What Song in My Head?

April 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

Every day, like many people, I wake up with a song in my head and follow along with what’s left of my singing voice and stumble into the kitchen for a cup of coffee that Andrew in his completely wondrous pattern of living has set to go off at the same time every morning, which is too early.  In trying to mine this song-in-the-head phenomenon for meaning and/or occult properties (is the song a version of a prediction?) — and after many, many years of it —  I haven’t been able to figure where the songs are coming from or what they’re trying to tell me.  And because it’s music, I don’t ask questions.  Music is like unconditional love, and songs — I don’t think — are like dreams which all feel like a call to action as much as a personal synthesis of hope and fear.  A song doesn’t want you to do anything except listen to its being.

A lot of the songs in my head are literal — i.e., they seem to be triggered by a word or set of words that I heard on the radio (in a speech or report from the street), or on television.  Or they may be literal in terms of objects recently observed:  cars, flowers, little boxes, little boxes.  A lot of them are love songs because I love somebody.  Or it can be a song about what the day literally represents in time.  “You Must Remember Spring” might be in my head on the first day of it, for example, embarrassingly.   The only annoying fact that a lovely habit of song in the head can carry inside its secret is trying to figure out how a song I hate or never even think of ever got in there.  Of course, it’s the over-saturation of that song, the stubbornness of a way too familiar chord progression; the playing on the radio, etc., etc., that forces some sort of sound mirror to capture the bad song and sing it back to me inside.  But that bad song only reminds me that I’m a consumer when — in terms of music, anyway — I want to think of myself as a connoisseur.

And there is no music more fitting for a connoisseur than the music that Stephen Sondheim writes.  His theater music (notice, please, I dodged show tunes) has been in my head on more mornings in my life than any other music.  Of course, I’m a complete and overly ambitious advocate of his work, but there is something else, too, that I can’t put my finger on, that must be part of the reason “Every Day A Little Death” or “Pretty Women” or “Sooner or Later” gets broadcast to my brain at least once or twice a month.  I don’t have a life that is in any way like the lives (desperate, many of them) Sondheim writes about.  But the music — the way the music sounds — the syntax of the music — feels as though it recognizes something in my body and comes looking for it.

And here I am, in my being.  It’s morning.

Of thee, I sing.

Nick and Nick Flynn and “Being Flynn”

March 17, 2012 § 1 Comment

“Try to make your life as though it’s a movie, and you and God are going to watch it. Try to make some parts that he will like.” — Bawa Muhaiyaddeen

I went to a screening of “Being Flynn” in Chicago a few weeks ago and had that exhilerating and eerie experience of seeing somebody I knew in real life being presented as a character in a movie. How strange it was to see scenes played out that were once real conversations I had with somebody named Nick Flynn years ago on Cape Cod. It’s a hard movie to watch, even if I wasn’t already familiar with the true story that makes up the screenplay of Nick’s life (based on his memoir “Another Bullshit Night in Suck City”) and specifically, his relationship with his narcissistic father who is homeless and living off and on at Pine Street Inn, the shelter in Boston (the movie made it New York) where Nick himself works. When I met him more than 20 years ago with Marie Howe at a pot luck dinner at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, I thought that he was also homeless in some ways — wild and unmoored, trying to get clean and sober, just beginning a serious commitment to writing poetry and working on a boat that was parked on dry land at the end of Bradford Street so it could hopefully one day hit the water again. I think Nick was living on it, but he may have gone inside somewhere at night. It was that kind of relationship in the beginning, I didn’t see him much. And over the years, we’ve become good friends and he’s stayed remarkably the same person while the frenzy of fame and whatever fortune rushed in to meet him with the life that he has now — a very different life and like so many of us, a resolutely saved life. I kept being hit with that hard knowledge of Nick’s saved life as I was watching his movie about it and struck harder still by the idea that he and his father have been living off and on at different ends of the same boat.

I ran into Nick the next morning in the hotel lobby where we both had breakfast and asked him — like a fan — what he was working on and he told me that he was finishing a book called “The Reenactments” about the making of the movie “Being Flynn” and of course, I thought in the same way that a mirror reflects a mirror reflects a mirror through a hall of eternity that I was looking at Nick Flynn who wrote a book about his life that was made into a movie about his life that was made into a book about a movie about his life. How odd. What if nobody likes the movie? Who’s going to read a book about a movie nobody liked? And then in back of that thought came this: it didn’t matter. However “The Reenactments” turns out, it will be like everything else that Nick Flynn writes — a gorgeous meditation on the new version of Nick, in Nick Flynn’s life.

They Can Sing

March 15, 2012 § 3 Comments

I’m reading “Wild”, Cheryl Strayed’s hugely anticipated memoir and my friend Sallie who lives in Plymouth asked me if I’d read Cheryl’s novel, “Torch” and I told her I hadn’t and probably wouldn’t (even though I am devouring the memoir) because I have a bad habit, bias, whatever, of rarely reading works of fiction written by someone who has written a great book about something that really happened to them, or to the world.  I’ve read novels by Ann Patchett, Kathryn Harrison, Michael Ondaatje and others and feel that their memoirs are their best work.  And it isn’t just the movement of the prose or the lucidity of the subject matter or the beauty of the syntax turning on a line or any of that (but also all of that) that I think makes the non-fiction better, it’s the fact that when I’m reading the other stuff — the fiction — I know they are lying.  Each one of these writers — and there are others, Elizabeth McCracken, Anatole Broyard, Suzanna Kaysen, etc. etc. — are so compelling and wide-ranging and improvisational and completely original in their autobiographical impulses that listening to them tell a story they invent is like watching an opera singer warming up their vocal cords before hitting that made up world of wall to wall music.   You already know they can sing.

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