A few years back my wife was on a road trip when one of her travelling companions said something that blew our minds, and has stuck with us ever since. Especially me.
They couldn’t have been on the road an hour when Liz sent me a text:
“This guy I’m with doesn’t like music.”
“What? I don’t understand. What do you mean? Like he likes shitty music?”
“No Nick I asked what kind of music he wanted to listen to and he said ‘he doesn’t really like music.’”
I didn’t know what to say. I still don’t. But every once in a while my mind flashes back to that day, that disbelief I felt.
Doesn’t like music. What does he like then? How could he not like music? Is there something wrong with him? Is there something wrong with me?
I am not a music expert. Other than 2 months of unsuccessfully trying to learn the bass guitar and a few years in high school behind the mic sounding like Kurt Cobain with laryngitis, I have never played music. I do not know music.
Here is what I do know however –
I know no one ever regrets learning how to play. They only lament not playing more, not taking it further, putting it down and never getting the band back together.
I know music soothes the savage beasts that rampage through my house on Snow Days and that loud screaming sibling tension can be diffused into a dance party in seconds. God bless you MC Hammer.
I know that Coltrane and Miles and Charlie Parker can take me back in time with just a few slow, rifling, yearning notes, put blue smoke into the air, make the yellowed pages of the novel I’m reading in an old chair holy and give the scent of that book a higher meaning. I don’t know what notes they’re playing. Would it be better if I did? Or does magic once elucidated lose its wonder?
I know that the simple act of playing Krishna Das while I cook, transfigures a mad scramble to put some food on the table for the herd, into a mindful meditation in which all existence is in the pressure I carefully exert on the knife slicing through a potato still covered with bits of beautiful mineral rich earth from a local farm owned by man who is as grateful as me that The Dead left us millions of hours of joy. The moisture escaping the potato and collecting just slightly on the knife is, with this soundtrack reverberating through the kitchen, up to the high 100-year-old ceiling and back, a fantastic music video.
I know that we can defy aging and cheat death when we fully attend a concert by that band we spent our adolescence following. In that crowd, surrounded but alone, one is not Dad, or teacher, or truck driver or politician or Mr. Anyone, one is ageless, timeless, goddamned perfect until the lights go up. And yeah, I said it, Pearl Jam second set can even make a politician human…for awhile.
I know that not everyone listens to the same kind of sounds, but that they find the same kind of joy. I have no use for Top 40 radio, but that doesn’t mean you don’t. Your kitchen dancing and driver’s seat singing are just as liberating as (and hopefully better than) mine.
I know music brings people of different backgrounds and beliefs together. I know my Christian Conservative brother and I both see the hand of God on the blues guitar.
It unifies a collective like sports fandom, but everyone wins and no one gets concussed (usually).
It teaches my children to practice patience, creativity, to look and listen for beauty. When Jack plays his sax or Maria her trumpet, I stop what I’m doing and listen. They don’t need to ask for Dad’s attention. They have it automatically.
It brings my runs to another place altogether. In fact, I cannot be the only one who goes out for a run, sometimes in the dangerous heat or the painful cold, mostly just to listen to music at top volume without interference and sometimes plays air drums like the neighborhood maniac on the home stretch.
I know that the efforts of Jimmy Page and John Bonham can still make a 13-year-old gather some guys from our neighborhood and start a band. I know he will spend hours agonizing over the band name and draw symbols and album covers because this will obviously be…err…already is, the most important music ensemble ever assembled.
I don’t know the meaning of life, but other than the birth of my children, I know that long strange nights into equally strange mornings with Pink Floyd have given me the most helpful hints.
I know that my future wife and I shared an adolescent obsession with the music of The Doors, a band that was finished a decade before we were born, but somehow still spoke, still speaks to some longing for expression in the teenage psyche. I wanted to be Jim Morrison and Liz wanted to be with Jim Morrison. Thankfully, neither of us got our wish, but I’m still grateful to that crazy drunk leather clad weirdo of my parents’ generation for helping to bring my girl to me.
So I still do not know what to make of Liz’s travelling companion. I guess it really doesn’t matter. But I can’t help feeling just a little sorry for the guy. I take solace in the suspicion that he doesn’t know what he’s missing. But one of the things I am surest of in this life, is that he is indeed missing something.