Friday, November 5, 2010

what is it about musicians?

I was at the bookstore at the airport, and you know how much selection they have there, don't you. Close to nothing at all. Couldn't believe I was traveling without a book in my bag. But then again, the whole point of the trip was to go collect books, so it also made sense not to head out with one. This was SFO, however, and so I picked up volume something or other of lesbian erotica, right there at the airport. And as I read the tales, all I could think was, I could write this better.

And so I did. The one story I've ever written in my life.

And then I read it to her, when I got back in town. And it just blew her away.

what is it about musicians?

That's what it was called. And I thought about it tonight and tracked it down in a very old file still on my computer, but in dire need of translation to an updated Word file, and then reformatting and the like just to be able to read it.

But I didn't read it. The point was only that I found it. Only that it was a reminder of the hold musicians have had on me. Used to have on me. Not now, of course — I won't allow that trespass.

Because I've been on musician strike. A boycott of all things music. Especially musicians. Like an addict who finally says enough is enough — and seems to mean it. Like Alex in A Clockwork Orange being desensitized. Like a moth to the flame saying no!

I've had it with musicians.

No. The truth is, I've had it with myself around musicians. And the weird thing about that is that I've always been so careful and restrained.

I do not play.

I will not dance.

I met a Yoruba today who made me smile. He went to school not 20 miles from Ile Ife. He told me tales of the Oduduwa, the original ruler of the Yoruba. That his grandfather was chief of his village. His father declined, and so did he.

"I can't worship all those deities," he said. "I am a Christian."

But his face lit up at the mention of Ile Ife. It wasn't just the surprise at my bringing it up. I could watch him fill with joy and pride. We talked about the rhythms of the Orisha... and I was happy, just like that. Happy.

And there we were again, at the power of music and musicians. It's inescapable. And I'm still trying to escape.

I'm trying really hard here not to use the word 'seduction.'

But maybe there's no other word for it. The spirits entangle us through their rhythms. They wrap us up or make us writhe (or if we don't writhe, we write instead). Those rhythms that draw us, that suck us in, that drive us mad with desire — it's a visceral thing that cannot be resisted.

And here is me resisting hard — since I was a very small child. Knowing that the music is a trap. Entrapment. Maybe even a subspecies of rape.

You think I'm being overly dramatic here. I may well be. But hear me out. This is about loss of control. Losing our minds. Losing our souls. And something else enters us of its own volition, and doesn't let us go. With or without permission. You know what it's called. It's called possession.

And I'm afraid of being possessed.

I asked my new Yoruba friend about the Hauka, and if they still inhabited West Africa — but he had never heard of them. He suggested Googling them, which was pretty funny. Of course, I've tried. And I come up with Rouch and Stoller and not much more. I had heard that the Hauka had entered Brooklyn in the 1980s, but maybe that was wrong.

I don't like the Hauka rhythms — they're too annoyingly European. But that's the point isn't it? It's what happens when your (spirit) possessor is your (colonial) possessor. The music is just there to hook you, nothing more.

So, I wrote this beautiful story about how musicians can take over your body and soul. And you're powerless to resist their every move. And they tie you up with silken cords, and play you. And play you. And what could be more intoxicating than that voice, or the voice of their instrument? And your volition melts into the ether. And you're on the road, you've turned the corner into the other world, you've walked through the crossroads. You're lost on the other side.

How many visions did those damned musicians give me!

And here comes this seductress walking into my life. Another musician. And one who can write! And write the seduction of the music and musician. Who can articulate the power the musician has (or can have) — and articulate how the musician wields that power.

And offers me a taste!

And this is me saying no!

And running as far away as possible to not feel it. Not hear it.

I've been boycotting music like I've been boycotting humans altogether. The more drawn I am to their rhythms, the more dangerous they become. It's not that the music is bad. No, it's that it's powerful.

My favorites: Nusrat. Cheb Khaled. Rachid Taha. If I listen any more, I will fall right through this world into the other. And (at least for now) I can't afford to fall.

It's a form of imperialism. The imperialism of the soul.

It's a very hard thing to admit to being so thoroughly vulnerable to the sound of certain sounds. To admit to having put on this hard shell of resistance very much on purpose. Trying to keep the music at bay.

To those of you (which may well be most of the planet) for whom music is just that, music — or worse still, background music — well, I think that's great. For me, music is just never in the background. It's the primary thing happening, and when I hear it I can't do anything else but crawl inside it as it crawls inside me. I think most people are just fine with that. But these days I'm listening to nothing more harmful than NPR. Especially in this time of mourning.

So. Musician.
I cannot hear you play.
Not now.
It will shake me to the core, and I cannot take it.

Not ready for music. Not ready for musicians. Not ready to unleash a floodgate of either tears or joy. Not ready to let anything or anyone in until the heart is mended. I know, I know — they say that music's healing. But if you play me that Mourner's melody, you will surely possess me. And then you'll walk away. With my heart.

And then I'd have to write another story.


  1. You know I adore you, and I say this with that love & all sincerity:


  2. Absolutely chicken. Not proud. Just shaking in my boots.

  3. Remember that musicians are often not at their fullest powers. I believe that the current quality of my playing of Kaddish is more a cold shower than a seduction.

    More to come. Much more.

  4. Just as there are more effective and less effective lectures on the same subject. So many variables, from audience to lighting to the quality of the air...

    But if you tell me that musicians are often not at their fullest powers, well, yikes! What if my own contact with you-folk has only been at low voltage all this time? Think how deadly you can be at whatever 'full power' might entail!

  5. Intriguing question, and I'll put it back on you: what if it's never been the musicians at all, but the power of your listening? Perhaps that's where the voltage is high. Sometimes we musicians are mere media, servants to music we might barely understand ourselves, and our listeners create the experience.

  6. Aaah — you remind me of a shape-shifter friend, who insisted that it was not he who transformed, but the observer who needed to see ...