A few nights ago, I pulled up iTunes on my iPad and poked around my music. I found myself pulling up “In Search of the Lost Chord” by the Moody Blues Don’t worry if you have never heard of it. The actual piece of music is not the point here. What is important is that “In Search of the Lost Chord” was the first album I ever bought.
It was 1970. I was fifteen.
Up to that point, I had a very limited exposure to music. My dad had an ancient Hi-fi system, an old tube amplifier with a turntable on top and a giant furniture-like speaker. Pretty much he only played artists like Al Hurt, Benny Goodman and Dinah Shore. That was the music I grew up with.
A few of my friends had portable record players and at their houses, I was listening to the Beatles, early Rolling Stones and many of the other rock bands emerging in the late sixties. Still, it was mono, small speaker, small time music.
On the day I first heard “In Search of the Lost Chord”. I was riding my bike. I did that a lot when I was young. Some days I rode for hours, often ending up in the Fan District of Richmond, far, far away from my home in the far West End.
The Fan is where Virginia Commonwealth University lives, Richmond’s inner city college, and it was a totally different vibe from the quiet (dare I say it? Dull?) slice of suburbia I grew up in. It was rough, full of head shops, scroungy little cafes and music stores. It did not feel safe and actually, at the time, it really wasn’t safe.
I loved it.
I would ride my bike downtown, lock it to a post, and just wander in and out of shops. I would have a cup of tea on the sidewalks and watch the array of people, a mix of races and types and clothes I never say in my sanitized corner of suburbia. I would spend hours in tiny, dusty hole in the wall bookshops full or arcane subjects I knew nothing about. And I discovered a record store.
The clerk asked me if I would like to listen to anything, to let him know. It was like a fantasy land to me. FOR those of you who are young and don’t remember buying music before CD’s, record albums are big, and the covers were works of art. And considering the time, some of the works of art were decidedly psychedelic.
Not Benny Goodman at all.
I found one album whose cover sang to me. “In Search of the Lost Chord.” (that’s the cover at the top of this article.) I slipped on the headphones (I had never used headphones before). They were great big heavy things. Koss, I remember. And the music began. It was unrelentingly stereophonic, a mix of symphonic and rock, artsy at times, wild and uncontrolled at sometimes and the music ran through my head in a way I had never experienced music before.
I bought the album. Never mind that I had nothing to play it with. I had a job. I would buy a stereo. I would buy headphones.
I’ve been a music guy ever since. By the time I went to college three years later I hauled more stereo gear to my dorm room than clothes and everything else combined. If I had money, I bought music or more/better stereo gear. I had it all. Turntables, 8 8tracks, cassettes, even a reel to reel recorder, and of course, headphones. And oodles and oodles of music. An obscene amount of music.
I still have some pretty good stereos in my house. There’s one in my office. One in the living room. One in the studio. A small one in the bedroom. I even have one in the bathroom. And let’s not get started on my cars. I had hundreds of albums, tapes and cassettes. Jazz? Check. Hard rock? Check. Classical? Check. I had it all (except for country, oddly enough). Sounds kind of obsessive, doesn’t it? It probably was. But for much of my life, music was that much a part of me.
Until my divorce. Actually, the divorce didn’t change things, it changed me. That’s when my depression went from something that was kind of low level (Low enough I didn’t recognize it), to something pervasive and destructive.
One of the things about depression is that it robs us of our enjoyment of the things we love the most. It’s part of the gig. And certainly, that was part of what happened to me. I let my music go. I left most of my music in the house with my (now ex) wife and never bothered to go get it. I didn’t miss it, because I really didn’t care, just as I didn’t care any more about many things that I had loved.
Much of the last decade has been spent coming back. Some of it came back fairly quickly in the first few years after the divorce as I and my therapists slowly rebuilt me and my life. Other parts of who I was have come back slowly. And a few never came back at all.
And that’s OK. Growth is good. For many of the things that didn’t come back, new things grew into their place. I enjoy so much in my life that I feel ridiculously grateful most days.
but the music thing? It never really came back.
Oh, I enjoy music. From time to time I’d buy an album (which of course is a file today, not a thing like albums were.). I have iTunes. Pandora, all sorts of on-line music things. I have a fair number of CDs. But it is not pervasive like it used to be. It has been something I dial into now and again. More background noise than something to let engulf me as it once did.
Which brings me back to listening to “In Search of the Lost Chord” the other night.
Playing it back on my iPad, headphones tucked neatly into my ears, and I felt it again. That immersion, that becoming lost in the interplay of the music and the mix, hearing somehow not just the song, but all the elements intertwining and working together in some magical dance. It was beyond good. It was beyond wonderful. It was sublime.
Since then, I’ve been listening to a lot more music. Friends on facebook have noticed that I’ve been writing about the music I am listening to, something I never did before. They are right. I am celebrating the return of a certain kind of magic that has returned to me, unexpected and amazing.
I have no idea if this is a lasting return, or a momentary thing, but I am enjoying it. And who knows, when you consider all the things music does for our brains, maybe it will help my 61 year old brain rev up a little. That would be good.
Whatever it is, a temporary lapse into teenagerhood or a reclaiming of an essential part of who I am, I have that “once I was lost and now I am found” feeling going on right now. It’s wonderful.
And it has a soundtrack. How cool is that?
Be well. Travel wisely,