Where’s your head at?

Here’s some news for music lovers. When someone you love dies, you will probably find it hard to listen to music for a little while.

After my brother died, 6 months ago, I couldn’t listen to music  – the act of listening to music required a desire to enjoy something, and I didn’t feel like it was possible to enjoy anything again.

Gradually, of course, I have started listening to music again. Driving a few solo 75 minute trips to see my parents made it necessary.

Here’s a tip to anyone in the same situation – since he died, I find it preferable to put my ipod on “shuffle”. That way I don’t listen to any one particular album. I don’t want any album I like to be tainted with the awful sadness of this period in my life.

So, I’ve taken a few drives by myself with my music set on “shuffle”. This has given me the time and opportunity to really notice the power that music has over my mood. It’s been noticeable because of the random selections that result when the ipod is set to “shuffle”, and because I’m limited to a strange, small, selection of music that I put on my then-newish iphone in a hurry, one day when I was about to take one of those long drives.  (I use the word strange to mean that the music is a random selection of mis-matched genres, not in the sense of being obscure.) I have: Adele (my daughter’s choice of music), Air, Ani di Franco, Basement Jaxx, Beastie Boys and Explosions in the Sky. (I just grabbed a few from the top of the alphabetically ordered menu in my itunes library and added E.I.T.S.). With this odd selection, it’s almost fascinating to notice myself react when I’m driving and the music changes. It’s as though each song takes my head somewhere different, and my emotions, as a result, travel all over the place along with the music.

It goes roughly something like this: say a song by Adele comes on. Adele has a great voice, and I enjoy her songs, but they only make it onto my iphone in the interests of trying to share in my 12 year old’s music taste when I can. There is a slight suspicion in my mind that Adele’s music is designed to manipulate my emotions. But in the state of mind I’m in, I don’t care. I fall for it immediately, so a few lines into a song I am reaching for the tissue box.

After that, it might be Ani de Franco. Her songs are narratives, that blend the personal and political. The narrative is distracting and takes my mind off John – by about half way through a song I might have managed to stop sobbing and start singing along. Next up, a track by Basement Jaxx. Immediately I’m dancing – as much as is possible while still keeping my  feet on the accelerator and clutch, and at least one hand on the steering wheel. (*note to self – an automatic would be a better choice for dancing in.)

If the next track happens to be by Air, suddenly I’m enveloped in their atmospheric music, but, as Sofia Coppola knows, it’s usually an atmosphere of alienation and alone-ness (if not quite loneliness), that dampens my mood again. But I’m saved – The Beastie Boys are up next and it’s like someone slapping me in the face and saying “Get over yourself!”

In case anyone is wondering, I can safely assure you that it is impossible to dwell too deeply on your own feelings when listening to lyrics like “Brass Monkey, that Funky Monkey – Junkie.”

Finally, Explosions in the Sky rolls through the speakers and without the need for any lyrics the music transports me to some other internal world. For some reason their drifting, layered music creates a picture in my mind – I’m taken out of myself and I’m looking down at myself, as though from a airplane. I can see the world, and then I zoom in to the road that I’m driving down, and there is me – a little speck driving along the road – alive,  a figure in a landscape, I’m part of the world, where my brother no longer is.

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