Listening

Whatever is going on in my life at a particular time, I inevitably find an anthem for that period.  The anthem isn’t always a song new to me, nor is it always an obvious one, but almost invariably, the song will smack me across the face one day and tell me that I have been listening for it (higher powers work in mysterious ways.  Mine is apparently a part-time musician and radio programmer).

Though it was certainly not the first anthem of my life (I can’t even remember the first one–my brain has simply always done this, though, were I to hazard a guess, “C is for Cookie” [thank you youtube!] was among the early contenders), a brain anthem happened about a year before the first time I got sober when I was driving home one day, listening to the radio.  I’d heard (and even listened to) Blue October’s “Hate Me“*** more times than I could count by that day (it was on heavy rotation–hello there, HP).   I found myself on that particular listen, crying.  Identifying.  Kind of wishing that G would, in fact, hate me–so that I could have an excuse to stop being such a thorn in his side.  This was 2006, if I recall correctly.  That song stayed in my head for months–right up until I finally sucked up and quit drinking.

Like earworms, which I also enjoy regularly, the anthems play in my head when the song isn’t on the radio, iPod, or in the CD player (and I typically play them over and again, even before I realize whatever lyric or movement my brain is picking up on).  Unlike earworms, my brain is kind enough to play the whole song through–it’s just always there, but subtle, unlike, say, when I had one line of “Unholy Confessions” trapped in my head for almost a week in December: “Nothing hurts my world, just affects the ones around me.” Now, given what I was struggling with in December, the hyper-focus on the notion that I was hurting others, not just myself, doesn’t seem particularly surprising.  But the earworm, which cycles only a portion of a song (mine never really go away until my brain is willing to let go of them–the trick of singing the whole song or listening to it seldom works), can be irritating in a way that the anthems aren’t.

There was a Betty Blowtorch song in here somewhere, but for the life of me I can’t recall which one, and, truth be told, Are You Man Enough? is one of my go to albums for damn near any contingency.  Along with Amy Ray’s Stag.

So, the next anthem that I recall  happened sometime after had stopped drinking in 2007, when I heard Duff’s “Then and Now” for what may have been the 10,000th time.  And the line, “if you saw me yesterday, you wouldn’t recognize my face” practically screamed out at me (good morning, HP)–I was, as I recall, running that morning.  Dark Days would end up powering a great many runs, but that particular song still gets me.

Didn’t happen the third time (probably because it was so farking short–though, I think I already had the song I’m about to cite in my head quite often by this point, I just didn’t know why).  Happened again this time, though, again with a song I listened to over and again since the album came out last summer.  A7X’s “Buried Alive” (again, thank you youtube–that’s the concert I saw in TN).  Yeah, the song says something about “sober up quick,” but that wasn’t the lyric that caught me (also, “psycho lunatic,” the cadence of which amuses me far more than it should).  I thought about trying to explicate the song, just for grins, because it’s an excellent example for me of the differences between explication (finding what is there) and the creation of meaning between audience, artist, and art.  I won’t claim to know what the song is “about, ” though, I’ve seen enough references on the matter to know what Matt says its about, and, yeah, it’s hard to ignore the obvious readings to “much has changed since the last time” when you’ve got a band recording an album in response to and in the wake of a bandmate’s sudden death.  Clearly, if nothing else, it was part of the band’s grief process.  But, since the album’s release, the song has been in my head pretty consistently, in no small measure because of the musical construction (I’m a sucker for a song that begins haunting and goes out blistering), but a couple of weeks ago, I heard this with new ears:

I walked the fields through the fire/Taking steps until I found solid ground/ Followed dreams reaching higher/ Couldn’t survive the fall/ Much has changed since the last time/And I feel a little less certain now/You know I jumped at the first sign/Tell me only if it’s real

Now, admittedly, I see a little Neil Gaiman running around in here–and, conveniently, Gaiman blogged on the very lines not to long ago (he saw them tattooed on a woman’s back), which came from Fear of Falling: “Sometimes you wake up.  Sometimes the fall kills you.  And sometimes, when you fall, you fly,” but that connection is as much the serendipity of Gaiman’s blog post and my own recognition of what the song was saying to me as anything else.  Because much has changed since the last time for me; more than I can presently articulate.  And, of course, there’s my fear, which is pretty roundly summed up here:

And I’m chained like a slave/Trapped in the dark/Slammed all the locks/Death calls my name/And it seems I’ve been buried alive

I’ve got some pretty good analogies about what alcoholism is like, but this sums it up about as well as any for me.  When they played the song the other night, I held up my surrender chip.  Why?  No clue–but it felt right (and, yes, I geekily looked in the linked video to see if I could be picked out with the flashing silver pieces.  I think I am glad the video was shot from the other side of the venue).

Not completely unrelated, but not musical: I heard something else with new ears last night: the Sixth Tradition.  For some reason, be it my mood, the setting, the increasing clarity in my head (not least because I’ve finished three major projects this week that have been looming over me for months–headspace is a glorious thing), and whatever united to make me hear “An AA group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the AA name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property or prestige divert us from our primary purpose.” Given where my butt was parked, it could very well have been the setting, but hearing this last night gave me pause:  is this where the church institutional went wrong, that we moved away from our primary purpose, distracted by these other problems?  Or, more pointedly, are we so distracted by them that we are confused to what our primary purpose even is?

Reminded me of a conversation Rev. Dean and I had about the nature of 12-steps and the nature of churches.  I didn’t let this wandering thought distract me from my primary purpose of the evening, which was to listen to other alcoholics sharing; I took a lesson from meditation, named the thought, claimed it, and let it slide off until this morning.  Curious thought, I grant, but interesting enough to drop here, I think.

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One response to “Listening

  1. For me it’s words, phrases that get stuck. Some have music attached, some do not but they stick like music anyway.

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