My songs are missing, and I don’t know where to find them. For so long they were just there; I took them for granted. I feel as though I should, or at least want to apologize to them; and maybe if could find just the right formula of retroactive gratitude and renewed fervor, with even a smattering of the humility that’s akin to prayer, they might come back. Or maybe they’ll just remain memories, chimeras of sound floating into the Mystic (as Van Morrison would say), never to be found again.
Our lives are full of things we used to do, even did passionately, and we might glance back at them with fondness, and a realization that we’ve moved on; maybe reconfigured our priorities; maybe we’re now physically incapable of a pursuit. As in: I used to walk up mountains; well, rats; I can’t do it any longer…but…there it is. We’re philosophical about it, accepting of it. No biggie, right?
And then there might be the other things; previous endeavors that we didn’t let go of willingly, but we’ve tried to mentally toss into the dustbin of the past that can even now haunt us because they’ve been left unresolved.
And hell, I’m writing this to help heal myself a bit, but if I publish it, it’s because I intuit that there may be some amount of Universality to my plight. We’ll see; I don’t always guess right on that one.
Earlier this week I had quipped to a Café friend, “You are our Joe Hill; I wish I could be our Joan Baez or Woody Guthrie.” And the pang of pain came back, accompanied by a bit of shame…and loss…and fear…and memories that froze me; I shook my head in an attempt to banish them. Needless to say, the core issues kept on knocking at my door, insisting that I bring them out into the light of day.
Singing a song is a lot like telling a story; the poetry needs to be good, and so does the melody. But what sells a song, I think, is the delivery: Can a singer make you feel the song? Can a singer use vibrato and pitch and growl and timbre and color to show you what the song feels like? Bring a song forth from the wells of emotion in her body, and color the vocal sounds with import or meaning? If I’m making it sound too grandiose, then the joke’s on me, but I had thought I was good at it, and I’d love it if I could make you laugh, or cry, or understand something in a new way. And it knocked me out that people sometimes paid me to do it! Ha!
We used to put different bands together for different gigs, either paid or benefits for causes and charities, and my husband played bass. But for a year or two I sang with a female partner, and our harmonies were pretty damned fine. Sometimes when we were rehearsing, and the blended sounds hit just right, Marilyn would make a Hoo! sound and say, “Oooh; that just made my nipples hard!” which of course was her colorful version of ‘Nailed It!’ I’d almost cry laughing…
Then it all stopped.
Our daughter had had some very bad things happen to her before we adopted her, and parenting her was always a challenge. But in her teen years, her problems blew up; some situations with our son did, too. They aren’t things I’m not able or willing to share, but for our family, they were tragedies of monumental proportion. And the attempts at solutions for our daughter went on for years, and involved courts and social services and cops and shrinks and the stuff of institutional and bureaucratic nightmares.
And the music stopped.
I heard once that the Japanese have a word for a sorrow so deep, so profound, that a person can’t cry; it turns out that it’s true.
It took a long time to realize that we were both submerged below the level of ordinary waking life; that pain and fear had such a hold on us that it was impossible enjoy the other parts of life. No singing, no playing guitars, no listening to music, even. As though we didn’t deserve any joy any longer; hell, even smiling must have been rare looking back at it. Some situations can seem almost worse than a death if they go on unresolved for half of forever; at least death has an ending.
I’d sometimes look at my sweet little Guild guitar where it leaned against the dresser; I’d dust it, polish it now again to keep the wood from drying out. Every now and again I’d try to strum some chords (though always the minor ones)…but I couldn’t for the life of me draw enough breath, hold it in the bottom of my lungs…and sing.
“Fuck”, I’d think; “what’s the matter with you, woman?” Dammit; the woman didn’t know.
Look what they’ve done to my brain, Ma
Look what they’ve done to my brain
Well they picked it like a chicken bone
And I think I’m half insane, Ma
Look what they’ve done to my song
~ Melanie Safka
Over time, I got some help from two rather odd practices that were based on acupuncture and brain exercises that were known to be helpful for PTSD and similar traumatic-event issues. Our daughter stabilized over the years, our son graduated college…you know, we normalized a bit.
We began to listen to music again…were able to laugh again…I started writing for our local Free Press, and taking bird pictures. There were a couple other life-changing events that tried my soul (sorry; those are private) and I think some of the suffering served to make me funnier; you know I think I’m utterly hilarious. (When I find myself typing and laughing at things I’ve typed, even I know I’m probably over the top!)
When was it? Six months ago, maybe, a new friend sent me MP3’s of songs he’d written and recorded. They were inspirational, and I thought I’d maybe found a ticket back to song. I did breathing exercises, and I worked on strengthening my vocal chords muscles. But something was missing: as though the fire in my belly had been drowned.
Maybe permanently. I put my guitar away in its case, stuck it downstairs…as though I could stop its silent taunts of failure.
So now I tell you some stories instead, and hope you can hear them, or find them useful or enjoyable in some way. I won’t grow up to be Aretha Franklin as I used to tease about; I won’t be our Woody Guthrie (grin). I haven’t totally given up on singing yet, or I might not be writing this now.
But hey; do me a favor, will ya? If ya hear my songs out there somewhere…would ya send them home to me?
Ils ont changé ma chanson, Ma
Ils ont changé ma chanson
C’est la seule chose que je peux faire
Et çe n’est pas bon, Ma
Ils ont changé ma chanson