Song for today/2013: E is for Estranged by Owen Pallett.

Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent”  ― Victor Hugo

I looked for some quotes about music earlier, and found these.  So many of them are like music to me, in the sense that they articulate what I cannot.  That is something music has always done for me; taken an emotion and transformed it into something almost tangible, something that can be expressed and seen (well, heard). Probably because despite having always been ’emotional’, I find it extremely hard to express my emotions, often not even recognising them at all, like passing a family member in the street and not seeing them because you haven’t got your glasses on.  I always thought that I was quite in tune, emotionally, and now I realise that I am almost blind.  I’m in tune with other people, because that was my job for years and years (and still is, in some respects), but trying to understand what I’m actually feeling has been a gargantuan task, and I’m still not there yet, not really.

I can’t remember when it was, it feels like a lifetime ago, but I was having a discussion with my therapist about what music has meant to me in the past, what it means to me now, and how I feel about it.  Weirdly, it was one of the most intimate and difficult conversations that I’ve had with her.  Probably because despite my obvious love of music (a treble clef pendant used to adorn my neck as an adolescent), it used to be the only way that I had to express myself that was truly mine; it was secret and it was hidden.  Talking about it meant that I was slowly uncovering something that had only ever been felt and seen by me.  I suddenly felt shy, like I wanted to hide, to be like the music that used to lie within me.

Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.”  ― Maya Angelou

When I was nine I got a piano.  I don’t have it anymore, I sold it, which I have made my peace with; I can always get another one if I decide to play again.  I sold it because it stopped being my best friend when I was fifteen, and I am thirty now.  We fell out of love.  Suddenly something that was such a source of comfort and expression to me stopped being that and instead became an inanimate object.  I used to play every day, sometimes for hours, often late at night with the headphones in so that nobody else could hear.  Always with the headphones, always – it was such a private and intimate thing.  We wrote music together, music that could really express how I felt at the time.  It was the only way that I could express my feelings and just have them be, without others ridiculing me or trying to change them, so in a sense it was the only way I was allowed to exist.  Music just flooded out of me (I think that’s why I love Nils Frahm, Max Richter and Ludovico Einaudi so much, because I used to compose similar stuff: simple, nuanced, sparse, fairly repetitive, building in urgency, melancholic, with a sense of longing.  Using silence as much as the music itself.  This probably makes me sound a bit like an egotistical dickhead because their music is amazing, but seriously, I was floored the first time I heard Ludovico Einaudi because it sounded EXACTLY like the stuff I used to write as a teen).

And then I went into a psychiatric unit, as an inpatient, and didn’t come out until six months later.  By then, the damage was done.  I don’t think I even really played at the weekends when I went home.  It just went; it was gone and it wasn’t the same, I wasn’t the same.  We weren’t the same.  We had ceased to exist as a partnership and instead I began to listen to other people’s music more, in particular Tori Amos – I’ve talked before about how much she meant to me as a fellow “girl with a piano”.  I found expression through writing an online journal (something that, unlike my paper diaries, my family couldn’t read thanks to the handy ‘delete history’ button) and instead of writing my own stuff, would begin to interpret the music of others through my own emotional kaleidoscope.

I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.”  ― Albert Einstein

The past few years, since I’ve been in therapy mostly, music has been even more of a lifeline.  Sometimes I know when things are really bad because music can’t touch me and I just cannot listen to it, nothing will fit, because I am a chasm, a huge, gaping void, and therefore nothing can mirror that except silence.  Or sometimes it’s too painful and nothing will fit, so I have to discover new music because the old stuff is just too much, has too much attached to it.  The quote above is probably the closest to how I feel about music.  I remember asking on Facebook last summer whether anyone else thought in music, because I suddenly realised that actually that might be a bit weird, and one of my friends said that if it was ok for Einstein, then it’s probably ok.  I still play the piano, just not on an actual piano – my fingers are frequently moving, usually just my right hand (melody), in response to something, playing a harmony to something I’m listening to or just playing along.  I remember when I was a young teenager at school and things were the worst, the absolute pits, and when I couldn’t play the piano I just used to sit there and play the desk instead.  It was my way of connection and that is why music means so much to me, because it’s about a connection to the world, a connection to yourself, and in my case a connection to others, whether they know about it or not. It’s a tool for interpretation and understanding, in a world where feelings and experiences are often too difficult to process, where just being is too hard.  And it’s a thread, a thread from one person to another. (“Threads that are golden don’t break easily”- Tori Amos, Horses.)

