A year in three tracks 

Notes on feeling music for the first time

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“A letter to my younger self” (Ambar Lucid)
She enters with just the bright, plucky guitar and when she leaves, she does the same—but in between the arrival and the exit (in the two minutes and thirty-eight seconds she guides the sound through you), she adds her voice; she’s reading a letter: I promise all of this is not gonna la-a-st / Trust me, I know.

I roll down the window, the hot-dry California wind hits my face; we’re zooming through a forest of golden grass and dark-green pines approaching the eastern border. It’s August and we’re leaving the state, my birthplace, enveloped in smoke, not sure when we’ll be back. 

Ya no quiero que llores. A choir of light, airy voices joins her, the bilingual folky-urban singer-songwriter, and together they croon: The universe is gonna give you muchas flores (I don’t want you to cry anymore / The universe is gonna give you many flowers).

We cross the divide, drive between black-molten slopes across western Nevada, burnt matchsticks for trees; we drive through martian deserts, pass signs for lava beds, skirt barren farmland; we drive, we drive, we drive, we fill up for gas, I see no flowers; we share a root beer float from a small town with a saloon that’s still standing under the searing sun.

I put the song on repeat: Quítate ese miedo / You’ll be a lot more trust me, yo te entiendo (Shed (take off) that fear / You’ll be a lot more, I understand you). And as the bright, plucky guitar snakes its way through me again and again and again, it flosses out the fear. I know times are hard right now / But I promise you’ll be alright. And so we move: with and beyond climate doom: onward, eyes open, navigating this great western expanse. 

“SUPERBLOOM” (MisterWives)
At home I hook the leash to my dog’s collar and we head out the door. It’s March and all the leftover snow sits in dirty, crusty piles. In a life-changing week, another metamorphic moment arrives: I put in headphones, let my dog guide me down the street, and I begin to shake.

I’d always been a podcast person, and for this I indict my parents: the dearth of music at home and, in the car, restricting our radio dial to KQED’s 88.5 FM or (cue young woman’s enthusiastic voice) “Disney AM 1310!” I’d never thought much of this; the voices in my ears, the stories, the news, the fun facts, they’ve kept me company forever. Music never resonated the same way; curating my own sound style, I didn’t know where to start; maybe I was listening too hard, not feeling. 

And then came March. Suddenly I couldn’t hear or listen to podcasts. The stories, the news, the facts: they poured into my ears, a brain, already too-full: already saturated with stories, sad-heavy news, facts that shocked me, you, us. I’d spent three days interviewing victims of a machine-gun massacre at my local grocery store. Ten people died. Thousands more wounded if/when tallying emotional casualties. For 72 hours I’d sat with grieving mothers, neighbors, sisters, friends. I walled off my reaction, became a receptacle for theirs, did my job with my recorder, pen, and notepad. I asked my questions, recorded theirs.

When the national news cycle closed, I stood ringing in the vacuum’s echo, numbness wearing off, feelings growing louder. That’s when I take my dog outside, walk past the dirty Colorado snow, and for the first time, I reach for music. I don’t think. I just feel. 

An upbeat piano-trumpet combo surges, a clap joining every other beat: Resilient little thing just like mama made you. I begin to bop, begin to clap, begin to loosen my bones and shake my limbs. No one needs to save you. / Ah-na-na, ah-na-na, ah-na-na. And that’s how I move down the street, bouncing, shimmying shit loose, letting it all tumble out, my dog sniffing, leading the way. 

“Algo que ya” (Tu Otra Bonita)
On the balcony I’m sitting in a matted red-velvet chair, peering down at the musicians’ stage: two men, seated on wooden stools, holding acoustic guitars, one with dirty-blond boy-band curls, the other’s silky button-up half-way open. They start strumming, the curly-haired one sings: El pez que se muerde la cola—its locution rhythmic, with time gaining speed—El mal que el tiempo no sana (The fish that bites its tail / The evil that time doesn’t heal). 

Beyond the musicians’ spotlight it’s dark, and COVID-19 protocols mean no one is sitting next to me—for this I’m grateful—I’m grateful because behind my facemask there are tears. 

Hot tears, heavy tears. They’d begun the day before, when the Black Hole appeared, a hollow in my chest carved slowly and then suddenly. I’m sitting in a crowd, in a city, and I’m lonely. 

It’s November now; I’m in Mexico City, depressed, my sad feelings gaining velocity with each hour. I reach for my new tool: I buy a ticket to a concert without even knowing the musicians, and here I am, peering down on them from the matted balcony chair. 

As they strum I feel my emotions welling, bigger and bigger, faster and faster. I can’t stop the crying so I stop trying, and as they sing and strum and strum and string, a curious thing occurs: a confluence. 

We hit the chorus, a repetitive mantra: Algo que ya / Algo que ya / Algo que ya no suena / Es un río que va / Un río que va / Río que agua no lleva (Something that no longer sounds . . . A river that carries no water): the audience joins in. The fervor grows, musicians and crowd together, in sync, clapping, stomping, singing, ramping up and up and up, emotional tenor soaring, approaching my velocity, the joyous and the sad traveling with the same force, two trains running on parallel tracks, reaching a vibrational crescendo—and it’s here that my heart peeks open its eyes, sees, feels, understands the familiar frequency of joy, reaches out a hand and makes contact across the space in between. 

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