27 June 2011

My Muse is Not a Naked Goddess

This is an essay I dashed off for the culmination of a writing seminar in my Grad Program. I am re-posting it here as well, since my free time has been truncated as of late. As always, enjoy!


It is the music. Wracking my brain, trying to explain, the source of this endless memory train; I live in the present, in the right here and the right now. But my mind wanders backwards through time. The master weaver at their loom, carefully anchoring each thread before weaving it into the tapestry they create. So it is with the soundtrack of my life. Each song dug into the landscape of my past, each note capable of whisking me back to that precise time and place. I cannot make music, or accurately describe the process by which it is made; but I can tell you the result.

We careen down country roads; Social Distortion and Johnny Cash mixing with the pulsing roar of an eight-cylinder engine. I am in the passenger seat shooting at road signs. So far I am ten for ten, but that is no great feat. These signs have endured this abuse for years before my time and no doubt bear fresh scars since. Later, at the side of a lake, we join a larger crowd. Patches adorn the backs of leather jackets; big V-Twin engines carried them here on two wheels; now the Rolling Stones and AC/DC join with a chorus of their contemporaries to provide my anchor. A rough crowd from the outside, less so from within. Hands scarred by the spilling of blood, yet quick to reach out to a friend in need; friendships not lightly earned nor cast aside. Later, this moment becomes a lesson in the perils of superficial judgments. Much later, in the right now, the radio track shifts.

Have you ever stood in a shield wall of five-hundred people, weighted down in a hundred pounds of armor, staring out through slits in your helm and feeling the stifling closeness of the heat and anticipation? Jethro Tull carried me here, seemingly custom made for the journey to this moment in time. The roar and the surge, the clash of steel on steel and the shouts and cries of the victor and the vanquished all mingle to form their own song. Later around roaring bonfires, food and drink erases the conflict of the day as the music of centuries past binds us to one another in the moment. We look crazy from the outside, but in perfect tune from within. Snapped back to the right now, a channel shift avoids the jarring intrusion of a commercial break.

If you position yourself at just the right point in time and space, you can watch the fog roll across San Francisco like a blanket pulled across a sleeping child. My companion and I melt into the scene, the passion that drove us here forgotten for a moment. Nazareth sneaks in through the car stereo to inform us that love hurts. But then pain isn’t always a bad thing.

The now shifts faster, taking on a momentum of its own. The hypnotic spell of Pink Floyd permeates the air as thunderclouds roll across the Rocky Mountains; Santa Fe shimmers in time with the heat and the music, both dissolving into a mellow haze of contented repose. Layered over this scene are the countless midnight laser shows that share this same anchor; holding close lovers long past, the moment etched with technological precision. Faster still in the right now, I begin to collide with one soundscape after another.

The first time I saw Iron Maiden, the last time I saw them. The forbidden sounds of Black Sabbath wafting from cheap speakers in hidden places; that time we wore out that Rush 2112 cassette on the picnic table in front of our high school; just last summer when the farewell tour for the Scorpions left us looking forward to the reunion tour, not because it’s deep music but because the energy of the experience brings us joy; that Sunday afternoon when Natalie McMasters infused an old growth Eucalyptus grove in the middle of a teeming city with Celtic sounds that could make an angel cry. I am hurtling at the speed of sound now, past endless cues anticipating the sights and sounds to come, countless hours of road trips, the joy of new discoveries, passionate encounters which bloom with heat quickly dissipated, and the enduring warmth of old friends. Music holds it all together until, swept up in the moment, I pitch headlong into a wall of silence.

The worst times in my life are devoid of any musical anchor. The few short weeks between the time my unbelievably strong father came home not feeling well and the day he never came home again; each time a friend departs early down that road we all eventually follow; the times that I’ve been cruel or unkind, inflicting my pride or pain upon the undeserving; even the times that I’ve ignored passions, allowing others to chose my path. These are the moments the music falls silent, as if unwilling to anchor the thread that will provide an easy return to these places. Places best left to the darkest shadows of the night; when doubts and weariness challenge will; the tyranny of their silence either accepted or swept aside. Once paused, the music proves difficult to restart, the play button not always within easy reach

Music is not an exclusive domain. Nature provides a composition that is as intricate as any human hand has ever scribed. I stride across mountains, the thaw and crack of glaciers combines with the wailing wind to play across my senses. In deep forests, water across stone harmonizes with the birds and the insects, urging me to pause and revel in the dance. The deafening chorus of the place called Death Valley, the crash of waves on rock. The serenity of a lush meadow as dusk turns the sky to purple velvet and crickets join frogs to keep the beat. This is the music that plays on when all else falls silent. This is the music I seek out; to beg for absolution; to infuse my soul with the strength to carry on.

Back in the right now I embrace the threads of my life, anchored by music and intertwined with the threads of every living being that I have ever touched. For even the briefest encounter joins your melody to mine; now woven together into a tapestry made rich by music, we are bound together for all time because these anchors endure. In the right now I surrender thought and allow myself to be swept along another melody. I arrive at destinations intimately known; exactly the same as I’ve always been, yet completely different.


  1. Music i feel is the most powerful in bringing forth lost or forgotten thoughts and especially memories

    Very nice except for black sabbath, oh and iron maiden lol


  2. AG, LOL; my musical tastes run across every genre, but this post is pretty biased towards the heavy, loud, or fast groups...I've got a memory for nearly every song I've ever heard, but these are the ones that percolated to the top while I was writing this...:)

  3. As you read it there's a melody running right along side it,did you intend it to be that way because it's brilliant.

  4. I love the way you narrative is so intrinsically link with music and how it ends with the music that we find in nature and the music that intertwines hearts. Brilliant Paul. Loved it


  5. SJ, I did try for a certain flow, just was not sure it turned out. Thanks as always for your unwavering support!

  6. Rimly, thank you very much for your kindness. I am glad you enjoyed my work. I'll get over to your blog as soon as my frenetic grad school/work schedule allows. Welcome!

  7. I love the journey this post took, and the fabric of life and music it covered. It was an intense read, and not one I could read as fast as I usually do...sometimes it is necessary to slow down and savor the words someone has taken so much time to write...this was that moment for me...

    awesome post...stunning.


  8. Oh, and by the way Paul, you've been Liebster'd. As in award. Details on my blog. Don't fear...Liebsters don't bite. :D