Autumn Thoughts

The trees around me are the Rolands of winter.
They know how to go –
Not complaining even remotely,
But accepting the challenge of their defeater
And rising to meet the blow
With yellows and reds and orange
And dappled browns.
Their glory is shed like confetti.
I listen to the leafs shouting under my steps.
They sound like they’re rejoicing.
They can take the time to be beautiful because they can remember dying before.
I can remember dying before.
It involved drowning, and disappearing sins
And a glad heart
And a glad life
And joy in the face of the nothing
That will never happen to me.

Commusic – Music with Other Folks: Quantity, Quality, and Questions

Recently I noticed something that I’ve taken for granted almost my entire life, along with most of my generation. The biggest things, the ones we assume as part of our existence, are the ones that become invisible, and music is no exception. Music, as it is today, exists in a new and different format from the way it has throughout most of history.

Music is in the hands of the masses. Without the necessity of an orchestra, or singers, or any sort of equipment besides an i-Pod, we can listen to music whenever we want. Think about it. Before music became portable, first in the shape of radio, then records, tapes, CDs, and mp3, we would have to gather at some spot with other music lovers of the same kind, and attend a performance or make the music ourselves. Either way, music was a community event. Now, it is entirely common to see coffee shops bursting at the seams with hipsters and their earphones, all on their own, listening to some new band nobody’s heard of.

***

Everyone’s on a private tap in this brown room, and buds are burrowed into their ears. It’s like drinking alone at a bar of many people. I feel the urge to splash my beverage over the crowd, really shock them with a good cold splash of Irish drinking songs, maybe start a jig on the big table. But everyone is drinking their music alone, silently noisy with themselves. I take a sip. Soon I too am staring at greasy counter on my faded oak-and-brass stool, watching the wood swim through the brown wash at the bottom of a glass of soundtracks. I am drunk with my story of one. It’s lonely in this fable. Maybe I’m just selfish. Maybe we all are. All I know is that we are alone together.

***

Part of the problem is scarcity. The more rare something is, the more people value it. When music was available only on special occasions, only rich people could afford it. But now that music is in everyone’s hands, we take it for granted, like water. It’s everywhere. It’s assumed. But if you take it away….

Now, a thought experiment.

Suppose you had a rock face on a cliff, and a chisel. You have your whole life to write something there. What are you going to write? Well, you can be darn sure it’ll be the most important, profound thing you’ve ever thought of. After all, it’ll be your life’s work.

The rarer something is, the more we pay attention to it. If we could hear music once a week, we wouldn’t waste that time listening to Friday by Rebecca Black. We would want something important, something meaningful. So here’s a question. Does the quantity of music available to us affect the quality of music we listen to?

This is why the old question “If you were on a desert island, which 5 ___ would you take?” is so effective. It limits the availability of something, and then asks us to really assess what we value most of all.

And there are more. When exactly did music in community get trashed? Is it a product of individualism? Did new, portable technology shape our music? Did lower-quality music make it less worth-while to sing with other people? I don’t have all the answers. But I do have some questions that it may be worthwhile to ponder.

Do you have music you could sing with someone?

Would you feel comfortable singing with other people?

If not, why?

Is all music lessened when you listen to it on your own?

If not all, which kinds?

Do you value music less because it’s so easy to access?

 

(If you’re a Christian as I am, a few more questions.)

Does singing with your church congregation have more meaning than other music, because you’re singing in community?

If you don’t think so, why doesn’t singing in community feel any different? Are you missing something?

What do the Psalms have to say about singing together?

What would Christ have to say about singing together?

 

If these questions interest you, or you want to discuss these issues, feel free to leave a comment, and we can talk.

Lightning Camera

When the lightning was striking,

It struck me that some higher being might

Be documenting the region

With some enormous antique flash-pan camera.

And when under the dim red light (not infernal)

The liquids brought our images swimming to the surface,

They showed me dancing, laughing,

A blur living so hard and fast that focus

Could not catch me.

You too, smiling, inconsistent,

Happy and inconsistent,

Insisting that life meant nothing

And finding every meaning you could.

And here I was,

Expecting to see you starched and upright,

With a pale blank stare,

Looking at the camera

Like a wall painted white.

Hands

The night was old, and the pizza place was calling us. Working with drywall for a whole day had sanded us down to dusty, sagging remnants of blue-collar respectability. Flat greasy food was singing to us like a beautiful yellow siren of arterial blockage, and our work-weary minds felt no inclination to resist. So the empty streets and dark neon signs herded us like a series of negative sheepdogs, until we gave a cheer when we saw the sign glowing several streets over, and visions of cheese Frisbees soared through our heads.

The man standing behind the counter took our eager orders with equanimity. Apparently he saw this sort of thing a lot. He grabbed a dough globe and began to stretch and pound it out flatter, disappointing all sorts of aspiring bacterial Magellae. Then the newly flattened planet began to swirl through the pizza place sky, tossing off his spinning fingers, elegantly orbiting through the flour-dusted air. Then I noticed his hands.

They were twisted and malformed. Some birth defect had left him with fewer fingers than most, and less grace than most.

But despite the ugliness in his hands, the things they could do were beautiful. The dough touched them lightly, then leapt up to the ceiling again, dancing under his touch.

I asked him how long he had been throwing pizza dough for. He said he had been there seven years. “How long to get that good?” I asked. Tens of thousands of throws, he said.

There was a reason he wasn’t on day shift. Some people wouldn’t have wanted to eat pizza they had seen being tossed by those hands. Some people are morons.

I enjoyed that pizza more than many things I have eaten. I knew that it had been made beautifully, made by a man whose hands transcended their own fallenness.

Love bestows loveliness.

The crookedest hands made the best pizza.