It may be because I am about to go hang out with two dear friends from junior high/high school, but this cycle of Music Week has me reliving my teenage relationship with music, as well as the fantastical dreams and ideals I had created in my head around the artists I loved. At that age, there are so many things that can make us feel separate from the people we encounter in our daily lives that it is a wonder we are able to remain connected. We are on the verge of figuring out who we want to be, but we hold the belief that we already know--and that’s usually how we try to portray ourselves. These conditions set us up to easily become defensive when we feel vulnerable or when our sense of self seems challenged or at risk in some way. Our feelings can become our enemies as we struggle to conceal the ones that don’t feel good.
As teenagers, with a hormonal influence wreaking havoc on our nervous system, this shift can happen without warning. We might have felt confident about the way we looked leaving the house, but as soon as we perceive an unsupportive comment or ambiguous glance, we can be propelled into a tailspin of emotions where we instantly have trouble feeling our connection and we consequently retreat into ourselves. There was a time in my life when these types of thoughts and feelings were too personal to share without embarrassment, but I can now look at my younger self with a deep well of both humor and admiration. My creative thinking, however earnest and misguided it might have been, has laid the foundation for all of the possibilities I see in the world today. I enjoy visiting those roots every so often to remind myself how much I learn from each and every experience I have--especially the ones that still resonate within my body many years later, as they are connected and rooted to my Soul. Like this little gem:
In September of 1983, the movie Eddie and the Cruisers came out. It was a flop by Hollywood measures, but hit me with profound resonance and ignited my imagination (I was weeks from turning 15, so be glad you’re not reading about my Grease 2 obsession!). Eddie Wilson was the proverbial James Dean-ish hero who ‘just needed something more’ from the sound his band was producing. In an effort to make his point, he drew ‘Wordman’ Frank Ridgeway into the conversation. Frank introduced the band (and me) to the impact of the caesura (a silent pause for effect). The difference in expression felt like a powerful shift in my own mind. This intentional pause takes the exact same words, but changes the tone and sentiment behind them, often deepening the intention behind the words and making them stronger. It allows us the space to breathe, and when we can breathe, we are much more receptive.
The movie’s best quote (in my opinion) is “We Need Each Other. (a lovely caesura). Words and Music.” I felt the blended magic of words and music permeate my heart and light it up as that simple theme played throughout the movie. 37 years later, I can still remember what that buzz felt like in my body as we left the theater after sunset. “Dark side’s coming now, nothing is real….” It was cool and misty, but not raining--just like the end of the movie. My imagination was in overdrive after watching ‘Eddie Wilson’ stare at his own image on television through a shop window. Once again, he made the choice to walk away from fame into obscurity, completely blowing my mind. At 14, my unearned ego could never have fathomed making that choice. I believe that was the moment where I began to see opposites as interesting and partnerships as powerful. It was one of many times in my life where I’ve heard a song, watched a movie, or finished a book and I became thoughtfully aware that my perspective had been forever altered and broadened by the experience.
At that pivotal point in my life, I was moving away from a frequent habit of abusing any power I was given for personal gain, and in its place, beginning to see myself as a part of different groups. I had recently begun feeling an unfamiliar responsibility to the needs of the people I cared about. I like to believe this is a common theme for many teenagers, as it remained at the tip top of my personal lessons for a very long time. I recall that I had manipulated being able to see the movie that night. My parents were out of town and I had talked our babysitter, (my dad’s friend and cousin, Bill), into taking us to the theater at the mall. I was grounded at the time, and I remember feeling a strong sense of power and freedom as we walked to the car. I had worked it out so that some friends or a boyfriend “just happened to be at the theater too”. If I remember myself honestly, I was proud and excited to have pulled that one off. My dad would never have fallen for that coincidence, even if it had actually occurred naturally!
