What Music Can Never Do

I played tune constantly after my daughter was born. As I held her in my palms, beholding the ones abnormal, starry eyes that best stared outward, the eyes of the one that didn’t have any of the outdoor international in them, at the least now not but, I stored up a consistent, low-degree burble of track. I played matters I preferred, of route, however, the desire of tune wasn’t the factor. The factor turned into to soothe her, to offer her with an ecosystem that turned into as wealthy and complete and welcome as possible. She became new to the physical global, and I ought to sense her discomfort with her body now that she no longer floated freed from gravity, now that she should fall. When she turned into startled, her hands splayed out instinctively and her arms curled, like a tumbling child monkey grabbing at a tree department.

The track changed into of a piece with my growing and falling breath, with the diminished lights, with the incessant rocking to alleviate the pressure on her digestive gadget, with the milk coming into her mouth through her mom’s breast. All of it turned into meant to telegraph a few type of message to her, to inform her brain stem what domestic felt, smelled, and sounded like. Neil Young, Raffi, Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” Mozart String Trios, Bert and Ernie, whatever. I simply had to fill her senses. Anything would do.


In the back of my mind, I idea approximately how she might in the future recollect this track, having grown up with it earlier than she turned into even conscious of its lifestyles. I imagined her filling in her personal story, telling herself what this music in her lifestyles supposed. Take a pay attention to all of this, Greta, I notion. This is the whole thing your daddy consoled himself with whilst you were no longer here. When you pay attention this music, some thing else you could make of it, you may know that you are domestic.


I additionally sang to her, greater or much less continuously, as errant songs I had favored as a bit youngster got here floating back into my focus: I hadn’t notion approximately Smokey Robinson’s “You Really Got a Hold On Me” in an extended while, however it took ownership of me, and I rocked and swung my hips awkwardly whilst conserving Greta in the front of the window, making a song it to her. Imagine a gooey-eyed father tenderly singing “I don’t like you/But I love you” to his gurgling toddler; that changed into me.

When Greta died, and violently, from an twist of fate, on the age of 2, all track have become hallucinatory, absurd, obscene, needless. It would have angered me if I’d had the electricity to muster anger for something so insignificant. The idea of recorded music indignant me most of all—why, precisely, did humans pipe dead sounds into our bodies, our ears plugged, extra or much less on my own, in preference to spending each possible second in every other’s corporeal presence? The activity of paying attention to tune itself came to appear a bit freakish to me, some kind of evolutionary hiccup that had come what may stricken the whole race.

In the weeks after Greta’s demise, I changed into in deep surprise and acute trauma. My nerves have been coruscated, my senses misfiring. I turned into unaccountably starving all the time, and my eyesight felt altogether too eager. While status on the sidewalk I imagined I ought to see each vein in each leaf at the tops of trees. The international changed into too harsh, too bright, and abruptly I felt a pressing want to look at it with an depth that I’d never afflicted with before.

Perhaps this instinct arose from the situations of her loss of life—a plummeting piece of windowsill, breaking free without a caution, from eight stories above her at the same time as she was journeying her grandmother. The incident felt so freakish as to seem a pointed message from the universe: My 2-yr-vintage, the unknowing repository for all my hopes and desires, and the container of what might have one day been her personal, was without a doubt dashed out of the world. I had a hard time no longer concluding that she have been specially selected and killed.

How ought to I, then, block out my environment with headphones? I needed to see and sense as lots of it as I may want to, as though, by means of some stressed formula, my own lack of vigilance had caused Greta’s coincidence. The world sent terrible matters down from the sky, matters that would give up us: How had I now not known this earlier than, and what might I ought to learn how to continue to exist on this newly hostile world?

As I wandered, greatly surprised, via these early days, I discovered some thing about music that I had never recognized, notwithstanding having spent my profession as a track journalist. Yes, song will be life-asserting, a conduit on your inner most emotions. It can also definitely be noise, a horse blanket blotting out sensation. In my grief, I have become acutely aware about the difference. The concept of being locked internal my very own head, paying attention to my very own thoughts echo and loop returned on themselves, felt repulsive. Was I mostly the usage of tune to commune with some thing transcendent, or turned into I basically the usage of it to hide?

