Pictures from Senegal

Wednesday, May 26

The Day The Music Died

Someone once asked me what I was most afraid of. I remember that I was far from home, traveling with my sister, and asked by a friend of a friend that I barely knew. I had never given much thought this; more serious people would probably say death or failure. And without thinking about it, just knowing it to be true, I replied that my biggest fear was a lack of good music.

Death and failure are certain. Their magnitude and exact moments may not be, but they themselves are inevitable. I know I will die one day. This is why I have legal documents drafted. And why I often tell my family and friends how I care for them. I also know that I will fail. I will fail to do well on a test, or fail to get a job. I will fail at a match of tennis, and I will fail to always please my father. But I’m sure that all the times I fail, I will pick myself up again and go on to do bigger and better things. Understand these certainties, do the best you can to work with them, but don’t bother being afraid.

So I fear a lack of music; the day the music died. Not the supposed day of a plane crash killing musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper, as Don MacLean’s “American Pie” leads one to believe. I fear the day when I turn on the radio and can’t find a single station playing a single song I can appreciate. Without something enjoyable, the silence seems unbearably scary.

I think about how some of the most important things I’ve done with my life have been accompanied by my own mental sound track. When I spent a summer in California… I think of John Mayer driving on the highway. I think of not having a single picture from that summer because of the song 3x5. I think about his August concert at UC Berkley; the feel of the concrete stadium seats. I think of my favorite quote “Everybody is just a stranger, but that’s the danger in going my own way…”

When I spent a semester in Italy… I think of Linkin Park on a crowded bus where the old lady is surprised equally by the harshness of the music overflowing from my ears and my act of kindness in offering her my seat another language. Perhaps I’m just as surprised? Or walking the streets at night past unbelievable monuments listening to a playlist I’d made for a boyfriend long gone away, knowing that both the sites and the boy would be forever imprinted in my mind.

But it’s not just the big stepping stones. It’s the holidays and everydays. When I hear Taps, I remember the trumpets, piloted by friends, emanating from various locations in the cemetery on Memorial Day. I remember the grey clouds in the sky. And I feel the starch in my marching uniform. I feel sorrow for my long gone grandfather. Then there are the lyrics that, when heard, will transport me to a moment in time where I see someone else enjoying a birthday party, a special dinner, an afternoon in the car, a dance at prom…

And for every moment I can remember, there are so many more that are just barely forgotten. I know that throughout my life there have been so many countless moments where I was overcome with feeling because of a song. Or, even better, I was affected some other life stimulant… and became utterly content to find a song that perfectly matched that feeling.

But it isn’t just about the past. When I applied to Peace Corps, I kept telling them that music was my coping mechanism. “And, what else?” they’d say. I get that it’s not an end all- cure all but it’s a very powerful tool to have in the repertoire. When culture clashes, insects and reptiles, food, and heat threaten my inner cool… I resort to my headphones. When the states, my family and friends, and my previous life feels too far away to be real… I resort to my headphones. And it helps.

Music, a perfectly matched song, is like a companion; my best friend. When I am happy, it will share my enthusiasm. When I am alone, we are alone together. When I am angry, music will drum the anger away. When I am sad, it will compel me to pick myself up and sway. For every difficulty that I face, no matter where I rest my head on this earth, I know that music will follow. Or at least I can bring my headphones with me.

I suppose this means I'm not really afraid of anything... but I doubt that.

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