That’s part of the reason that I started writing this post, because one of the songs that has been central to my year has suddenly deserted me.  I feel like it is broken, that it has gone, gone from being a security blanket to just being a beautiful song.  I honestly believe that songs find you and I don’t care how weird that sounds.  Songs that provide comfort and a new lens to give the world more clarity existed before, but in a different way, and sometimes they appear again when you least expect them.  Maybe their essence remains somehow in memory and when you’re able to access them properly you get guided there, like when someone says something to you but you can’t hear it at the time, so you store it away, ready to revisit it when you’re finally able to take it in.

E is for Estranged was like that.  I love Owen Pallett, he is one of my favourite musicians (and I love a lot of them so it’s not that easy to be ‘up there’) and a musical genius.  I would absolutely call him a composer and not a writer or an artist – his music is dense and layered and intricate in that classical way, like a musical mille-feuille, only it’s not classic at all, there are songs about boys he loves in video games, and lines such as “his massive genitals refuse to cooperate, no amount of therapy could hope to save his marriage”.  I could write an entire post on him (and maybe I should) but anyway, I had listened to Heartland – the album this song is on – many times before, and loved it, but then I put it on one day after I hadn’t listened to it for ages, listened all the way through, and felt my heart soar when it reached this song.

It just…it understood, it was what my heart would have sung if it knew the song, it captured the feeling of feeling safe and warm and held more than anything I had ever listened to, better than anything else I could write.  Because for me, that was it – it was like someone saying “red” and the person opposite holding up a red card; the part of the song that I related to just mirrored those feelings perfectly. The feelings that I had never experienced before, until I had entered therapy and forged a connection with someone, deeper than any connection I had managed to with anyone else.  Which is very sad for lots of reasons, but it is true.  It felt quite sad, too, actually, the song – it’s not like some sort of disco feelgood anthem, it’s more poignant and touching. But then the woodwind takes centre stage and it’s just beautiful, like the golden glow of autumnal sunlight.  It doesn’t feel happy and it doesn’t feel sad, it just is, it exists and it’s pure and that’s that. And then, recently, it ceased to exist.

Those feelings…I started to lose them when I wasn’t there in the room, and when that had happened before, it was ok because I had Mr Pallett conjuring it up for me, bringing it back to me like a misplaced, precious belonging.  I had the music holding me in a bear hug, reminding me of the feeling, but now it’s gone.  It’s still a beautiful song, but the meaning has gone and I don’t know how to get it back, and I’m trying really hard and not getting anywhere, and feeling like I’m not getting any help to get there either.  I feel let down and abandoned, by her and by the tools that I used to use to carve out that feeling in myself.  I feel completely impotent and stupid, because I am just useless, aren’t I? Useless for trying everything I can think of and not getting anywhere.  Useless for not being able to retain a sense of what makes me feel safe. Feeling so stupid for thinking that this time it might be different, for thinking that actually, maybe I am ok, maybe I am worthy. Feeling like I have lost everything and not really knowing what to do about it, except rage over and over, like I’m completely demented.  Feeling like a complete imbecile because I can’t just feel, I have to use things to interpret and provoke.  I feel like I need to be walking around with my hand surgically attached to my forehead, permanently in the ‘loser’ sign.

I never used to listen to the lyrics, really, because unusually for a song with lyrics, it was all about the music.  And then the day it all changed, the day it became estranged, they suddenly meant something:

Haven’t you heard? I am a flightless bird. I am a liar, feeding facts to a false fire.

Which I heard as: I’m stuck forever, I will always be like this, I’m lying to myself because I am opening myself up to something which is fake.  Not a fire, with heat and intensity and danger.  Nothing.  Because it is fake.  The relationship is fake.  It’s not real and it doesn’t exist and therefore I don’t exist, that part of me doesn’t anyway, the part that is growing from the wastelands of my past, the part that I thought was real and validated, heard and understood. Ever been winded?  Try that on for size and it will do exactly the same thing.  Exactly that.  I felt as though the warm glow had gone and was replaced by cold hardness, transforming me into an icicle. And yet I am still hopeful, I don’t know where it’s coming from but there is still a tiny glow in there, somewhere, and I am hoping that I can make it bigger, only I feel so hurt and rejected that I don’t know how.  I have no idea.

(From 3:08, but properly from 3:15 and then it just builds)

Hopefully, in time, this will start to mean something again.

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