There are people whose entire lives are accompanied by music. They wake up and turn it on. They work better listening to it. They can’t imagine living their lives in silence.
I like silence. It helps me work better. I can think more easily when it’s quiet.
Over the years, I’ve noticed, I churn up the sound and listen to music when I am overcome by emotion — usually grief. Every time I drove to visit my father, whose Alzheimer’s was steadily progressing, I yanked up the volume on the CD. The music seemed to crowd out everything else — the helplessness, the horror, the sadness. I couldn’t think about anything. I could just let myself go.
Today, in the midst of some unexpected news of a friend’s death in Dallas, I took to listening to Floyd Kramer’s Last Date again and again. Driving through town, I listened to it countless times — the piano, the strings, the sweetness and grief and longing of it. I thought of how big and robust and exuberant this friend was; how could any illness have possibly felled him? I tried to imagine his wife, who’s also a dear friend, without him after their long years together. I tried — but not very hard — to understand the incomprehensible.
The song ended and I pressed the button to play it again. Again and again. I’ll play it and re-play it, try to burst my eardrums from its volume, try to fill my aching heart with it.
Funny, the things you can control in life. You can hear the same song again and again, you can demand to hear it again, you can use it to temporarily salve something painful with its clamor and harmonies. But finally, after a time, it doesn’t work any longer. You’re left with the silence and the ringing of your ears and the awareness of what’s been lost, what’s never coming back.
(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)