Kool Thing

via Discover Challenge: Song

I’m slow off the mark at times. It must be nearly two weeks ago now that I saw a prompt on the Daily Post,  just one word, song. I was already 3/4 of the way through a different post, however, and I chose to finish that and let the other idea sit in the back of my mind, where I knew there were at least 100 different posts I could write with the word song as a starting point. After I’d published that other post and sat down to write something on song, it seemed the idea that had made its way slowly to the top of the pot was to write about this song, or more specifically, why I can’t listen to it any more.

When I hear Kool Thing, by Sonic Youth, I feel a sort of cold chill run through me. It’s not a chill of excitement. It’s the chill of a complex mixture of negative emotions I can’t quite pin down. Let’s say that in that mix there is embarrassment, mortification, and anger, too, probably.

Those feelings, embarrassment, mortification and anger, are directed at myself. They are directly squarely at an image of myself, five years ago, on the night of Sunday September 11, 2011, standing at the sink, peeling potatoes, and listening to the Sonic Youth album, Goo.

Taking a step back, about 2 hours earlier on that same day, I had learned that my younger brother John had died suddenly, in his sleep, some time that weekend. Conversations had been had, phone calls to other family members had been made, and now I was left, alone. My partner had gone out, to drive across town and pick up my youngest brother; it was he who lived with John, and it was he who had phoned us with the news. My daughter was only 11; instinctively she kept herself busy in her room.

If my daughter had come out of her room she would have seen me in the kitchen, and to her everything would have looked normal – I was moving and functioning – but in fact I was not completely present; there was an invisible bubble around me, keeping me at arms length from reality. I had stopped somewhere, but I had a dim awareness that time was still moving on around me, and this told me that dinner needed to be made, so that we could eat something when the guys got back from across town. In this state of reality/unreality, I put on Goo, to listen to as I cooked.

I chose that album because John had always been a huge Sonic Youth fan, and I thought maybe that was what you do when you’ve just found out that your brother has died.

Or did I? I look back now and wonder what on earth I thought. Did I think that the most appropriate thing to do was to put on music that the deceased person had liked? Did I think that it was no different to fondly thinking about someone who was merely absent? Did I think I lived in a fucking movie?

Because if I had been an actor in a movie, an appropriate soundtrack would have swelled up in that scene of me peeling potatoes at the sink; music representing my brother, music that he had liked, lyrics that encapsulated something about him. And the music would be accompanied by a montage of snapshots, images of him throughout his life, existing in the head of the character I was playing, but visible for all the viewers at home, the way that TV and film can do.

But if I’d been an actor in a movie, it would all have been acting; my “brother” would be played by another actor, neither the actor or my brother would really be dead; there would have been no reason to totally switch off my emotions.

So, mistaking real life for a movie at that moment – maybe because everything suddenly felt so unreal – I put on Goo, as if for all the world I was putting on the album because my brother was on his way over for a meal. I did what it seemed that someone in a movie would do in this situation: put on the album, let it be the soundtrack of that night, let it honor him, while I cooked.

Of course, inevitably, I have never been able to listen to that album again. But it’s not because the tracks off that album evoke such sadness in me. It’s embarrassment, mortification and anger at myself for what seems now like a display of insincerity, that have become attached to the songs from Goo after that night.

I picture that moment at the sink and actually blush, from a deep sense of shame, at what a stupid thing it was to have done. Looking back now it seems disingenuous, as if I was playing out the role of a grieving person, learned from TV soap operas. Here in the present, I’ve felt mortified to be the person that did that. It seems as if I thought some kind of celebratory move was required, when it was way to soon for that. And I’m annoyed that I spoiled that album for myself, because it was an album that John loved.

Of course when I look back now, my action in putting on one of his favourite albums to play while I made soup highlights how the news of his death had only broken through the surface of some very outer barrier of my mind at that stage, it had not yet really penetrated my understanding, and shock was already playing its part in making me feel like a robot going through the motions: make a nourishing meal. Ring your sister.

Rationally, I know that it is not worth feeling humiliated, mortified or embarrassed about. I realise that one doesn’t know what the done thing is, when someone dies suddenly. But these irrational emotions are surprisingly effective at blocking out others. When I’m filled with the heat of embarrassment, I’m not also able to feel sad at the same time. I cry at all sorts of things nowadays, and certainly at plenty of songs, but not at songs by Sonic Youth.

 

 

 

 

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Note: this prompt encouraged the writer to post links or multimedia; but in keeping with the topic, I don’t want to.

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2 Comments

  1. When you suffer the tremendous shock of the loss of a loved one, there is no ‘right way’ to respond. The emotions are overwhelmed and sent into free-fall. What you do then is what you do. There’s no ought-to or should-have. It’s like being picked up and hurled by a hurricane.

    When a loved one dies, those left behind feel angry and sometimes guilty. There’s no good reason for the guilt but it arises. We don’t really know why we feel guilty and so we look around to find something – anything – to attach our feelings of guilt and shame to, often to pointless and silly things.

    Have you stopped to think what your brother might have thought could he have seen you then and in the aftermath? I think he would have hugged you and told you he loved you and that that was all that matters.

    Grief is a long, hard road and it is haunted by all manner of doubts and strange fancies. Shoo them away by holding on to what really matters.

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  2. Thank you for this lovely thought. No, I hadn’t ever thought about what my brother would have felt, if he was able to see that scene of me in the kitchen that night. Of course, you are right, he would have known that all that mattered was that we loved one another. But also I think in this theoretical situation, he would have been gratified to see that I put on music I associated with him. Thanks so much for offering this perspective on it!

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