Friday, May 11, 2018

What Music Means To Me

A personal take on the brilliance of this art form

Today’s ramble is a very personal reflection of what music means to me. Yes, even I grow weary of my garrulous, occasionally unmindful discussions of the world. Sometimes, I guess what really matters is a day to yourself and some vintage Kid Cudi.

Silhouetted in the burnt orange night, I spooled the dangling headphone wire that wavered before me. My surroundings felt charged by the oppressive quiet which always precedes the opening track. As the night belched forth fiery reds that dominated Berkeley’s west side, I knew I was having one of those days. Dismayed by strange augury, lingering heartbreak, and a burning desire for momentary solitude, I queued Cudi’s 2009 masterpiece, Soundtrack 2 My Life.

The rhythmic staccatos that comprised Cudi’s opening riff lifted my earthbound, errant thoughts. I held the volume rocker (for much longer than needed) as the coat tails of my immediate reality fluttered from grasp. I wrested the pulsing honesty from Cudi’s verse, standing for a fleeting moment with peace and mindfulness in my hands.

I had committed the entire track to memory, and yet it was as if my body anticipated the jibing cadence but my mind simpered, pleased to once again thrust me into Cudi’s musical whirl. I reeled with wet eyes from his familiar, yet incisive words:

No sitcom could teach Scott about the dram, Or even explain the troubles that haunted my mom, On Christmas time, my mom Christmas grind, Got me most of what I wanted, how'd you do it mom, huh? She copped the toys I would play with in my room by myself, "Why he by himself?" He got two older brothers, one hood, one good, An independent older sister kept me fly when she could, But they all didn't see, the little bit of sadness in me, Scotty, I've got some issues that nobody can see, And all of these emotions are pouring out of me, I bring them to the light for you, It's only right, This is the soundtrack to my life, the soundtrack to my life.

Cudi’s somber ode to his mother and her sterling work ethic, mired in regret, solitude, and mental illness, reverberated through my body with terrific thunder. I shut my eyes as soon as I tasted salt, lest vitalizing a reality that I was ill-prepared to relive. And yet they were pried open. By way of Cudi’s candid flow, I confided in this tuneful friend and master of emotion, who, through the gorgeous trappings of song, became the key-bearer to the past I am still frightened to ponder. His eclectic symphony of sounds, like a loved one asking you to broach the unspeakable, pierced the feigned guise of control that costumed my ostensibly composed exterior. My lashes brimmed with beading droplets of vulnerability, and the splotchy embers above me crackled in retreat to their Olympian origin, signaling the end of my day.

Sharing this brief moment to myself was my best, and maybe still unconvincing, effort to articulate the maddeningly elusive, almost arcane beauty that underlies music. Writing this piece has drifted me into a wild surmise regarding musicology – surely there is nothing more encapsulating of the human experience than this spell-binding brew of sounds, lyrics, and melody. And yet, our hands catch smoke when we try grab at its immensity and meaning. Robert Diyanni explains my concern: “the problem involves translating the sounds of a non-referential language with its own strictly musical meanings into a language that explains musical meanings logically and verbally.”

As I have learned, however, I don’t think we are, in pursuit of understanding, to meddle in the technical underpinnings of song. What matters most is that we value music as the redemptive mechanism by which we can express ourselves in this complex, troublesome, and fickle world. It is a glorious stream of consciousness and storytelling, made inexplicably more beautiful through rhythm. If our existence is a cosmic fortuity and our lives are lengthy spectacles of chance, then perhaps music is the harmonic parallel that we are meant to appreciate, but never fully understand.

We can wish to inspire reverence of music’s intricacy and elegance through the stories we share, as I hope my experience with Cudi has done. And as we continue to weep, laugh, and live by way of this melodious emblem of expression, perhaps more of our stories can be exchanged.