Silence the pianos, or: not a music post

[This post inspired once again by Fatima.]

Pandemic time has felt unusually hazy to me. At some point after I read KellyDS’s post on her playlist, I wanted to write my own post exploring why it is that I mostly haven’t been able to listen to music for several years now. (Short answer: I just don’t want to get too close to my feelings.)

It’s bizarre. The last movie I saw before lockdown was Emma, and the closing title song made me aware of Johnny Flynn, but googling him took me to this:

That song more or less dissolved me into a puddle — a feeling I emphatically do not enjoy — and just looking at it now, given the things I’ve been doing lately, made me turn it off.

Then Richard Armitage made his “soundtrack of my life” list of songs (turns out it was June 2020, and I remember thinking “there’s still an NME?”) And Esther and Sue posted on that topic. Which again made me want to post on my music “block.” But I accidentally heard a song while driving that made me have to pull over and sob.

 

So I tabled it, again.

Finally, roughly three weeks ago I / we demolished my childhood piano, which had stayed in the basement all those years since I left home. No exaggeration to say I played the heck out of that thing, particularly after I was eight and until I turned sixteen. That year (simultaneous but unrelated events) I got my driver’s license and the high school bought a really good Yamaha upright that the chorus teacher let me have a key to. After that I didn’t play at home as much, but still probably six or seven hours a week. I practiced my stuff, and then my mom and grandmothers really liked to listen to me play hymns.

Fast forward thirty-five years. At some point when the nieces were little, they got into it and didn’t close it up — so it would have needed restoration work before it would have been playable again. A restorer came out to estimate and said “$2,500.” It was never a very valuable piano — it was made for middle class families at a time (1893 — it was a “World’s Fair” piano) when that was a frequent consumption item. My parents bought it for $50 and paid another $200 for restoration of the works back in the late 70s, but the people who owned it prior to us had stored it on their porch and painted it to match, so the original woodwork was painted over with a thick, bright yellow. It would have been $500 to move it, but there wasn’t really a clear space for it in the new house. Its value in working condition was less than a grand, and it was ugly. As the restorer remarked, I could get a very nice, newish piano for much less and if I were willing to go digital, I could even get one that I could move myself. Also, the scrap price for the iron inside was estimated by our removal people to be at least $250.

So we scrapped it. We took some pictures, and removed the very worn toe cap of the damper as a souvenir. Then I drove away, and HL used one of his tractors to take it apart. He remarked that after all the years of forced listening when we were children, it was extremely satisfying. I laughed weakly and he gave me a hug.

Since dad moved to AL, I’ve been able to go to a café again, and it’s been playing a lot of the music I associate with Richard Armitage from my early years of crush / blogging — notably Keane and Lily Allen, but also other stuff that was playing on public radio in Austin at the time (Avett Brothers, Phoenix). This stuff inevitably recalls this phase of fandom in which I was suddenly and bluntly in contact with my feelings again.

All signs suggest that my big task in the short run is going to be rescuing some semblance of the emotional life I used to have. I don’t see how I can write without some access to my emotions (or more specifically: those other than rage).

So herewith, the four songs that iTunes (or, I guess, “Music”) says I’ve played in the last three years. What unites them? None of them really upset me.

#1:

 

This song used to play on the bus a lot, back when I had an hour long bus-ride after school which was all about decompression. The repetitive opening riff gets me (as I’ve said elsewhere, I have a thing for ostinatos, period), but maybe also the whole question of how time passes and the past ultimately recedes from our touch.

#2:

I think the key thing here is the 7/4 time signature — it keeps me from escaping into my own thoughts — but the “letting go” message of the song probably doesn’t hurt. Heard this originally on the bus, but it was a favorite song of The Physicist, so I bought the album while I was in grad school.

#3:

I’ve always liked this song and I think I probably heard it on a bus-ride. I started liking Winwood more generally after I saw him interviewed on Letterman in 1986 (profiling “Higher Love”). In particular I love the organ opening. But lyrics wise, it could be the Servetus theme song.

#4

This is the only song on this list that I didn’t hear first on the radio. I bought the album in 2003 when I was having a major English folk songs phase (at the behest of German Amazon).

Thinking about it after re-listening to all of them: there’s definitely a theme in all these songs about keeping your eyes open / not giving in to illusions about the past or present.

~ by Servetus on June 21, 2021.

