I gave my heart to music when I was 7 years old in San Jose, California. My family had just arrived in America from Russia. Our first home was a one-bedroom apartment across from the projects on Cherry Street. I still remember my mom unpacking the box of records she’d brought from Russia and setting up our JCC-provided turntable. Some of the records were children’s stories, some were classical music but it was the state-issued bootlegs of rock & roll that caught my attention. I’d listen to those Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and Aquarium (Russian rock band) albums and feel this new bubbling joy. I’d roll around on the floor laughing hysterically just from being so overwhelmed by feeling. My mom gave me the Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock for my 10th birthday. I pored over its pages, memorizing the artists, drawing stories from their photos and imagining the significance of the song titles found in their singles charts. I loved that book, and I loved every song I could track down from it. To top it off, I didn’t have to fear loving these songs. They wouldn’t leave, they wouldn’t make me feel hurt, alien, lost or confused. Every time I listened they would give more than they had before, unpacking stories and feelings, an endless amount of gifts that rewarded commitment. You could pass this love along, a song played for a friend, a shared experience could bond you. Even as I got older and continued to be afraid of committing to loving and trusting people, I knew I could at least share love with them through music, we could experience a fearless love together by cherishing something that was beyond ourselves. We could find ourselves and our feelings for each other in our love for a song.
“I was feeling so sad alone then I found a friend in this song I was singing. I was feeling like a nothing inside then I found it all in a song.” -Girls “Darling”
Before really knowing what love was, I learned the language of love songs. For better or worse, every loving relationship I’ve had has used those songs as a watermark. Does spending time with this person feel like the lyrics to “Ring of Fire”? Is that good or bad!? Is this feeling of watching my girlfriend sleep what Curtis Mayfield felt in “I’m So Proud”? And to summon Curtis again, does the breakup summon the same fire as “7 Years”? I don’t really cook, I can’t sing, write songs or poems, can’t paint, I express my emotions with the hyperbole laden maturity of a 10 year old, honestly. The only certain way I could find to say what I meant to someone or understand it myself, was in sharing a song. No fumbling words, no uncertainty or compromise. What is there in our world that’s harder to express than love? Hate, fear, joy and anxiety are easy. But love is all those things and more. It’s so massive, so powerful. My sister who is one of the people I love most in this world recently turned 10 and got her own email account and we now send songs and itunes links back and forth to each other. Her fearless love of the people and world around her, despite experiences that would’ve crippled another child inspire me every day. Sure on one hand the exchanges are pedagogical, but I like to think there is something else at play. That in sharing the songs that speak to us we’re building a common language to understand our familial love for each other. I guess that impulse runs in our blood. Anyhow, it’s more effective than emoticons.
“Love, by its very nature, is unworldly, and it is for this reason rather than its rarity that it is not only apolitical but anti-political, perhaps the most powerful of all anti-political human forces.”” -Hannah Arendt
Love is not democratic. Reflexively, the job of the love song is not to build communities. Morality has no place in a love song. The love song’s purpose is to give two people the tools they need to understand this fearsome thing they have between them, being in love puts you in conflict with the world outside of that relationship- all the elements that challenge and disrupt that already destabilizing bond. Aristotle said that love is a “single soul dwelling in two bodies”. The perfect love song helps us understand this alien inhabitant that bonds us together with another/disrupts our lives.
I’ve often tried to understand why despite being such a sap I’ve been so drawn to angry music and its various political & social structures. In times in my life, as with a lot of young peoples lives to a certain extent, when love fails to show up, lets you down or leaves you behind, there’s a certain comfort in building ad-hoc communities based around rejection and disillusionment. It’s ironic that Belle & Sebastian are the inspiration for this way too long ramble then. Because in high school, at the apex of submersion into hardcore and punk, I found a band that spoke to our need to love. That despite being a little strange and frustrated teenager love wasn’t something to fear. It carried riches and experiences that were invisible to those who push love away. It hurts, dies, comes back, changes heats up and cools down but the moments that it burns inside of us define our lives. Life is hard. People you love, family members, friends and other loved one screw you over, betray you and lie. But succumbing to fear and letting your past pain block your ability to embrace love is giving up life’s greatest treasure. I’m eternally grateful to B&S for reminding me of that.
My heart belongs to music because it’s the best way I’ve found to process the love that has come and gone in my life, and the best vessel i’ve found for sharing it. It binds my family together, and reminds me to stay open to love that comes in the future. Music is my lifelong bleeding-heart companion, and every day I feel grateful that my life is based around sharing and treasuring its bounty. Maybe it’s not the most sophisticated way to live, but at age 28, it might be a little too late to change. Oh well…LET IT BLEED!