I Can Hear Music

How do I even write about music? How do I do it justice? How do I comprehend and describe the transcendent realm in which music exists? Because it certainly comes from somewhere magical. A gift from the gods. The voices of angels. Or just the melodies flowing out from ridiculously creative human brains.

Not my brain. All my mental faculties come to a halt when I’m holding an instrument in my hands. I was last chair among violinists in my middle school orchestra for three years in a row. I’ve taken bass guitar lessons and gave up after a couple months. I’ve been trying to teach myself the piano for damn near 15 years. I’ve been told I’m not a bad singer, but what good is that when any kind of audience shuts me down? I purposely sing badly in front of people, like it’s all a joke. Nope, music is a mysterious language to me, and although it speaks to my soul, I cannot translate it directly.

I think being autistic makes my music listening patterns a bit weird. My music tastes have evolved over the years, but it’s usually the same pattern: I have the one favorite band that I spend 80% of my time listening to, a smattering of individual tracks of no one particular artist the other 10% of the time, easy listening probably at 8%, and nostalgic music as the last 2%.

In high school that sounded like this: a shitload of Queen, every possible track and B-side track and solo track I knew existed; random indie, emo and 80’s hits; ambient space music; and songs from the good old days, namely the 90’s and early 2000’s.

Nowadays, I still like listening to 80’s playlists when I’m in an energetic mood, or when I want to sing privately. I know most of them. As for easy listening (basically background music), I rely primarily on KRTU 91.7, Trinity University’s jazz station. Nostalgia music now also includes Queen and the aforementioned random indie/emo music from the mid-2000s.

But now my favorite band is Mew. I’m not nearly as obsessed with them as I was with Queen. With Queen, I wanted to know every little detail about the band members, the meanings and inspirations behind the songs, the intimate details of their private lives, every bloody possible thing. When it comes to Mew, I don’t know shit about them, other than that they’re from Denmark and the main singer’s name is Jonas (and he’s cute af). But their music… I cannot get enough. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. It’s otherworldly. I think it exists beyond our locale in space-time. It transports me to another plane of consciousness.

I discovered them on some French indie radio station, back in the days when iTunes had an incredible list of international radio stations. Not sure what they did with that, but I have absolutely no use for iTunes anymore (and if that thing still exists and I just don’t know how to get to it, halp plz). The first song I heard was “Cartoons and Macrame Wounds.” Truly an incredible introduction to Mew.  I downloaded the song instantly. The station would also play “Beach,” which is a fun song to listen to while driving on a bright, sunshiny day. Or always, but especially then. I went ahead and downloaded all the albums that were out at the time.

One of the amazing things about Mew is that I enjoy pretty much every goddamn song they’ve made. Even with Queen, there were some songs that I would skip. But I couldn’t tell you what my favorite Mew song is. I can say that my favorite album is “And the Glass-Handed Kites.” Almost every song flows seamlessly into the next… unless you’re listening to it on a crappy music player that separates them half a second.

Yet there’s an experience beyond the usual transcendence of great music that Mew has revealed to me: having a crush on a song. Or just part of a song. I’ve had crushes on many a musician. But never before on a song. I’m talking about songs that fill me with a sort of romantic-sexual giddy feeling. More specifically, I have a crush on his voice when it does The Thing that it does. I can’t even explain it. It happens at the end of “Sometimes Life Isn’t Easy.”

Safety net, I regret
I am shaking
We move along
I am shaking

Then again, during the last two minutes of “Clinging to a Bad Dream.”

I was held to be
For no one
No one lasting
*cue angelic choir*
I think, I thought
Maybe you can change me
I know you and I are
Clinging to a bad dream
And in between the shades on your screen
They come and go
Sometimes they never show…

And there’s a part during “The Night Believers” where his voice does The Thing and then That Other Thing.

The thing: Outside, and it occurs to me we’ve lost the light.
(That other thing: We’ve lost the light!)
We shared a box in someone’s dream
‘Till the ponies arrive
We’re only wasting time
Which I know, I know something about

I imagine Mew being played at my funeral. Call me morbid, but this is how I would want it to go: during the wake, or the reception, there’s a compilation of home videos from my childhood playing on a screen, and playing over it is “Drinking Soda.” I think I would want to personally edit it together to have it prepared for that time, because it’s very specific in my head. As soon as I can figure out how to convert my home videos to whatever format they need to be, if it’s even possible, I will put it together for my funeral, which hopefully won’t occur for at least a few decades. Or maybe it could be for another occasion, like my birthday, but could also be used at my funeral.

Then there’d be a far more dramatic scene: my casket being lowered into the ground, my friends and family gathered around dressed in black, as the song “The Seething Rain Weeps for You” blasts throughout the cemetery. Honestly, I’m not sure how anyone can listen to that song and not imagine singing to somebody in a casket.

Saying goodbye now
Looking at friends
A lump comes in my throat
Hearing them all speak of you

And that’s it, really. Just copy/paste this post to my Last Will and Testament. I don’t care how the funeral goes beyond that. But please, no flags or religious symbols.

Sometimes, I need to take a break from music. I love it too much to let myself burn out on it. During these periods, the extent of my musical consumption is just listening to jazz on my work commute.  I hadn’t listened to Mew for over a month until the other day, and it’s as magical as ever. I’m not entirely sure why I need music breaks, but it might have something to do with the fact that when I want to be productive, it’s best not to listen to music that captivates my whole attention. No Mew-level transcendent experiences, no 80’s dance parties. Sometimes, I just ain’t got the time for it. I’ve been pretty darn focused on my cross-stitching for the past couple months, and my preferred background stimulation is some show I’ve watched a million times (The Office, Parks and Rec, the various Star Trek series, etc.).

