Fare thee well
Music is molecular. You hear a song, listen to a song, feel a song and you are forever changed. Who and what you were before hearing the song are not the same who and what you are after hearing a song. Music sticks to memories, to associations, to every facet of your life. Times, places, moments, smells, so much can come flooding back during the playing of a song.
Songs are blank canvases. Lyrics especially. I think that is why we mis-hear them so often. What you are thinking the singers are singing are specific and individual only to you. Maybe they speak to some greater internal subtext, maybe they just fit better. The hook of Aerosmith’s “Rag Doll,” to me, still says “Go get easy/do it til you’re greasy/give it all you got til you’re throwing up/your puke is green!”
I wonder, with increasingly frequency, if perhaps there is a deep layer of sadness within me, one that is triggered intensely by song. Over the past four weeks there have been two songs that have, on the way home, triggered large bouts of blubbering: LCD Soundsystem’s “All I Want” and John Doan’s “In John Fahey There Is No East Or West.”
I didn’t used to like LCD Soundsystem. Too. . . I dunno. Something about them was a thing I didn’t like. When I first heard “Daft Punk is Playing At My House” it felt so trendy, so hipster, so not something I cared about. Bit by bit my opinion changed and now I feel like not quite a fan but not exactly a hater. This Is Happening rightfully should have been included on my faves list for 2010 but I listened in bits and let certain songs overshadow others. As I drove home in mid-April, “All I Want” started playing. Boom. Waterworks.
It wasn’t the lyrics that got me in such a state, they seem like a traditional shifting narrative focus that I think define so many LCD songs. It is the music, the sound that sets the mood for me. And when I think about this band it is the sound of the songs that hook me rather than the lyrics. I tend to be more musical than lyrical, but I absorb lyrics in a second hand fashion on the back of the music.
So the music is what made me tear up. What in particular? Well, there is this synth part that comes in at 2:47. It is bubbly, high in tone, floating above the guitars, so lovely and somehow so reflective. It takes the song to another level and blends into the complexity that you hear behind the snyth part. And the part or at least the sound of the synth stays in the mix for the rest of the song. Maybe the lyrics do have a part in the feelings the song caused. One snippet states, “you’ve never needed anything for so long” while another goes, “from now on I’m someone different.” Then the big ending chorus, “take me home.” Those lyrics, the feelings, the sound of the music behind the words, the soaring (for lack of a better word) way James Murphy sings those lines. I can’t help it. I just start to cry.
The next song on the 240-pound man crying on his way home from work is a cover version/slightly different interpretation of the traditional hymnal, “In Jesus Christ There Is No East Or West.” Fahey played guitar, the version I have is played by the guitarist John Doan. Doan plays a “harp guitar” which is sort of like it sounds, a guitar with harp tones to it. I first heard this song on a cover CD entitled, Fahey & Friends. I was hypnotized listening to it. When I would play the song during my radio shows I couldn’t do anything while I listened to it, I had to stop everything and just listen. I find the song idyllic, peaceful and beautiful. I have played this song in car many times and just watched my children (and the road) while listening. It fills me up, really it does.
But of late while listening I reminisce on the school year. And I think of my students, my other kids. And I think of sunny days on swings, on bikes and in the classroom. I think of these kids and their physical, emotional and cognitive growth over the eight months we’ve spent together. And dammit, I just start to cry. I’m not talking about a stoic tear either, I’m talking about borderline bawling.
This was the first full year I have spent teaching. When I was hired in the previous school year it was already February and I didn’t have that entire time with my students. This year is my first full year, my first experience with getting to know a group of 18 kids and begin to build our year together. What is so wonderful, for me, is how unexpected this feeling is, these feelings are. Sure I’m an emotional guy, but these are just coming from an unexpected place.
Last summer I rode the back of the teacher retirement boom to NINE job interviews, none of which I got. And so when the year started up I was mad and bitter about things, about being back. Petty really. I didn’t let it affect me in the classroom but those feelings were there, floating around start up. Next thing I know here we sit in the middle of May. Where did the time go?
Perhaps there are greater issues at work. The way time seems at once so slow yet faster than light. I think the reason those LCD Soundsystem lyrics sting the way they do is because in the context of my experience they are so painfully true.
“You’ve never needed anything for so long.” Before my kids my life really revolved around stuff, music and so forth. It still does but not like before 2007. Perhaps I’ve gotten complacent, perhaps lazy. My own children fill me with joy everyday, but maybe I felt like I was only needed by my own children. Whatever it was, whatever I was lacking without knowing what I was lacking was filled, to the top, by my students this year. Which is then why the “now I’m someone different” line burns so much.
Today, Friday May 13th, marks the end of my year with my eighteen students. I know they will never read this isolated post. But I would not be lying if I didn’t say that every day spent with them made me a better person and a better teacher. I know I will be thinking of this class for years to come and deep down I hope they remember me as someone who cared. I know I will never forget one of their eighteen faces. And I’ll never be able to listen to those two songs again without seeing all those faces in my mind.