Saturday, March 1, 2008

Cover Your Ears and Sing "La, La, La..."

We all know the routine. When someone starts telling us something we just don’t want to hear, we stick our fingers in our ears, and start to sing “La, La, La, La…” very loudly.

We’ve seen it on the Simpsons, when Homer has been confronted with the fact that he’s spent the kid’s college money.

I have a variation on this. Whenever a particularly embarrassing or painful memory springs into my mind, just as abruptly, out of nowhere, a song goes on in my head. It’s as though someone drops a phonograph needle on a record, right in the middle of a song. I guess it’s just a clumsy defense mechanism intended to drown out the memory. It’s so ingrained that it happens without any effort on my part. I don’t know if it obliterates the memory or merely pushes it back down into my unconscious only to have it arise again at the most unexpected time.

I’m not sure when I learned to do this. I’m not sure if I learned to do this. Perhaps if I were a mature adult, I could better handle bad memories. Some strategies more normal adults opt for: I could conveniently misremember it. I could rationalize my behavior. I could face it, and either forgive myself or carry the memory around with me until it fades for a while. But for now, a song kicks in like a particularly effective prescription drug. And people wonder why I like music so much.

This may seem like a bad thing, but it’s cheaper than booze or drugs, and I can assure you that there are times when it is really the very best thing. A few years ago, I was in a very difficult work situation, and at one particularly nasty meeting, I found my mind flashing back to a song by the Arcade Fire call “Lies”, from their album “Funeral”. I was fully engaged in the meeting, but at the same time, the song would just kick in suddenly and I wouldn’t be able to get it out of my head. And it would put me in what we now like to call “a happy place”. But it’s not a soothing song. If anything, it’s just the opposite. It’s almost a rallying cry, which I guess is what I needed then.

I had gotten the CD a few weeks before. I liked it well enough, but then put it aside after a few listens. I probably did this so that this very good music wouldn’t get stamped with the memory of the very bad time I was having. But at this meeting from hell, “Lies” came roaring back – not so much the lyrics as the fervent singing and rousing chorus.

And it was at that moment that I decided to quit my job. Prior to that I made all the good “professional” excuses for not doing this – pride, seeing a project through to the bitter end, toughing it out… But now I was giving myself permission to do otherwise.

My theory is that I was in a situation that required that I anesthetize my emotions, but that something from outside began tugging at them, making sure they weren’t dead altogether. I was being reminded that beauty was still out there somewhere, and I could be enjoying it instead of putting myself through this work related torture.

Something else occurred to me then, too, which I guess is less important in the scheme of things. I decided that “Lies” was a great song. Previously, I thought of it as a very good one. Good songs can simulate an emotion really well. Great songs can embody it.

In a way, you could say that the song changed my life. Would I have thought of quitting on my own? Eventually, but I think that it gave me a little push, and I’ll always remember that moment, and that the decision had a soundtrack to it.

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