I had the privilege this week of attending four concerts at my local arena. It’s just three miles down the road, one of the best entertainment venues in the country (Mohegan Sun), yet I rarely visit. World class entertainment, right on my doorstep. This week, I made up for lost time. In fact, there were so many artists that I wanted to see coming in the same week – Neil Diamond, Train, Bryan Adams, Asia and Journey – that I took a vacation from work. I tend to go to extremes at times.
Nietzsche famously said that without music, life would be a mistake. Music has played such an important role in my life that I’m not going to argue with him. Like many introverts, I am affected by music at a very deep level. I am mainly drawn to pop, rock, Broadway, symphonies and opera, and, diverse as they are, I enjoy them all equally but for different reasons. Rock and Broadway cater to my more carefree moods, symphonies and opera to my more contemplative ones, and pop to both.
Music, perhaps more than anything or anyone, makes me feel. Many introverts like myself may be suspected of not having feelings, but I would argue, at least in my case, that they may be deeper than the average person’s given that I spend so much time in solitude, reflecting and ruminating. Extroverts seem busy to me distracting from feelings rather than experiencing them, at least the deeper and more complex ones. The reason mine may not be apparent to others is because I don’t typically show them. They are there nonetheless, are quite intense, and I cherish them. Occasionally they leak out, and music is a key catalyst (movies can be, also, but mainly because music accompanies the emotionally-charged scenes).
Nineteen eighty-two and eighty-three were probably the two most intense years in my life, largely because I had fallen in love for the first time, and, not surprisingly, also suffered my first breakup, a truly devastating event for me. I suppose it is for many, but the fact that I was secretly gay (this was 1982, when being gay was not acceptable) and had nowhere to go for solace or advice made the crash from ecstasy to depression unbearable. So I experienced both the most hopeful and the most depressing events of my life – even to this day – in the course of those two years. Music was my only friend. Every hit song from that time period triggers heightened memories in my brain, either of rapture (“Heat of the Moment”) or despair (“Open Arms.”)
Asia and Journey were both at the height of their success during this time period, so they are a key part of my first-love soundtrack. The very first album I bought and played on my first quality stereo system was Journey’s mega-successful “Escape” from the summer of 1981. I was 18 years old, had recently graduated from high school and opened a business, and my world was opening up in many exciting ways. I still remember hearing the first song off that album on my fancy new turntable, “Don’t Stop Believin’.” What a great test of my new system it was! It kicked, both then and in last night’s show: “Don’t stop believin’/Hold on to that feeling”.
I saw Journey in concert the day before my birthday that same year in Hartford. I don’t remember them being as good then as they were this week, thirty-six years later, but that is likely because I was considerably depressed back then. Plus, I awkwardly and bravely had asked someone to go with me because I was so incredibly lonely, a relative stranger who I had a major crush on, and he said no. So I went alone. I do that a lot nowadays without giving it a second thought, but back then it was a somewhat traumatic experience. It affected my enjoyment of the show, which I spent both feeling sorry for myself and berating my pathetic and self-conscious solitude: Look at how everyone else is enjoying the show! This was way before I had figured out that I was an introvert, and that I didn’t have to be like those around me.
Fast forward to this week, and a more confident and secure me. The opening number was possibly the best of the night. It kicked ass, got the whole arena on its feet (including me – and I was acting without self-consciousness, something I’ve gotten progressively better at over the years), and really energized the crowd right from the get-go. It was 1983’s “Seperate Ways,” a song that brings back a very surreal memory for me of driving through the Mojave Desert on my way from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, alone, in the middle of the night, a five-hour trip on a desolate, starry interstate as this song blared in my rental car (“If he ever hurts you, true love won’t desert you”). This was after the end of my fairy-tale romance, but far enough removed that I was starting to consider that maybe there was still hope.The world seemed full of possibilities for me, and I had a great sense of (cautious) optimism and freedom.
Mid-concert brought another major memory-trigger, the love ballad “Open Arms.” It held number two on the charts for six weeks in the spring of 1982, and it was “our song,” me and my first love. He lived 800 miles away, and, having only an intense phone and letter relationship at that point, the song made us think of each other whenever it came on the radio in our respective worlds. After we broke up, I cried to it more times than I can remember.
When we finally met two months later, we went to a concert that first night together at Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati, the farthest I had ever been from home. The performer: Neil Diamond, whom I was little acquainted with. However, it was the most magical, Cinderella-like night of my life – May 13, 1982 – and when it all turned to shit several months later, Neil’s introspective music would be my only friend and solace. I obsessed on it, seeing him in concert over a dozen more times in the succeeding years, including this week. I don’t obsess on it as much any more, but Neil’s music still gets to me. I teared up at his concert more than any of the others this week. He was there for me a long time ago when I needed a friend. I strongly related to his lyrics about longing and introspection, and he helped me connect to something and feel less alone. It was truly a lifeline. Ultimately, my favorite song of his is a hopeful one (“Holly Holy”), and part of its lyric is the title of this blog – “Take the lonely child, and the seed, let it be full with tomorrow.”
So yes, Nietzsche, music is an indispensable part of my life. It is the soundtrack to my triumph and despair, the guardian of my distant memories, and an understanding friend in my times of need.