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  • Writer's pictureUriel

The Music of Choice

Updated: Jan 24, 2018

Is music our mirror? Sometimes, music is meaning-making – helping us discover what, and whom, we love, and who we are.

“Nashe understood that he was no longer behaving like himself. He could hear the words coming out of his mouth, but even as he spoke them, he felt they were expressing someone else’s thoughts, as if he were no more than an actor performing on the stage of some imaginary theatre, repeating lines that had been written for him in advance.”

-- Paul Auster, The Music of Chance

Recently, I visited my sister, Rachel, and her new daughter, Agam (Hebrew for ”lake”). One-month old, Agam was serene as can be, until, come late evening, she wasn’t. I tried to calm her. Holding her, humming, and a bit of rocking did the trick, but I wanted more, so I turned to music.

Salvador Dali, "Bed and Two Bedside Tables Ferociously Attacking a Cello" (1983)

I‘ve been watching the wonderfully unruly Twin Peaks 3 (I’m into the eighth episode now, and it’s fantastic), so when Agam was crying, I instinctively turned to Julee Cruise’s The Nightingale.

I asked Rachel if she remembers the show – she did, of course, and the music too, which she likes, except she’s not sure she truly does. Why? Because she remembers it mostly from the soundtrack I bought (still on tape cassette), and often enough played. Does she, herself, really like it, or does she simply feel this way because she loves someone who does? I almost asked, “how are you not yourself?” Then I reconsidered. Perhaps the opposite quandary is equally puzzling: “How am I ever myself?”

I started asking her – out loud, and in my mind: So, you like this music because I do, which means you yourself perhaps don’t. But suppose it was your husband who likes it? You love him too, but that love is not as thick as blood. Is that enough for you to say it’s you who likes it? Probably not. So what if it was one of your exes, so many sweet memories surely involved? Still nothing? Where then can we find this music-loving “self”? Maybe if you listened to it on your favorite radio show – but of course, you would like it because of that charming broadcaster… What if, one fine twilight hour, you heard it in a pub – then it must have been the liquor, not yourself.

It seems the only way to know for sure that it’s really you – yourself – who likes this music, is to create it yourself, somehow out of thin air, and within it.

It seems the only way to know for sure that it’s really you – yourself – who likes this music, is to create it yourself, somehow out of thin air, and within it. You must expunge all circumstances, external or internal, from life, become the master of the universe, alone in it. But even that might not be enough; even God may be influenced, however slightly, by his creations (the bible suggests that much…). Presumably, only utter nothingness can make a self – but then such a self, of course, cannot exist. Thus, this nothingness doesn’t really create the self, it annihilates it.

Another nothingness does make the self – the nothingness harboring the human imagination of the alternative, the awareness that “it ain’t necessarily so”: the moment you become aware that you like a song is also when you realize you may not, and liking it then becomes your choice, and part of yourself, partaking in the creation of that very self. This constructive nothingness is the creative wellspring of all there is. I wondered, isn’t it all the more marvelous to swim in this wellspring with the people you love? Moreover, I mused, liking that song allows one to turn love – which often seems inevitable, especially within a family – into a choice. You can’t choose your sibling, but you can like (or dislike) what she does, and in so doing make part of that love so much more than just blood and belonging. Still, wouldn’t that, eventually, obliterate choice through a vicious cycle of “wanting to love thus loving what we don’t,” going back to square one? Again, not necessarily.

The moment you become aware that you like a song is also when you realize you may not, and liking it then becomes your choice, and part of yourself

Agam couldn’t care less about this deliberation, running, for the most part, through my own mind. But while she was unwinding, the music kept playing. On YouTube – another form of circumstances seemingly eliminating the self by delimiting her choice – The Nightingale is followed by another Twin Peaks song, Into The Night. So dark, and hauntingly beautiful, perfectly capturing the show’s spirit. But then, 3:28 min. into this wonderfully quiet song, with Julee Cruise’s most soothing voice, rages that out-of-nowhere rupture, subsiding just as suddenly. “But I don’t get that part,” Rachel told me, as she heard that bewildering burst, “I never did.” It was arresting for me, because of my own musing at that exact point: “But that’s the best part!” I said. “Well,” she answered, “I don’t like it.”

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Jan 30, 2018

I guess there are different levels of love for music- either you truly love it and feel happy when you hear a song or maybe you can be fine and even enjoy other types of music, not because you truly love them but because it reminds you of a person or a situation you feel connected to.

I love the insight and the comparison you did between what we think about music and the "nothingness harboring the human imagination of the alternative". It seems that this comparison can also be done with other aspects in life, like sports for example.

One can ask if he or she truly loves the sport that they do, or maybe they just like the…


Jan 27, 2018

Dear @Dawn, I wish I could offer you a sage advice, but even at my best I’m only one eighth sage (the other, plain naïve). Still, let’s try: Are you a liar? If by “liar” you mean someone who occasionally lies, then surely you are. If you’re human (enough evidence to that effect), who thinks there’s truth (which your very question seems to suggest) – you’re virtually bound to lie. This doesn’t exonerate the act, just restates the obvious fact.

Is it bad? For true friendship, I think it is. "Friendship" etymologically draws on frijōną, "to love, to free” (what a beautiful coupling!) - living up to it merits truth. Such friendship requires frankness. By this I don’t urge you…


Dawn Han
Dawn Han
Jan 26, 2018

I was compelled to stare at the'Bed and two bed side tables ferociously attacking the cello' by Salvador Dali.

Is the bed broken?

My eyes were moving around the image. I am amazed and clueless at the same time.

For the last few days I have been conversing with a friend of mine. I told her things, all true. One topic would come back to us again/later but in different surroundings and time, sometimes with different people around us, sometimes with no one else around. These situations in fact put in place different limitations or enablers.

I would say something and later say something else about the same topic of discussion. I realize, what I said must have sounded inconsistent…


Rachel Cohen
Rachel Cohen
Jan 24, 2018

Maybe some of the music's essence is to say more then what's on words and play...for me, music i know people i love like has more emotional effect.


Jan 20, 2018

The question is (and I intend ask Rachel): do you enjoy music differently with respect to the reason you love it? As for myself, I found out that I enjoy "self-discovered" music the same way I enjoy music i started listening to under other people's influence, including Rachel (my wife) and my brother as well.

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