Last Thursday morning, moments after I posted last week's column, I got a call from my mother that my grandmother, who had been suffering and declining for about two years now following a stroke, would probably pass over the weekend. As I stood on stage Thursday night watching Thrice play "Beggars," I definitely choked up a bit and I started thinking about the drive home on Saturday. When I was driving home late Saturday night, I was trying to quell my anxiety with the right musical selections in my car for the eight hour trek of interstate and more importantly, the eight hours alone in a car with just the stereo and my thoughts. As I think about it now, it sounds crazy that some of us vent through the medium of music in such a way. You don't want to watch a romantic comedy where Katherine Heigl plays the same character again after you broke up with someone, but you'll put yourself through the abuse of a sad song at your darkest moments. Seems strange, doesn't it?
A few weeks back I talked a bit about the ownership of music. Once it leaves the artist and it is put on the market for the general public to consume, it has the ability to shift meaning depending on the person listening and translating it and then attaching it to a moment or event for better or worse. Of all the familiar motions we tend to move through in life, death is certainly one of the roughest patches we must overcome. There are a lot of feelings both large and small that run the gambit through not only our hearts, but our minds as well. As I sat in the funeral home Sunday with my mother and aunt and uncle, I couldn't take my mind off the music that was playing over the speakers. Maybe it was simple subconscious distraction, who knows? The only wakes or funerals I've ever attended, I've never noticed whether or not there was any music playing at all. Sunday, I noticed. A mix of old country and gospel, I immediately figured it was simply part of the funeral home's general selection. While I sat there silent listening to an old Willie Nelson track, I overheard my uncle talking about how he found some older country and gospel albums helping clear out a home for a friend and wanted to bring them to my grandmother in the nursing home. In the condition she was in at the time, this now seemed the most appropriate.
One last selection on the jukebox.
I sat there wondering what would play at my funeral (there's your Saves the Day reference…): "Pyramid Song" or maybe the first untitled track off of ( ) by Sigur Ros first came to mind. Something soothing and accepting was my initial thought. Then I began to think, well, what if you were a metalhead? Would it be wrong to blast Cowboys From Hell or Ride the Lightning if it meant a sincere memory of how much that person loved to headbang and throw up the horns every chance they got? What do they play at Juggalo funerals? Wouldn't you want to honor the "family" wish to spin The Great Milenko or Riddle Box one last time before they close the casket? I'm not trying to say these things to make you laugh or be hyperbolic in outlandish varied situations that might occur - I'm just thinking very outside the box to make a point. Remember, anything, any wish, any last testament is a possibility. I'm sure there are a lot that exist. If we can turn our ashes into vinyl as this new century's burning viking ship, then I feel any final request is relevant to this conversation - especially when considering music.
When we attach ourselves, or others, to certain musical backgrounds, the music acts as a bookmark in growing chapters of our lives. Just as certain music has the ability to close a chapter on someone close to us, it goes without saying (because it's been said thousands of times) that elements as small as a lyric to something as large as a shared favorite band, to the songs and albums and concerts in between - they all hold depth to when we knew a particular person well, whether its warranted or not at any moment it may strike us. I bring up the word "warranted," because of a parallel that hit me while I was sitting at a beer garden late Sunday night trying to relax myself and jotting down a lot of my anxiety into what you're reading now. As we grow up, we need these bookmarks to sort of cherish the greater moments of our lives. There are certain memories we will come across not because of music, but we can attach a certain time, a specific group of people to the larger whole of a catalog or genre or specific record for that matters. What's more interesting to me is how building a record collection can lead to losing pieces of it in the end, and gaining them back later down the line. Remember your close friends in high school? How many of those albums have you traded in for new ones? What about the parties with a particular mix of friends you'd hear from every weekend? Are they still part of the regular rotation or are they fair-weather, collecting dust in the closet of a memory only to be recognized when you run across them months and years later? We sometimes lose boxes of records in a move for various reasons, and we often denounce our past ties to certain bands because their sound never changed, but our tastes and opinions did.
Watching Thrice for the last time Thursday night was a perfect parallel to the weekend that followed. My grandmother was always there for me as a kid, and she's one of the few people who was very optimistic about who I was and where I could go in life. She gave me hope. Even though she's gone now, she'll always be a force behind what little confidence I hold. My favorite bands made me believe that music could be special for various reasons. It's hard to see them go - especially when they have such a strong connection in shaping not only who you are, but how they are a benchmark of who you once were and the growth you've made since then. The same can be said about the hundreds of people I once knew or had frequent beers with - and even though I may not see them as much, if not ever again, they were there for a reason. The hardships, the good times; the first kiss to the worst rejection; the tastes of success and the biggest failures yet. This weekend I encourage you to dig deep in your iTunes folder or in the back of your closet for that box of CDs. Whether it's your copy of Middle of Nowhere by Hanson or the cracked casing holding Slanted and Enchanted by Pavement underneath that, turn off your television and your video games and YouTube searches for things like this. Take a drive or put it on in the background while you call a family member you haven't heard from in a while or old friend you often bring up in conversation when telling stories from "back when..." Music is immortal - the people we share it with are not.