Hello on a cloud, humid, almost-summer morning,
I have been working in my office and it is almost noon, so I am going to be out an about doing other work for a bit. As I meander about my daily routine, seldom does it occur that there is not some music in the background. I mentioned that aspect of my existence in a recent blog, and perhaps what most amazes me about music is a combination of the lyrics and actual sounds, sound, sounds that succeed in creating an experience and emotional connection. Those connections can transport us back to the time of our life when the song was popular, and by extension open a cornucopia of memories, people, or places. I can see faces, hear the voices, and even re-create (to some degree) the feelings that I had at that time, or remember so clearly that it emotionally connects over the years. I am not sure if that is non-sense, but I hope so.
Some of those songs are periodic, corresponding to times in my life. As importantly, the moods of the song create some sense of parallelism to what occurred in my life. I remember a song by the Guess Who titles “Share the Land.” It might be my first remembrance of a sort of social justice, which a central component of who I am now. I am not sure how that resonated with me at that time. A second song (for which I had the 45) was Edwin Starr and was titled “War,” which might be ironic for a future 17 year old who would enlist in the Marine Corps. I remember sneaking out of house to Grandview Park to see the Five Man Electrical Band and listening to the song “Signs.” What do these songs have in common? They were against the status quo, and the only way this undersized, insecure little guy could find his voice. Indeed music become my voice, and, of course, the higher the volume, the more emphatic I became. The first two albums I purchased were Jethro Tull Aqualung (which was a biting assessment of the Roman Catholic Church) and Black Sabbath Paranoid, and of course Ozzy was fearless in pushing the envelope.
The other musicians influential as I went through high school were because of my older brother, an amazing trombonist, whose band made quite a name for themselves in the early 1970s. The first Chicago album (and particularly “Beginnings” and “Questions 67 and 68”) the album by Chase or BS&T and their music have me sitting on the basement steps of my parent’s house listening to the band practice, the drums and Dennis Brunssen’s bass rattling my mother’s cans out of the cupboard. Listening to my best friend singing “Let it Be” for homecoming or being exposed to the incredible music of Tommy Bolin, the profoundly talented hometown guitarist who would play with both the James Gang and Deep Purple, was central to my growing up. Music was central to my feeling positive in the years I grew up. It was one of the places I found both a sense of accomplishment and a place I could find words that made sense of my life. Growing up, my involvement in high school choir, an All-City Children’s Choir, an All-City Orchestra, church choirs, singing in both The Messiah or Brahms’s Ein Deutsches Requiem were times I felt music did more to sustain me than most anything in my life. Learning to play the guitar during the year I traveled on a Lutheran Youth Encounter Team and working with Campus Ministry Teams while a student at Dana were important because of the music as much as the development of the teams.
There are two specific times I felt transported back into even another century by the music I listened to. The first time was when I was in college and I sat in a cathedral in Lubeck Germany. I listened to an organist play the music of Dietrich Buxtehude, the Danish/German composer. I could have sat there for days. Some years later I was back in Germany, Leipzig to be exact. We were in the Thomas Kirche, where Bach is buried. My seminary group was treated to an incredible recital of sorts by the German organist Holm Vogel. He played excerpts from Bach’s Organ Concertos. It was stunning, not only because of the setting, the music, or the incredible instrument. Mr. Vogel was one of the most accomplished organists I have ever heard or witnessed, but that is only the beginning of the story. He was so accomplished he was commissioned by the East German Government to record these concertos. Yet, even that was not the most amazing thing about being able to hear Mr. Vogel, it was that he was blind from birth. They led him to the organ, helped him get situated, and away he went. It was perhaps the most incredible musical moment of my life. It seems that whenever I consider some part of my life, the music of that period is barely below the surface and sometimes it is front and center.
As noted, music often offered the words to the emotions, the struggles, the hopes, or the concerns that characterized my life at that point. Even now, yes, it is possible for me to hear a song and remember amazing things that seem incongruent or impossible to connect to that music, but songs like “Song for America” by Kansas, “Dreamweaver” by Gary Wright, or the album Night at the Opera by Queen remind me of a 1971 Chevelle and my times out of the service and two friendships that shaped much of my life at that time. They were brother and sister, and I am blessed by their presence in my life yet today. The early music of Heart will push me to remember the incredible love I felt for one, which I was so unprepared to feel or manage (if I can use that word). I love her to this day. Songs my KC and the Sunshine Band, Art Garfunkel’s solo album (and his song “I Believe”) were more consequential than I could have ever understood. In spite of my struggles to understand who I was as a 22 year old, what I know now is I grew more in that time than I also realized; in fact, I think I am still realizing the importance of that. As write this and reflect on that time in my life, I remember music being one of the things that gave me a sense of being grounded. That was so important because I was floundering in so many ways.
Sometimes it is through the writing and reflecting about the music that I am allowed to connect and rediscover what the music meant to me then, and even now. Often when I am working in my office, where I have three monitors on my desk, it is not uncommon for me to YouTube so many of those songs and listen again, feeling, and yes, reconnecting. Nostalgia is an interesting thing. I have studied the idea of nostalgia academically, but it is a much different thing when I consider it personally. One of the things I am guilty of, and it is not uncommon, is remembering things with a sort of rose-colored glasses, not to sound too cliché. It is easy to fool one’s self believing the ideas of it was a simpler time, a kinder time. Nostalgia is emotional and perhaps that is why it connects so seamlessly to music because music evokes emotion. And if music creates a thread, as I argue in a title, there is an intrinsic connection to what was. Ralph Harper, the person credited with developing existentialism noted that nostalgia has a rather dichotomous aspect, taking both the good and the bad, the positive experience when reconsidered allows for a sort of loveliness because of our enchantment with it (“Nostalgia: and Existential Exploration . . . “). Perhaps that is what music does for me. It returns to me to those times in my life when I wish something different might have happened. It allows me to ponder the possibility that never happened, but then again it provides a happier reminiscing. The fair question is it helpful or less than? I am not sure there is an easy answer. As I researched this idea of memory of nostalgia, it caught be off guard a bit that another term used consistently was melancholy. If you have read my blog for sometime, that is a word I have often used to describe more of my life and a sort of basic emotional element of who I am. It is something I wonder about from time to time.
What I realize more and more is there is a certain introspective propensity I possess. It is consistent with my wondering the why of things. It is, for me, the practical side of reality. It is also how I allow the identity that is constantly evolving to find the real person I was, I am, or perhaps the person I still aspire to be. Aspiration . . . what is it I aspire to be? Have I made it? How might I know? I think what I aspire to be is a difference maker in other people’s lives; not always in some profound earth-shattering, life-altering manner, but rather in a way that makes their life better. And to return to where the blog began, that is what music does for me that is perhaps so important. It connects me to the past, but it inspires me to move forward, holding on the important memories that are significant to my life, but also containing the thread that is still developing a new fabric, a new garment. The video below is another song that connects be to the time that where was profound change in our world, but one that connects us to what is currently occurring in Ukraine and because of the Russian invasion. It is a reminder that the world in which we live is dependent on each other. I hope music can create a new wind of change for all. The initial picture is also an important memory for me. It is three years ago I had the opportunity to visit Moscow and Ana, my Russian adopted daughter of sorts. It was an incredible experience and ironically connects to the video below. Again, the threads are apparent.
Thanks as always for reading.