprehensible sight and sound. A newborn infant bombarded with sensory input has only its deepest intuition to rely on for a response. It cannot contrive an answer to a question. It sees and hears and an instinctual, genetic response is ilicited. A baby feels the answer to a mother's question. It feels the reaction to a sight.
When we listen to music we're going back to that first response we made to being alive. If we were lucky enough, it persisted through our lives, sound eliciting responses that we remember. The music of our past makes us feel best. If we grew up with our parents responding with love while we listened to Johnny Cash and Conway Twitty, we're going to be country fans forever. If we had our first kiss and Dylan was on the radio, it becomes embedded in our being.
This is why music is so subjective. This is why certain sounds send us to our own personal nirvana while leaving others in the shoe aisle at Walmart.
While I was writing The Dream I was debugging my linux machine. Debugging is the normal state of affairs for a linux machine, far as I can tell.
To debug amaroK I put in a CD from my collection I hadn't listened to since I bought it from Spinner.com. Spinner doesn't exist anymore, but the echolyn CD, As The World, is still on my rack as a result of my having heard it on the Spinner service back in 2000. I remember listening to it once, declaring all but one song boring, and retiring it along side a bunch of Emily Bezar CDs I bought around the same time.
The motive of As The World finally seeped into me. I figured out the rhyme and reason of these songs that have no hook. Once I got it, I needed more.
I downloaded The End is Beautiful from iTunes and promptly fell in love with it. I didn't think people made music like this anymore. Progressive rock by middle-aged guys, a few thousand notes per song, 7/8 timing moving to 9/8 then 5/8. Themes that I can understand.
Who likes these guys enough that they can have out five CDs? I sure didn't like them when I first heard them. They tried too hard to sound like Gentle Giant. They seemed like a "Spock's Beard" rip-off. Spock's Beard being a Dream Theater rip off, being a Yes rip off, etc. A progressive throwback in a world that's already moved through two or three musical genres. Decades have past. Most people have never heard of them, much less heard one of their songs.
It's really hard to play echolyn music. It's hard to sing the four-part harmonies they have in every song. How could you go through so much work for so scant a following?
They must love what they're doing.
Somewhere at the end of The Dream, when the guys are closing the bar and going off to their cab in the sleet the refrain to The End is Beautiful dribbled from my computer speakers. There was something deep and majestic about it. Profound in a scientific way. Profound in an I love you and I'm scared, way. Profound in an I can't live without you but I am, somehow, way.
I realized I'd heard the riff before on a Yes album. Yessongs, first track.
It was the last movement to The Firebird Suite by Igor Stravinsky. And I remember where I was the first time I heard that theme. It led to a love of progressive music, and a crush on a girl I was certain had been designed by God to my exacting standards.
The crush was unrequited, mostly. The music lives on. I heard it again while I was working and it evoked feeling the way I'm sure familiar voices evoke feelings in infants. There is a universe in a few neurons of my mind where I am seventeen and have a serious crush on a girl with long brown hair and blue eyes in Marian Catholic in Chicago Heights, Illinois. I am forever connected to that time and place. To the feeling. I go back there when I hear those notes.
The lyrics are kind of SOP. Words to fill space. Sigur Ros probably has it right in simply using a human voice as an instrument. Nothing has to be said. It's the purity of the moment -- our own response as infants to sound. The song comes to a creshendo with the fire in my stomach, and then I realize they're talking about something I might have said, might have done, might have thought. The adult me in head-on collision with my first thoughts as human:
I made her hate enough to kill.
It doesn't make it right.
I made her hate enough to kill.
It doesn't make it right.
Doesn't make it right.
Doesn't make it right.
Doesn't make it right. My God. My dear. My love. We go through these trials for a reason, I'm sure. It hurts and I can't figure out how to make it stop. Will I come out the other side whole?
Music comes to us. One reason or another. Mother returning with food. Father twirling us in the air. Life, love, pain. I made her hate enough to kill when I could have left her in peace. Or was there no other way? It doesn't make anything right. There no other way than to be trapped between two wrongs.
And words to the Firebird theme swirling around me as I try to bury myself in technology to avoid the pain of the mistakes I've made in my life. What trial is to come for mistakes I've yet to make?
"How do I tell her the end is beautiful?"
I finally finished Don DeLilo's,"Underworld". It took me six years.
Eight-hundred some-odd pages. It winds all over the place, and isn't strictly about any character's story. Rather, it's a gigantic meta-story about the ultimate underlying interconnectedness of all things. Pedigrees. Coincidences. Any one event spawns hundreds of other events, each of which is in some stage of maturity. At any point in time all humans are in the middle of a bundle of wires that are the path things take through time. The ends are frayed. Branches upon branches on each side. Things are ending, and their ending is the middle of something else's existence and the beginning of others.
The trigger for the multifarious world lines of Underworld is the 1951 pennant game between the Giants and the Dodgers. That game connects everyone, directly, indirectly, consciously, or unconsciously, through the winning home run and the baseball, retrieved by a kid who crashed the gates instead of going to school.
It's a masterfully executed book. Written in superior prose I could practice for two hundred years and never emulate. It covers such diverse topics as Lenny Bruce, the Cuban Missile crisis, subway taggers in Manhattan, the mafia, pretentious modern artists, nuclear war and the American secret weapons programs, J. Edgar Hoover's deviency -- if you had eight hundred some-odd pages to fill about everything being connected from a baseball in 1951 to now, you could cover a lot of ground, couldn't you?
He connects that game to the bombing of Hanoi. To the creation of a styrine-based napalm developed by Dow Chemical. To a mob hit in Brooklyn. To a serial killer in Texas. To a woman on Valium who makes jello in parfait cups she angles at 45-degrees in the refrigerator.
What made me pick it up off my shelf and start it over after six years was the cover, which displays an iconic World Trade Center. The WTC plays no part in the story, though were Underworld to be written today, I'm certain Don DeLilo would have found plenty of fodder in the WTC collapse.
I pulled out the bookmark. Page 115. Started at the beginning and finished it last night thinking, "Why?" Maybe it's his "Ulysses". It's a technical achievement that's not easy to love. I found no engrossing characters, and there are so many. At times, it seems a new one is introduced every ten pages, and then a hundred pages later, you realize tens of characters simply haven't been mentioned again. Just like real life. Connections are ephemeral. By the end, many themes are resolved but honestly, I'd forgotten them two or three hundred pages earlier. Had I known it was about what it was about, I would have never invested the time. Nor will I recommend it to anyone who isn't a student of writing.
It took me six years to read. I am not man enough for this book. I feel the same as I do looking into the math of the Richard Feynman biography (for mathematicians) I never finished -- the one that goes into all his physics in detail. The one with all the differential equations and tensor math I never learned. I keep reading pages of it, trying to understand two or three of the proofs, and then I put it back. I can't handle it, and I probably couldn't handle Underworld, even though I thought I did. It takes someone of greater prowess.
I'll go back to Nick Hornby. Dave Eggers. I'm a much simpler person. I have other things on my mind.
How do I tell her the end is beautiful?