Three songs that saved my spirit
from the vacancy of the corporate world
I was just listening to Tori Amos’ Boys for Pele and marking my favorite songs with a heart. And it reminded me of something I used to do when I worked job jobs, computer software jobs. On the way from and especially to work, I would listen to music and decide which was my favorite Tori Amos album, then which was my favorite song on each album, then what was my favorite Tori Amos song overall. I wasn’t so much categorizing the music as I was defining myself, learning what meant the most to me, what resonated most with me, and therefore what was most me.
Those software jobs were hard for me. My coworkers were dim, my managers inept. My skills were far from fully utilized. I went to counseling once a week, breakfast with my pastor mom once a week, and took my music/driving time seriously. Some songs literally saved my life, because they gave me hope that someday my life path wouldn’t be so dismal—that there were people out there who were intelligent and felt deeply, and made art, which I eventually figured out was what I was like, and what I did. I’ve always been an artist, since I was born—it just took me a couple of decades to figure that out..and then a couple more decades to get comfortable with it.
Once, after an emergency lunch with my mom, as she dropped me back off at the pathetic software company I worked for, I saw an albino squirrel and it made me cry. That was me, see: all the other squirrels were gray. I was white. I had red eyes and I scared the shit out of everyone around me because I was smarter and more outspoken than them. And happier. And sadder. And more prolific. And more erratic. I was definitely the albino squirrel.
At 27, the state declared me bipolar. At 37, private doctors said I had bipolar-type schizoaffective disorder, tardive dyskinesia, and OCD—and that I couldn’t work any job. But from 19 to 31 I was building software for American companies large and small, doing my job extremely well while every moment trying not to implode.
Three songs in particular saved my life:
- “You’re So Cool” by Hans Zimmer from True Romance. This song saved me from my first job. Without its hope, without it running through my veins as a theme song, I would not have survived that job as well as I did. I listened to it hundreds of times. It was like that song was replacing the air in my tires. When I was in the khaki-laden brown-walled offices of that dismal job, the colors of “You’re So Cool” were bouncing around my mind, reminding me that not all of the world was like the flimsy offices of that company and the neurotic morons who worked there. I had a very different tune playing in my head, and it was composed by Hans Zimmer.
- “Marianne” by Tori Amos on Boys for Pele. This is the reason I thought to make this post. Even though Boys for Pele isn’t my favorite Tori album, this one song meant the most to me out of all her songs, as I drove to my second job. A song about suicide, or a suggestion of suicide..at the very least a song about someone who is failing miserably in the emotional zone. That’s how I interpret it anyway. It has the kind of lyrics that are so poetic they’re unpierceable. But to me it was about emotional frailty and grief and suicide. And maybe I was suicidal in a way that I didn’t know it, and that’s why this song meant so much to me.
- “Mona Lisas & Mad Hatters” lyrics by Bernie Taupin with music by Elton John on Honky Chateau. Really one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard, and sums up my work experience in corporate jobs better than any other expression in any media. This song makes me sad. When I listen to it, I am instantly sad. So, when driving to a job that makes me sad, why listen to it? Because its sadness matches sadness and that is appropriate. Because it meant that someone else understood how sad corporate everything is, how lame and unproductive, what a life-suck on people who could be beautiful..what a life suck on me, a person who was trying to live a beautiful life. The lyrics say it all:
While Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters
Sons of bankers, sons of lawyers
Turn around and say good morning to the night
For unless they see the sky
But they can’t and that is why
They know not if it’s dark outside or light
To me that is such a succinct description of the misery that is office culture as I have known it in every job I have ever worked. I thank the everything that I survived—that I escaped—with some tattered shred of my humanity intact. I thank the everything that I can say something almost no one I have ever worked with can say, which is that—while I may have bartered some of it along the way—the majority of my soul is still in my own possession. I say thanks for that right now.