The Experience 50 Podcast for Midlife
E123 Where Music Takes Us
Mar 10, 2018 · 18 min
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Today's episode is based on a piece of unpublished cathartic writing I did on December 8, 2017, after interviewing Karen Smith of Episode 122. 

The universe has been at it again. Playing with me, steering me. At 54, I know how this stuff works now. You may call this God doing his work. I don't know what to name it, but I know it when it shows up.

Maybe you have experienced this? Life brings something quite random to your attention, into your peripheral vision at first; then, with each subsequent visit, the experience becomes more poignant until it demands that you show it some respect and try to pay attention and connect the dots.

I've been in that "thing". Okay, I'm listening now; I'm paying attention. What's with this? I don't know about you, but I am just freaking fascinated by how our world and our brains intersect; knitting people and things and experiences and thoughts together like an undeniably destined to be worn sweater.

In case you are wondering at this point: No, this is not drunken blogging.

Here's my story:

Two weeks ago, or so, I was sent a list of questions in advance of an interview I was giving. The guy who wants to interview me asks all of his guests the same 12 questions, no deviation. He believes that within the answers to these 12 questions, a person's "story" is revealed. Interesting concept.

One of the questions: "What is your favorite song?"

Initially, I thought, what a dumb question. How could I, or anyone, ever pick ONE song as my favorite? Music has been at the core of my being since Elton John's Goodbye Yellowbrick Road album in 1973. But it did lead me to consider which of my many favorite songs would I rate as the most personally significant piece of music in my life.

I did not come to any conclusive selection, but the question has been bouncing around in my head ever since.

A couple of days later, a mentor/coach/friend of mine asked  What is your number one go-to song that can immediately take you right back to the time in your life when it was fresh music? Again, I thought how could I choose just one song. Any song from Saturday Night Fever took me to my junior high days, anything by Dave Matthews Band to my divorce in 1996, etc... Music has always been my calendar connection to life events. I also wondered why I was being asked such similar questions in a short time span. Two more times in the next few days, I hwas asked similar questions about music as a prompt to reveal something about myself. Very strange.

Okay, as I said at the beginning, I'm Paying Attention Now. There is a reason for this. I don't know what it is yet, but I do know that it will be revealed, at some point. This kind of thing has happened to me enough times over the years that I have learned to just take my seat on the Trust Train, shut up and enjoy the view as I travel towards... something.

Getting Closer To Something

A few hours ago, I was the one doing the interviewing. My guest, 59-year-old Karen Smith of New Jersey and I were recording episode 122 of Experience 50 discussing guardianship of, for lack of a better term, "special needs relatives". After the interview was done and we were just chatting, out of the blue, she mentions that she now lives in the home of a former member of The E-Street Band. Yes, Bruce Springsteen's band. Really? She goes on to mention that her son is friends with Clarence Clemons' (The Big Man, Bruce's saxophone player) son, Nick Clemons. Sweet Jesus. The Trust Train is picking up speed.

Bruce Springsteen's song Jungleland is the most powerfully significant song of my life. No question. Bam! When Karen Smith mentioned Bruce Springsteen, I was instantly awash in goosebumps and her words faded away like Charlie Brown's teacher's squawky voice in Peanuts cartoons. It is October 1980, I am at Cobo Arena in Detroit and Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band are on stage performing Jungleland, where I am sobbing along with the entire crowd and don't know why.

Stay with me.

After the call with Karen, with my most awesome headphones still on, I visit my iTunes playlist and hit the play button on Jungleland. I turn up the volume, close my eyes and immerse myself in the sound of the violin, the piano, the drums, the guitar and then the voice, and the saxophone solo of all time. The epic lyrics of an opera mixed with a common man - street gang storyline reminiscent of West Side Story. Nine minutes and thirty-three minutes later (yes, it is a very long song), hot tears are streaming down my face, my eyes remain shut and I am being to understand. The engineer of the Trust Train has just collected my ticket. This is beginning to make sense to me, almost.

I move my cursor on the player back to the 08:30 mark and listen to the last minute again. And again and again and again, I keep listening to that loop of the final minute. Then I hit YouTube for another couple of rounds of the live performance. More tears.

For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about, Jungleland ends with Bruce Springsteen letting out a series of six guttural, wailing, howling and beautifully shifting notes that literally give voice to the most completely despairing and brutally honest pain of the human experience. It is beautiful. Beautiful pain. The tears that came to me in 1980, hearing the song performed live and sharing the experience with 12,000 fellow human beings, were tears of collective joy and pain of the human condition, experience and connection.

So why did I need to hear this? Why was I being led by the hand of coincidence to listen to this song, today?

Here goes: My family has been touched by great loss lately, by people we love very much. Our closest friends have lost loved ones and we know that we too will be losing one of our own due to age and illness in the coming weeks or months. Here come those hot tears again.

The pain in those notes at the end of Jungleland are beautiful, the pain we feel in our hearts is beautiful. Beautiful, because we are human and we love and we get hurt, we sometimes feel exuberant and then insignificant. Babies are born and people die. We fall in love. We laugh. The towers fall. A rainbow takes our breath away. It is life.

I heard a version of Bruce's notes just weeks ago, in the gut-wrenching wail of sorrow from a man just learning his brother had killed himself. The cry of pain was primal, he loved his brother and now his brother was gone, forever, in spite of having done everything he could to prevent this final act of despair. So raw, so real, so very human. I've heard that scream of complete sorrow too many times in my life. I've made those sounds myself, in private moments of coming to terms with loss.

That, my friend, is what I needed to come to. I needed to hear and feel the beauty of pain. I needed to listen to the last minute of a song from 1980 in order to make sense of 2017. It took five unrelated human beings to cross my path over a period of a few weeks to get me where I would come to terms with the human connection between the heights of joy matching the depths of our sorrows

The alternative would be a flat line existence. No thank you.

My friend, when coincidences occur, pay attention. It may not be a song but whatever it is, trust that there is a reason and do pay attention. M.R.

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