I lie in a thinker’s grave. I have reached the limits of my imagination. I am buried by the stubborn belief that the void I seek to fill actually needs filling, that music really is this important. On my judgment day I may ascend to the glorious sound of every song on every mix tape I’ve ever made played at once. Then all the words I’ve ever written will raise me up to my proper place. But that is just a vision, and I cannot move.
I remember when I first heard music. I was 11, and it was the Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream. Kneeling in innocence on a wine-red carpet, I was piecing together a puzzle of a big picture of Santa Claus when my dad came into the room and put on a song for me. Something clicked. My life changed.
I remember – vividly – listening to that record the following summer. I’d pack a book and a snack and my Walkman and climb to the highest inhabitable branch – some 20 feet up – in the tallest, most comfortable tree in our backyard. I’d put my headphones on and feel the music surge through me, feel so empowered. This was my spot, my music. I’d gaze over the fence – on one side, our suburban street; on the other, an untamed corner of our neighbor’s yard. When Billy Corgan sang “Try to understand / That when I can / I will,” I knew I could do whatever I wanted. I can still recall the feeling, sitting in that tree on a sunny day, hearing those lines and knowing they had changed my life.
The same feeling swept me when I met my girlfriend. Fast Forward >> High school, the start of my junior year. Staring at her wild, curly, blonde-streaked brown hair from my seat directly behind her in Spanish class, I perceived something special – something consequential. In this sense, love is a lot like rock and roll.
At the time, I was still fascinated with the Smashing Pumpkins, and dug my grave thought by thought. That semester I assumed editorship of a new section at the school newspaper, dubbed Media and Entertainment. I had already been writing CD reviews for a year: deriding pop and rap with a 16 year-old’s sense of humor and a dull critical edge; opening my mind to punk rock; discreetly comparing alternative rock bands to the Pumpkins. Then I started a monthly column called Nate’s Music News and Reviews, and it got me thinking – this writing about music thing, it ain’t a bad gig. The rhythm began to take form: music in, writing out. It is an addictive, self-perpetuating pulse.
Today I am stuck in a place where one phase cannot exist without the other. I cannot exist without both. Rationalizing drives me deeper to the root of my being, but nowhere near the place I need to be, nowhere near the place that in my dreams my work will someday qualify me to exist.
I lie in a thinker’s grave, blessed and cursed by the same thing, too stubborn and self-important but to embrace it and beg it to share this little space with me. I think and plan and analyze and list and chart and think again. All that’s ever left is the pattern of music in, writing out. It’s almost enough to convince me that I’ll never need or want to leave. But in the case that this hole needs filling, I will be prepared to meet that challenge and realize the truth I could never prove: music does matter.