Music is too deep, too distracting. I want to listen to it with my noise-canceling headphones, close my eyes, and let the melody embrace my entire being and carry me to that magical realm.

Silver Hairs

I think I’m goin’ back
To the things I learnt so well in my youth
I think I’m returning to
Those days when I was young enough to know the truth

Within one lifetime, we live many lives. We become many different people. Our egos die a number of times before the final breath. We are fluid beings. One decade ago, when I was planning my 16th birthday party around the theme of childhood nostalgia, the physical components of my person were composed of an entirely different generation of cells than those living in the present. The whole of the sum of those ancestral cells were permeated with the consciousness produced by neurons living in a more primal cognitive landscape. That primal cognitive landscape was a dark, twisting maze with existential horrors lurking in every shadow. Monsters, injustice, suffering, loneliness, failing, aging, death. I wrapped those horrors in a whimsical bow and threw a celebration that I hoped would reverse the clock.

Now there are no games
To only pass the time
No more colouring books
No Christmas bells to chime

I committed to never losing my youth. It was what I called a Peter Pan Complex. My future was so unstable and unimaginable that it was difficult to accept I even had one. I wanted my future to be the present forever. I wanted the moon-bounces and sleepovers. I wanted to hold on to the exhilarating recklessness of young love. I wanted to sustain the predictable annual cycle of school, summer, school, Christmas, and the daily cycle of class to class to class to home to bed. I couldn’t imagine a future in which three half-assed jumps on a moon-bounce would wear me out, and maintaining close enough friendships for platonic sleepovers was a distant memory. I didn’t want to imagine getting to a point where I was too emotionally wary to dive into love head-over-heels. I didn’t think I would ever be capable of making adult decisions for myself, or of withstanding the many inevitable major changes of adulthood: going to college, moving out, getting a job, making my own doctor appointments. I might have preferred to die than endure it all, and in a sense that person did.

But thinking young and growing older is no sin
And I can play the game of life to win

And from the ashes of ten years of hellfire emerges the person I am to the core. This person is familiar, reminding me of a more authentic self, many selves ago, before being molded and contorted by shame. This person can be comfortable in the present while planning for the future. This person can dream big while living simply. This person is open to connecting to people, and not being afraid of seeing my own reflection in others. This is a person I am content with being. But I also accept that this person will not exist after another ten years of experiences. These cells will wither and die, making way for a new generation, a new way of life, a new perspective.

I can recall a time when I wasn’t ashamed
To reach out to a friend
And now I think I’ve got a lot more
Than just my toys to lend

I’ve begun removing the masks that once substituted vulnerability with normalcy. I had swallowed my heart that I once wore on my sleeve and it got stuck as a lump in my throat. Now, through a series of social Heimlich maneuvers, I’ve managed to dislodge some of the fear that has suppressed authenticity, and at a time when authenticity is needed most. I have things other people need: my compassion, my skills, my resources. A lot more is at stake than just my ego. Self-doubt, self-restraint, self-righteousness, self: pulling off the layers for the sake of our shared humanity. I am more than an I. I am part of a we.

Now there’s more to do
Than watch my sailboat glide
And every day can be
My magic carpet ride 

Life is hopping from one stepping stone to the next from the day I was born, and the harrowing future promises sharper stones across turbulent waters.  The weight of the world does not rest squarely on my own shoulders, but the responsibility is nevertheless enormous. At the same time, there is little use worrying myself sick. I have a job to do, and that is to balance on the stone I stand on today. And when I’ve found my balance, I can reach out my hand to another’s and help them cross to safety, knowing that someone would reach out their hand to me.

And I can play hide-and-seek with my fears
And live my days instead of counting my years

My mother sees a silver hair on my head glistening in the sunlight. For a moment, the lingering existential horrors threaten to unravel. Yet my mind is now less like a maze and more like a storage cabinet. Rather than lose myself in a series of hypothetical dead ends, I can unpack. Here’s a box overflowing with medical knowledge. There’s a box jam-packed with coping mechanisms. I compare this information against the silver hair, and oh look, it’s really not a big deal. My body is keeping track of time so I don’t have to. I am here, now, content in my mortality.

Then every one debates
The true reality
I’d rather see the world
The way it used to be

Navigating relationships is complicated in this culture of manufactured isolation. Gone are the days of communal togetherness and extended families. Gone are the days of villages working as one for common goals. Our neighbors want to cut our throats. Our leaders would leave us to die. The dogged individualism of my adolescence was untenable. In a sense, making human connections has become a moral imperative. I can no longer gleefully attempt to corrupt people; they must be uplifted, validated, loved. I cannot write off personal ethics as something for sticks-in-the-mud. I need to reach back, back to a time before nothing seemed to matter, when everything mattered. Because it actually does.

A little bit of freedom’s all we lack
So catch me if you can
I’m goin’ back.

My passion comes from my strength; my strength comes from my relationships. My being is inextricably tied to other beings. We can dream of more peaceful days enjoyed by our ancestors and work for more peaceful days to be enjoyed by our descendants. All that’s needed is keeping in touch: with each other, with our own authentic selves, with our nature. If I can reach deep within myself, I am reaching out to all. And one decade from now, when my hair is flecked with silver, I’ll think to today as the day when I finally made peace with my own humanity.