Doctor Music Is Always In

Looking back I see that I have a habit reserved for times when emotions overwhelm me. For times so sharp that I have no words, when it becomes just me in a room with the pain or sorrow. Everybody eventually runs up against days like this, I think. Of course, how would I know? My troubles are mine … yours are yours … but mine will hang around and bedevil me until I finally sit down with them.

So that habitual way that I have of coping when the world is just too much is to pick out a piece of music and put it on endless repeat so that it becomes a mantra that I hear rather than speak. Doing this somehow opens a door and I am able to let go. I am always alone at such times, and if anyone were to wander in the door they would find a guy pretty much useless for anything for a while. I think the word unstrung is what describes at such moments best.

There was the New Year’s Eve when poor old John Lennon had to sing “Imagine” … maybe thirty times in a row … for only me. There was the evening after a kitty of ours named Rosa had died following a terrible two-day illness that neither the vet nor I were able to help. Hours when The Red House Painters song, All Mixed Up, became the background music for the release of emotions that had built up over those 48 hours when we were trying clumsily and ineffectually to save her life.

Many of us have such moments in our lives. Bottling things up is generally not a good long-term strategy, we are told. Finding ways to release those pressures is what therapy does for us, and in situations like these I’ve found music to be oh so therapeutic.


I would like to call attention to an American hero, Sister Helen Prejean. She is the nun who wrote the book Dead Man Walking, an account of her serving as spiritual advisor to a condemned man named Patrick Sonnier. Since then she has been an advisor to six more inmates on death row, all of whom were eventually put to death. To do this sort of work … I would call that heroic.

Sister Prejean wrote a piece in the Times on Wednesday entitled Look At My Face, which I found a very moving read. I recommend it to you.


From The New Yorker


An interesting short piece found its way into the Times of New York on Saturday morning. It was an imaginative one about the death of William Holden, the actor. The title of the piece is The Many Deaths of William Holden Taught Me How to Be Anxious.

It isn’t the first time that I have considered deeply how fragile our bodies are, and felt a little frisson while doing so. When cars meet on the highway and the metal of the machine is distorted and torn apart the injury to the automobiles is nothing compared to what happens to the flesh of the occupants. When you read a story about a tornado roaring through the countryside driving pieces of straw into the bark of trees, remember that humans are caught out in the cloud of missiles that the tornado picks up and distributes. In a courtroom Friday a man told his story of being shot in his upper arm and his bicep being blown away. It was just gone.

The world is filled with hard things, and our bodies are not among them. For eight decades now I have threaded my way through the maze of sharp or stony objects that could have altered my life, or certainly my appearance, and here I am … one of the lucky ones. The bones that cracked, the blisters that formed, the thousand patches of skin left on the pavement in my childhood … all have healed themselves.

So hearing the many versions of the death of William Holden wasn’t necessary to make me a cautious man, or even an anxious one at times. I was able to put together my own scenarios from my own experiences. And when the stresses became too much to bear, there was always the possibility of the geographic cure, as in Ole’s case.

When Ole learned that most accidents, injuries, and deaths occurred within one-half mile of home, he did the only logical thing.

He moved.


Oh, happy happenstance! One of my favorite authors, Louise Erdrich, has a new book out entitled The Sentence and there is no doubt that I will read it during the coming blustery months. I will wait for a day when I am looking out the window at weather so nasty that my forebears’ practice of wearing wolfskins wouldn’t keep a man alive and while I am experiencing the guilty pleasures of houses and central heating. So I will put that off for a while, but in a deliberate and not a procrastinative way.

To make things even better, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss have made a second album together which will be released fully on November 19. Their first one was the surprising musical duet album of 2007, Raising Sand. It was the answer to the question I had never asked myself: “What do you get when you pair up a princess of bluegrass and a prince of rock and roll?” The answer was a hell of an album.

Plant has continually surprised me. When his former band (a little-known group called Led Zeppelin) folded up, I would have thought he had nothing left to do, being just another pretty band singer whose groin posturings had become less interesting to his followers as age did its thing. But instead he made, and still makes, interesting and intelligent music.

What to say about Krauss? A voice like a drop of dew on an Appalachian morning … as pure and straightforward as is her music with her band, Union Station. A classic. A professional, through and through.

The surprise is that together they become not just another bunch of duets by artists who are getting on in years, but something new.


From The New Yorker


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