I think it started at burning man.
My last 24 hours out there were very surreal (well, the whole thing was surreal, but the last 24 hours were the weirdest). I arose early Sunday morning to find nothing but ashes and dust out in the playa. Alone, I rode out as far as I could muster to watch the sunrise, and had a moment of incredible synchronicity when a remix of Radiohead’s “Everything in its Right Place” played on a distant stage immediately after I’d thought of how perfectly that song fit the moment.
After retiring to my tent, I had the best sleep of the whole week. It rained, and the cool, damp air and rare silence lulled me to sleep. We left later that day.
While trapped in exodus, I dozed off to sleep and had a nightmare. I’d dreamed that I had gone to find a bathroom, and right as I was approaching a porta-potty, I was abducted by aliens. It seemed so real. I was terrified, and I awoke in a jolt. I was right there, in that same car in my dream, and I needed to pee. I walked that same terrifying walk to that same lone porta-potty, looking nervously out at the vast blackness of the desert, half expecting to be abducted by aliens in my sleep-deprived daze.
We sat there for hours, and I weaved in and out of consciousness, nightmare after nightmare, as odd, sad music played on the radio. Adagio for Strings (not the trance remix); a lonely song by Sufjan Stevens; a strange, hymn-like anthem by Dead Can Dance.
After returning home and sleeping for a solid 18 hours, I found myself humming a melody. At first, it was just a voice. A quiet male voice, slightly timid, frailly carrying the melody. It seemed too familiar…am I making this up? Did I hear this somewhere? It rang so clearly in my head that I thought it couldn’t possibly be mine. It repeated over and over, fully written, never incomplete — already there, as if it existed somewhere and I merely was recalling it. Though the melody was fiercely pronounced in my mind, this tune lacked lyrics. I can hear the sounds of the words in my head, but I don’t know what exactly they are. Something about an innocent lady, something about dancing with the devil…
I found myself humming this anonymous melody for weeks — then came the guitars. They were acoustic guitars. More than one. They were rich and twangy, almost Appalachian in their timbre. There was no percussion as far as I could tell; the strike of the strings was enough to punctuate the rhythm. Once again, there they were: complete, requiring no writing, no toying with different modes or chords. It’s already there, and I’m merely recalling it.
With the invention of the guitars, I was able to hear how the music around the voice complicated an already-odd refrain. The guitars gave it attitude. This song is not friendly. This song is a teasy flirt, enticing you at first, but turning you off with a twist in melody right as you’ve been reeled in.
Months passed. Pianos came; just chords. A muted piano in the background. Just there to remind you that it’s there.
The other day came the strings. This was the first addition in a long time. It took me aback. There they were — a violin and perhaps a cello. Maybe a viola? For most of the song, the cello growls along the bottom, every now and then waking up to echo the main riff, while the violins sail and sway along the top.
I’d like to write this song (or rather, create it in an audible medium; it seems that it’s already been written), though I don’t know how. I’ve tried replicating the twangy guitars with digital imitations, but it sounds like little more than a sterile mockery. I’ve captured the gist of the chords on a piano, but once again, all of the soul is lost. I’d like to sing it, but if only I knew the words…
For the time being, it is trapped in my head. I sing it to myself every day.