20 Responses to “Silence the pianos, or: not a music post”

  1. My earliest memory has me playing with a toy piano not for sure how old I was. I always wanted to learn how to play but there was no money for a piano I did have a few lessons when I was about 10 and one of my teachers (who was a neighbor (let me practice on her piano. That summer we moved and that ended that. Fast forward to 2014 and still wanting to learn my husband got me a keyboard and self-teaching adult book for Christmas, as that is all I wanted. Then the next year a stand ( on the table was to high and to hard to play on) but with going to school I didn’t spent the time I should have. This year I made a goal to learn and have been practicing most days. I have look at getting an acoustic piano but close by me or still pretty high priced so I have looked a digital one also. Not sure but I am very close to having to buy a damper pedal for the keyboard. My dad and his brother where self-taught, my dad auto harp and his brother guitar. My grandpa may or may not been self-taught himself violin. So playing music runs on my dad’s side of the family.

    My one hour bus ride I remember AC/DC and Foreigner most of the time. Someone always brought a boombox on the bus since most the the high schools didn’t drive with a 15 to 20 mile trip one way to school.

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    • I’m so glad you’re playing, and doing something you’ve wanted to do for so long! That’s a really cheery message.

      busride: we were 7 mi from school, but we got picked up on the way to school first, and then the route swung out to the corner of the district and back. Same on the return — we were the last dropped off. I do remember Foreigner on the bus.

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  2. That’s a sad story but being able to let go has a power of its own, as I am learning right now. Solsbury Hill is probably my favourite song of all time. (I like the others, too, have a few albums of both Stewart and Winwood.)

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    • I emphatically agree with you about letting go — not about the piano necessarily but I am pleased in general about how much stuff we got rid of and would be willing to bet we never think about a lot of this anymore.

      Solsbury Hill is just great. I also do like a lot of Peter Gabriel’s other work.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Aw, that piano going really must have been the end of an era for you, even if you didn’t play it in recent times.
    Yes, music can really open up a whole lot of feelings. I too can’t listen to certain things, most notably Bowie’s final album, because it just upsets me too much.
    Solisbury Hill is such a great song and While You See A Chance – I know the song, I really like it but never realized until reading this that it was Steve Winwood.

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  4. I’m jealous you were able to listen to music on your bus! We never had that option growing up. As a rule, songs from the 80’s are not my thing. They remind me of a time I’d rather forget. Now, about that piano-I too played from age 8-17, must have been something in the water in the 70’s. For reasons I have yet to explore, I had a mighty need to rescue my piano from the second wife of my father who still lives in his house with all the surviving artifacts from my childhood. It is just an old, much loved and abused upright that myself and all the girls in the house had to learn to play. Luckily, I have a cousin with five strapping sons who offered to go pick it up and keep it at his house until I could decided what to do with it. In the process, I learned that the piano originally belonged to my cousin’s mother, one of the women I’m named after. She told me the story of how it ended up with mom, something I had never known. Since I felt it was not a viable option to haul it to NoDak, my Aunt Charlotte and I agreed to gift it to one of her grandsons who plays. It’s stupid, but I felt like I had saved a refugee from a war. It’s in a happy place now. Note, I would have happily doused it in gasoline and set a match to it to keep it from being sold by Nightmare #2.

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    • I think the bus drivers turned them on so they wouldn’t notice if something really bad happened behind their heads. Just kidding. I don’t know why they turned them on.

      piano playing: I could post at length about this, but in brief I think it was something about middle class respectability. I’m glad you were able to rescue your piano! I felt that way about a few things we took from the house — we had been asked by a scavenger if he could have them and I’d have shattered them with a sledge hammer before I’d have voluntarily given them to him.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t know why they left ours off? I was on that damn bus for almost 90 minutes every stinking school day.

        I often wonder if this whole drama with the second wife is some lesson life wants me to learn. If it’s about murder, we’re good. Otherwise, it might be a long few years.

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        • I have a lot of similar questions. “You’re not as together as you thought you were” seems to be the main lesson of the last few years.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Perhaps our question should be – What’s so wrong with falling apart?
            The breakdowns of the last seven years have taught me more about myself than the whole of living the other 46.

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            • I agree with that emphatically. The other thing is that they can’t be avoided, i.e., people are going to die, relationships are going to change, etc., etc. I used to wonder why I’d never thought at length about mom dying. I mean, I was never even prompted to think about it. So it’s not like people really prepare for this stuff. Or would want to.

              Liked by 1 person

              • It has drastically changed the way I approach it inside my own little family. I don’t want them left adrift with so many questions. I’ll do my best to leave them better prepared, better understanding the walk through the grief. I can’t foresee it all but I can at least draw a map on paper with crayon.

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  5. I am glad you were able to let go of the piano, but also that you didn’t stay and watch it get demolished.

    What is it with Johnny Flynn as a singer? He hasn’t a really great singing voice but is still able to captivate people while singing…

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