Aspiring to the Condition of Music: A Meditation on Knowing Your Song

“This is our song,” I tell Xstina, over red wine on my red couch. The singer is Kishi Bashi, an electronic violinist, ethereal and epic; the song is “Q and A,” with this chorus:

You are the answer to my question
You are my accomplice in all crimes
You are my wing woman, and I did I mention
We were together in another life
In that dreaming, you probably were my wife.

I am in love again, and it is big. The best thing about falling in love when you’re 40 is how much easier it is, how much less frightening, to contemplate realistically the future with the beloved, or, as Jason, my lover, says, “The fear of asking big questions and giving big answers subsides with the realization that, when faced with something so good that so quickly becomes so necessary, it is NOT unreasonable to ask if it can be forever.” He said that. Beautiful. True. Big. I am in love.

“But how did you decide it’s your song?” asks Xstina. “Did you first kiss during it or cry during it or dance?” She tells me the story of her song. It was their first date, they were on the hill in Gasworks Park; Drew had brought his iPod and a plastic cup to amplify the sound. He played First Aid Kit’s “Emmylou.” She cried. He held her.

This is a good question, especially since I’d just told Jason two days before that our song is “Here Comes the Night Time” by the Arcade Fire. “It HAS to be an Arcade Fire song,” we agreed, for we would have never seen each other again, never known this love, if not for the two free tickets I had to the Gorge to see them. If not for the fact that no one could go with me, I would not have posted a last-minute offer on Facebook; if not for that offer, Jason would not have sat on his porch for two hours, wondering if he should write me, even though we hadn’t seen each other in four years; if not for that deliberation, his brother would not have told him, “What’s the worst that could happen? Write her.” If not for Facebook, Jason, a former student of mine in 2003 and 2004, when I was a grad student, would never have been in contact with me at all. Furthermore, if there had not been compassion in those years for a depressed freshman, he would not have contacted me at all, would not have saved, as he just realized this week, every paper he’d written for my class.

On a different set of “if not’s,” if not for Ed’s betrayal (this is a forthcoming essay–look for it soon), the breaking of my own heart, Ed would not have sent me these tickets as a thank-you for forgiving him, for trying to return from lover to friend. That break-up, so awful I moved without telling him, sobbed a rib out of place . . . if not for that, I would not have the memory of standing on the observation deck of the Gorge with Jason in a summer twilight, golden as that entire day, as he told me about playing cello, and the whole world, that giant crowd, receded in the face of his face.

Does it, then, have to be the Arcade Fire? But is “Here Comes the Night Time” the right song for our song? It does emphasize the uniqueness of that night, the sense of something big and epic and beautiful coming, of the importance of music in our relationship. “If there’s no music in heaven, then what’s it for?” So that song goes. It explores making choices against dogma; it reminds us “if you’re looking for hell, just try looking inside.” So much of our conversation that night was about the power of reflection, how to work well with pain, instead of letting it make you bitter. So surely, this is our song—the finale, with its erratic rhythmic shifts, confetti canons, the Haitian drum breaks celebrating the other side of reflection, which is insight: “when you look at the sky, just try looking inside—God knows what you might find.” We were beside ourselves in that moment of the show—that is, we were the same.

Or is our song the simpler island song, “Haiti,” during which these two relative strangers turned to each other and briefly slow danced, suddenly pulling away at the same moment, out of . . . what? We think nerves . . . or recognition.

Is it the song during which I felt Jason’s arms around me from behind for the first time, a spontaneous hug, as he shouted in my ear, “I am so glad you took me!!” We both remember this moment, the profound moment of contact. We don’t remember which song, exactly, it was.

In his thank-you email to me the next day, subject line “I’m Still Feeling that Show!,” Jason tells me he has been listening to “The Suburbs” again, the Arcade Fire’s previous album. We have not yet told each other we are falling in love, and so he tells me, instead, how this concert was a needed gift, how “timing is everything,” when it comes to understanding a song, how his new favorite song is “Ready to Start.”

And we both are—ready to start this new creation, which feels like a whole album, a discography in the making, not just a single or even an EP.

“All art aspires to the condition of music,” my beloved Walter Pater says, for it is only in music that analysis fades away and we are left finally with the evocative, the “not-quite-yet-just-so.” We are left with pure feeling, the sensation of something real beyond the Real we can articulate. That realness evolves, the more real we become to each other. Every day, I feel this as we love each other, and so, every day, we have a new song.


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