I have been painting rooms in my house. I don’t really mind this task — well, except for a few key moments: roller tray full of paint tips over on the hardwood floor, walking into the room I’d thought I’d finished a week ago and seeing TONS of unpainted spots — but, by and large, I enjoy it. Mostly because it’s about the only time in my days when I listen to music for several hours.
Usually I’m trying to read, or write, or whatever, and if I’m trying to concentrate, I can’t listen to music at the same time. Because when I listen to music I listen to music. So I often don’t listen to music. But I listen to music while I paint, and it’s glorious.
There is nothing like music to raise my spirits or to bring me to my knees. There is nothing like music to bring back old memories, good or bad.
In this painting paroxysm I’ve been listening to Pandora. It’s playing a nice range of stuff. It reminded me that the last time I painted this living room, we listened to every album of The Band we had. I’m reminded by someone’s rendition of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” that I was stunned in, probably, 10th grade when Elaine Askew sang it at a school talent contest. Regular people could be that talented?! I was reminded of old friends — I’m talking about you, Ellen Lamb, and old apartments, distant places, old lovers, old bad times of unutterable loneliness, times of laughter.
And there’s something about music that lets you sing terribly sappy lyrics and it works! I’m thinking about a song I love, for example, Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today.” “Lonely,” he says, frankly, “lonely.” “Love, love me do,” urge the Beatles, without much imagination. “Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth,” say the kind of dumb words to Pharrell’s undeniably catchy song. I can’t get away with that in a poem. But man, put some music behind it and you can get away with all kinds of stuff.
But it’s not just lyrics. Pandora played at one point a beautiful instrumental, and I was stopped still by the lingering final note of the cello. What is it, these vibrations that get to the heart of things? I am awash with paint splatters and nostalgia.
Nostalgia is a word from -agia, or pain, and nostos-, or returning home. And indeed, the return home can be painful. Oh, I guess it’s usually understood as the pain of the desure to return home. No, it’s not for me the desire to return to anything — I’m happy where I am, but some ache that has to do with the passing of time, I guess, the passing of those moments of sheer presence, or experience that seep into our cells. And with music, or sometimes scent, bubble those old sensory inputs back to surface, like the stream now is muddy from a storm’s churning. And we taste things again, feel things in an uncomplicated way, at least for a moment.
And I suppose too there’s something in it of what Hopkins expresses in “Spring and Fall,” a poem to a young Margaret, “It is the blight man was born for,/It is Margaret you mourn for.” And something of Zagajewski’s unreachable Lvov: “Which station/for Lvov, if not in a dream…” (Gorczynski translation).
Yes, I love words, love good poetry, but lord, let me give music its due. I raise my paintbrush to you, you musicians out there around the world.