Saturday, August 8, 2009


Songs in the key of life have been key to my life since I was 10 years old, and I won my first transistor radio in school at a class auction. Since then, I've been totally addicted to music. The intensity of the role it plays in my life goes up and down, and right now, I'm in a period of high intensity. Last night at a party, I even made the bold assertion that of all art forms, music is perhaps the most personal -- for both the artist and the audience -- and I can't understand how anyone can live a life in which it doesn't play a major role.

Think about it: Unlike movies, paintings or sculptures, we can take music anywhere: On the road, on the subway, to the gym, even into the shower. And while books are just as portable -- even though I wouldn't recommended taking your paperback copy of The Great Gatsby into the shower, it serves it's purpose just fine while you're soaking in the tub or sitting on the toilet -- reading requires a commitment of time and concentration that music doesn't. In other words, don't read and drive.

Now consider this: Music marks various milestones in our lives. We remember where we were when we first heard a particular song. Or a certain tune reminds us of an old friend or lost love. There are graduations songs, wedding songs and funeral songs. Riding in the car, we mindlessly sing along to the tops of the pops on the radio. Music takes us back -- way back. Some of my most vivid memories from early childhood are of happily listening to Carly Simon, the Eagles and Abba in the backseat of my parents' car while up front, mom and dad discussed the harsh realities of adult life. My earliest memory is walking up a hill with mom and dad for my first day of pre-school. My second memory? Hearing "You're So Vain" on the radio over and over and over. It must have been about 1973.

We'll pay hundreds of dollars to see our favorite singer in concert, but who would spend that kind of money on a movie or a book? Filthy-rich art lovers might spring several grand for a painting or a sculpture but not more than once, twice, or thrice in a lifetime. Only the cinema-obsessed re-enact scenes from their favorite movies or drop film dialogue into casual conversation. And although I can recall once reading passages from The Corrections in my apartment to a guy I had met hours earlier in a bar (and ended up dating for several months), it's not an episode that's likely to be repeated. But we sing in the shower, whistle while we work, or sometimes burst into song musical-style for no apparent reason, and what's a one-night stand without eine kleine nachtmusik in the background?

The person I was talking to about music at the party wasn't really buying my whole you-are-what-you-listen-to-and-if-you-don't-listen-t0-something-you're-nothing theory because she herself is fairly lukewarm on music. Sure, she said, certain melodies or beats occasionally catch her attention, but she never knows who is singing, nor does she seek out new tunes, nor does she sit around applying tortured Morrissey lyrics to her own life. Hell, she even had to ask who Penelope Cruz was when that particular subject came up earlier in the night -- although, to her credit, she had seen Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

I gasped in horror on the inside but kept smiling on the outside (at her cluelessness regarding both Penelope and music), as I realized that she is not alone. The world is full of people who are the same way, and so, chances are, was the party (which, incidentally, was co-hosted by a colleague of mine who had a No. 1 single in the Dominican Republic several years ago). For so many, music is merely background noise drowned out by the mundane drama of everyday life.

To each his (or her) own, but for me, life just wouldn't be the same without the magic of melody.
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