.One music, mainly, observed me around, like a mocking ghost. I had loved this music for a completely long time earlier than Greta become born, and I began singing it to her the minute she emerged from her mom. It is a darkish song, however best if you be aware of the words; its melody is soft and loping, and I whispered a changed version of it to Greta each night, her head on my shoulder, as she progressively grew heavier and allowed herself to give up to unconsciousness. When she changed into geared up, without a doubt ready, to be laid down inside the crib, I should experience a diffused shift—her joints could loosen, her muscle tissue softening. She have become pliable, and as I could lean her over her bed, her head would drop back and her legs might curl, like an itinerant aircraft docking at a space station.

The tune changed into Elliott Smith’s “Between the Bars.”

I selected the song because the lines “I’ll kiss you once more/Between the bars” suggested a kiss thru a crib as without difficulty as they recommended two enthusiasts separated through a jail cellular, or drunkards pausing in their pub move slowly. I thought of its very last photograph—“People you’ve been earlier than/That you don’t need round anymore/That push and shove and received’t bend in your will/I’ll maintain them still”—as a promise I made to her that handiest I understood the which means of: Whoever you need to become, I am only here to clean your direction.

I strategically rewrote some phrases in our version—“live up all night time” have become “sleep through the night time”—but there’s an unchanged lyric that haunts me now: “The capability you’ll be/That you’ll by no means see.” When I sat in her bedroom, five days after her dying, on the floor in front of her empty crib, they struck me as dreadful phrases to sing to a toddler, a curse laid on a life complete of promise.

Now, the track felt like a broken-off lullaby. Its recipient had disappeared, and it served no cause. I didn’t need to play it for myself any more than I wanted to study her books out loud, or set a place for her at the desk. At some factor in her brief existence, “Between the Bars” have become a song that most effective existed in the area among my mouth and her ears. When her little ears disappeared, so did my choice for the song.

There had been some moments that pierced the ice. Ten days after Greta died, I located myself, shaky and uncooked, at a small concert. I changed into surrounded by means of pals. They shaped a defensive circle; individuals who desired to method me to tell me how sorry they had been needed to skip thru this curtain of human beings that had drawn itself around me.

Mitski was the headliner, and I stared at her, within the throwing-off-sparks degree of her early stardom, playing “Townie,” which turned into then her signature anthem: “I don’t want to be what my daddy desires me to be/I’m gonna be what my frame desires me to be,” she sang. In that second, damaged in every possible area, bereft, and freshly grieving, I felt exhilarated. This—this—became what song should do.

My coworker Jenn had booked the display, and as I stared beyond the back of her head, I realized that Greta would in no way have a profound moment of self-expression like Mitski’s or stay a existence like Jenn’s, complete of art and possibility. Yet even in my disappointment, I changed into thankful for this flash of perception and for the profound connection.

I have tried to hold onto this message, now that Greta has been long gone for four years. Over time, my mind rebuilt itself, and sooner or later in the sluggish grieving process that observed, the 2 wires that touched collectively to ignite informal tune leisure observed every other once more. I started out to play tune for pure enjoyment, simply as I slowly stopped scanning my surroundings for “clues” as to what had befell, and how. But the bigger lesson in no way left me: There are matters that song can’t do. It changed into one in all limitless lessons my daughter taught me, at the same time as she become alive and afterward.

I try to train my son Harrison, now 2-and-a-1/2, to like tune for the way it makes us do stupid dances collectively. Once again, I don’t care what the song is, goodbye as it brings us joy and makes us snigger together—Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl,” “Baby Shark” 10 times in a row, anything. The song is most effective here to provide us with small, simple opportunities to now not be on my own.

I actually have even performed “Between the Bars” again. Now, I word with remarkable sadness and a small, shameful little bit of remedy, it’s miles a tune yet again. My daughter’s tufty fuzz of hair, brushing up in opposition to my ear; the reassuring weight of her diaper thru my forearm; I can still close my eyes and scent her as it plays. But it exists within the global again, complete, as do I.

Duane Simpson

Internet fan. Zombie aficionado. Infuriatingly humble problem solver. Alcohol enthusiast. Spent several months exporting UFOs in Jacksonville, FL. A real dynamo when it comes to exporting gravy in Tampa, FL. Spent 2001-2004 implementing saliva in Edison, NJ. Had moderate success getting my feet wet with junk food on Wall Street. Practiced in the art of building Virgin Mary figurines in Tampa, FL. Practiced in the art of marketing Roombas in Phoenix, AZ.

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