The movie’s shocking last scene, on the heels of a surprise ending (probably only a surprise to people like me) hung in the air. For a dreamy moment, it felt like the movie itself had left the theater with me. We didn’t have cell phones or the internet, so my fantasies that Eddie and the Cruisers might have been a real band, or at least based on a true story, swirled in my head. I can guarantee that my cousin stirred the pot of my imagination, further fueling my speculation. My family has always enjoyed preying on the gullible, especially when we were young and impressionable, so by the end of the night I had myself convinced that Eddie Wilson was probably living in seclusion with Jim Morrison, on a private island. In my inner world, they were rocking out to some solid tunes that the rest of us wouldn't get to hear until they died (when I uncovered them and wound up on the cover of The Rolling Stone to share their story). Did I mention that I had an active teenage imagination that frequently blurred the lines of fantasy and reality?! For the most part, I was aware of the difference, but my thoughts liked the freedom that only imagination can provide, so that’s where I put my focus and attention.
In my mind, the concepts of Words and Music were a metaphor for my own struggles of focusing on self v. focusing on others. The songwriter and the singer were both integral to music and I had a brief existential crisis trying to determine which I believed carried more weight, knowing that some people possessed both skills, equally. My best friend, Camille, was an ‘accomplished’ musician. She played the piano, was learning to play the guitar, and has a voice that has always brought tears of joy to my eyes. Facing those hard truths, I could only conclude that words were the most important. That belief very likely kept me from learning to play an instrument, but I haven’t detangled that particular construct in my life just yet. As an early teenager, my soul didn’t stand much of a chance up against the desires of my ego, but luckily for me, that would be a temporary state of being. As fate would have it, my ego was about to embark on it’s own version of The Hero’s Journey. I became interested in observing paradoxes in the world, and discovered them practically everywhere I looked. The differences between the ways my father’s family approached life and the habits and traditions of my mother’s family were substantial, and I learned to appreciate the best of each style.
I used music to help me allow for all of the competing ideas in my world. When I was younger, music let me try on different personalities and think through scenarios that wouldn't have otherwise entered my imagination. So many songs are written about emotions and feelings, that the stories in the lyrics were often raw and emotional in ways that appealed to my heart, which seemed eternally in search of safe and reciprocated expression. I would never admit that, of course. You had to know me pretty well to see my wounds, and even then I wasn’t in the habit of discussing them. Denial was my go-to defense, and I wrestled hard with letting people see the real me. The protective ‘mask’ often won the match, even though my heart was begging for unconditional love and support.
People fascinated me and one way for me to get to know them better was by listening to and talking about music with them. I was able to use the words and sentiments of others to convey the thoughts and feelings that I was unable to share on my own. If you were my friend at that time, you may have received a note from me that was just the lyrics from a song, and often the lyrics to an entire song! It was much easier for me to write down the words of someone else, rather than use my own voice. I was also a master of mix tapes, letting the music be my expression. The sentiment was real, but I wasn’t eager to put my own words out there for judgment.
In 1985, I was asked to give a ‘talk’ (speech) to a group of my peers and a few adults as part of a weekend retreat. The talk was titled ‘The World’, and at the end of my monologue, I played a popular song and asked everyone to pay close attention to the lyrics. I watched the faces of my friends as they heard the familiar words anew, taking in the soulful perspective that I had offered, and feeling the energy of being connected to something bigger than themselves. The song was USA for Africa’s ‘We Are The World’.
“We are the World. We are the Children. We are the ones who make a brighter day so let’s start giving. There’s a choice we’re making--each day in our own lives. It’s true we make a brighter day just you and me”.
Those are the (slightly updated) lyrics that held so much promise and intention in 1985. The original lyric says “we’re saving our own lives,” not “each day in our own lives”, but as I review the song for current relevance, I realize that the world seems a lot smaller than it did to me in 1985, when I was a junior in high school. It’s not because I’ve traveled the world extensively, or learned so much that I simply feel bigger in it. I think the feeling comes from being more connected to the earth itself, and the people who inhabit it. I know that my talking about The World at 16 was nothing but my ideal thoughts and feelings that came from my perspective of a group of musicians who came together in support of a single thing they believed in, to make a change in the world. As the steady drumbeat of Our Raw Material practice grows, we heed the call to make each day brighter, if we can.