Updated: Jan 23, 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.”