Loud (Happiness part 3)

Play it loud.

On May 20, 2015, Letterman’s last show ended with the Foo Fighters ripping into an extended version of “Everlong” while a montage of Letterman’s thirty-three years on television played.

And I wonder

When I sing along with you

If everything could ever be this real forever

If anything could ever be this good again

The guitars churn through the song, tearing as deeply into sadness and desire as can be imagined. It struck every chord with me then. Something was gone, but something was good. And loud—and it built, simple layer on simple layer.

Later that summer, I listened to the song in my car before work, before everyone arrived, and the minister for that Sunday (we had a different minister nearly every Sunday in the year of the aftermath of Jenifer Slade’s suicide) pulled into the space next to mine. When I explained the context of the song—briefly—her response was, “My son used to listen to them. I don’t like the Foo Fighters.” Several years afterwards, her name was floated as a possible minister for our church—I cringed.

I like to play music loud—scratch that, I love it loud. My rear view mirror vibrates along to the beat. I love to sing along until my voice is raspy (vocal fry be damned). Springsteen, Foo Fighters, The Pixies, Liz Phair, Aimee Mann (who doesn’t rip it up, but…), U2, Arcade Fire, David Bowie, PJ Harvey. There are others. My Bloody Valentine rang in my ears while seas chased my boat on the ocean.

This has been true for ages. When my coworkers drank their way out of a dinner shift, I got in my car and drove. Turning up the sound until my little Volkswagen caught the turns of country roads to swelling arpeggios. No DUI, just driving while loud. When I swim, I play music loud enough and vicious enough to make the pain in my arms and legs seem like an afterthought. It’s fuel, pure and simple. Fuel with a taskmaster’s beat.

Less never really captivates me. I can appreciate quiet and simplicity, but if I’m going to be transported—physically, spiritually, even mentally—I must crank it up. These days I don’t crack the sound barrier, and the music does not make me forget the limits—not the sensible ones. Still, it opens a gap, a crack in the hard stupid shell of “I don’t like…”

I was at a show for the band The Snails a couple of years ago—proto-punk silliness (they came out with trash bags full of balloons on their backs—like snails!). Everyone kept the beat, even this old man, especially this old man.

The only thing I’ll ever ask of you

Got to promise not to stop when I say “When”

Play it loud.

The Soundtrack of my Life

Road trips

I drove five hours to visit my family this week. Part of the joy of the long drive, besides the destination, is putting on the radio and letting someone else pick the music. I love the surprises, besides if I don’t, I have SiriusXM in my car, so there are many other stations waiting to surprise me.

The Groove station was a Prince tribute station.  Yes there was a steady stream of his early hits, but “Housequake“reminded me of his bravado and funkiness.  “Shut up already!,” signals the beginning of the song. He instructs: “Put your foot down on the two;” because everyone in the house knows what “the two” is; we know the beat. “Come on y’all  we’ve got to jam, before the police come!” he exhorts, because it really is a house party, and this is the culmination of the rousing wildness of the night.  The neighbors will call the police because we are making just too much noise. It’s  part of a tradition of calling out the house, and reminds me of John Lee Hooker’s “House Rent Boogie.”It’s just a few steps from the blues to funk, and what unifies JLH and Prince is the direct address to the house and the insistence on “Let’s get together and have a ball.”

On The Underground Garage, the Byrds covered “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” It’s the Byrds, so there is an underlying sweetness, even with the bitter message. And the sweetness leavens the sadness and anger. The gently jangly guitars and harmonies blunt the edge of “The carpet too is moving under you.” The song feels at odds with itself, as if the fragility of the presentation cannot contain the message. Dylan’s original, with his blunt nasal voice, is a clear rebuke. Even the harmonica that frames the song wheezes acerbically. This is not a sad song at all, but a sharp slap.

And then, since I’m doubling up, Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.” Of course Prince loved Joni Mitchell (and covered “A Case of You“).And Joni covered It’s All Over Now. Joni’s original “Both Sides Now” is a bravura performance of early wisdom. She was 26, and putting down a marker. Yes, by then she had, as we have, felt that “now it’s just another show. You leave them laughing when you go.” Her playing and voice are so fine and confident. She’s an amazement. Thirty years later, when she revisits the song her voice has deepened, and now all the youthful confident wisdom is fully colored by experience and doubt. “I really don’t know life,” she closes, “I really don’t know life at all.” Amen, sister!

What the Greeks got right–when grief has a funky beat

Heading home after work at church today, and part of that work is talking and processing with congregants and staff these days (how could it not be?), and put on Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings’ kickin’ retro funk song, Retreat. And then it hit me, the ancient Greeks got it right when they embodied human emotions and states-of-being into their pantheon.

Here’s a song about a woman scorned. She is challenging her lover to retreat in the face of her fury. Right now, it is kind of the same song that grief is singing to me. Yeah, I know, not, of course not. Grief is not singing to me in the form of Sharon Jones. No, no, no.

But maybe grief is palpable, and I fight against it at my own risk. The song is boisterous and giddy in its challenge: “Raise your white flag high ’cause I’m comin’ in blazin’… And I don’t care if it makes sense to you!” Horns blaring, percussion pounding. Bell tolling. Oh yeah, have fun with this.

Have fun (or funk?) with grief? Really? Tear my shirt! Throw ashes on my head! “Retreat! Retreat! Retreat!” Sharon Jones channels the furies–let it all out. Because this time (and every time?), it won’t make sense. Because today I don’t have to declare victory. There will be time for that later, after this raucous (for me, perhaps not for you my quieter more solemnly disposed friends), exceptional event.

For now, maybe turning the dial to eleven, and letting the sea crest over the walls may be exactly what is needed. If that is what it takes, there it is: “Cause it’s my way baby, and I don’t care none about the rest of you.” Go for it, grief. I’m down. I’m dancing.