Wednesday, July 8, 2009

On matters of spirit

When I started thinking about writing this, I was going to pontificate about spirituality and religion -- which I consider to be synonymous. The image that I wanted to accompany this was of a stained glass window, but keeping with the playing card theme, I wanted it to be a reflected image. Then I thought about the Sun and Moon theme. I blame the Pagan in me. The completed illustration sat for a day while I pondered with what legend I would inscribe it. I at last settled on "Night and Day."

That's where the concept for writing about matters of faith fell apart because Cole Porter's "Night and Day" became stuck in my head, where it has been earworming me incessantly now for days.

So, given the long meandering creative process just to get to writing this out, I thought I would digress into the lexicon of my internal musical playlist.

My digitized music library consists of over 40,000 legitimately purchased songs, or approximately 3500 CDs. Of those songs, I consider only a few dozen to be life-altering. When I say that, I mean it. Some of these songs have spoken so deeply to me -- either over time or at once on first listen -- that it has changed the direction, or at the very least the temperature, of my life. Sometimes it's the lyrics that have the most impact. Sometimes it's the music itself. Other times it's a trifecta: music, lyrics, and the time in which it was heard.

When I was 19, I heard Harry Chapin's "There Only Was One Choice" for the first time. It's from his 1977 LP, Dance Band On The Titanic and seems somewhat biographical, but also includes some contempt for the marketing of the Bicentennial of the United States. What struck me and stuck with me was some of the lyric:

When I started this song I was still thirty-three
The age that Mozart died and sweet Jesus was set free
Keats and Shelley too soon finished, Charley Parker would be
And I fantasized some tragedy'd be soon curtailing me
Well just today I had my birthday -- I made it thirty-four
Mere mortal, not immortal, not star-crossed anymore

What moved me was Chapin's profound arrogance: "Well, Jesus and Mozart died at 33. I must be going to die too!" It set a cornerstone in my philosophy and a target date for what I expected would be the finest year of my life.

It was.

There have been other songs too: Billy Joel's "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant," which is the song I most associate with my now deceased ex-wife. There's Berlin's "Rumor Of Love" which calls to my mind an old boyfriend, the guy with whom I shared my 33. "The Ecstasy Of Gold" from Ennio Morricone's score for The Good, The Bad And The Ugly transports me every time I hear it. It is one of those brief, magnificent pieces that fires my imagination. I swear, the piece is what inspiration sounds like!

The playlist in my head is about two CDs worth of songs from a vast library. To listen to it evokes all of the triumphs and trials of my life. I can tell you exactly where I was the first time I heard "Shock The Monkey" or "What I'd Say." I can tell you that I lay on the floor drunk and cried after my lover left me, Freddie Mercury asking, "How Can I Go On?" This is the Top 40 of my life on the radio of my soul.

So when I think of spirit, I think of music. I think about church and stained glass. Then I invent Pagan images of sun and moon (I'll bet there's a story there). Then I'm earwormed by Cole Porter. It's all so logical.

Night and day, you are the one
Only you beneath the moon and under the sun
Whether near to me or far
It's no matter, darling, where you are
I think of you

Night and day

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