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Music and Turning Points

Now for something different … I posted this on Facebook the other day, and figure I may as well share it here too.


I find happiness and I find music. These come together. My sister shows me MuchMusic, and it gives me Edwin singing, “Ain’t it good to be alive?” U2 gives me “Beautiful Day,” then “Stuck in a Moment.” In first year university, I discover Incubus’ “Drive.” This is inspiring: “Whatever tomorrow brings, I’ll be there.” I hear Matt Good’s “In a World Called Catastrophe” in second year, at the Miller Hall parking lot: “Baby can you feel it? Don’t it make you want to wake up and open your eyes?” It does. An arcade at Canada’s Wonderland teaches me “Times Like These” by the Foo Fighters, my theme song for one of the happiest years of my life [“It’s times like these you learn to live again”]. Sitting in the Common Ground in third year, I discover Modest Mouse and I know that “we’ll all float on okay.” Each year there are ups and downs, and when the downs come, I fight for happiness. Music is my front line soldier. It fills me, draws me in, and lends me its powerful message.

I wrote these words for an “autobiography” assignment for a creative writing class I took in my fourth year of university. Creative writing it was, but fiction it was not.

Music has always held power for me. Less so in recent years, when I’ve been steadier. When I’ve been healthy enough that happiness isn’t a fight anymore. Earlier, though, music had been infused with meaning, both for better and for worse.

Life is made up of turning points. Most of these are barely noticeable when they are happening, and it is only looking back on them that you start to recognize their importance. I have often found that an explicit, obvious change in my life has been predicated on – indeed, made possible by – a subtler but more fundamental turning point occurring several weeks earlier.

True story:

In first year of university, months before I adopted the inspirational “Drive” as my anthem, I had a number of songs that I at once loved and hated, that spoke to the rawness of my emotions. The line between empty teenage angst and a real mental health issue is a fine one to draw, especially when you’re the 18-year-old going through it.

That school year, having moved to a new city and away from the support of my family and my very close group of high school friends, it is hardly surprising that I found myself drawn to songs about loneliness, from the wistful tones of Keane’s “Everybody’s Changing” (“Try to make a move just to stay in the game/ I try to stay awake and remember my name/ But everybody’s changing and I don’t feel the same”) to the macabre suggestion in Creed’s “One Last Breath” (“Hold me now/ I’m six feet from the edge, and I’m thinking/ Maybe six feet ain’t so far down”).

But if there was one lyric that I loved to hate and hated to love, that became an anthem for me that year, that spoke to all my insecurities in a way that fed my addiction for recognition without reassurance, it was a line that repeated over and over at the end of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Knock Me Down”: “It’s so lonely when you don’t even know me, oh yeah, it’s so lonely.”

For a kid who felt consumed by loneliness, who wondered if he would ever find romantic love, or even if he would ever replace the closeness of the friendships he had in high school, this was nothing less than a drug: “It’s so lonely when you don’t even know me, oh yeah, it’s so lonely.” I listened to that song 20 times, 30, the line repeating again and again.

Then one day I was listening to the song in my dorm room and I thought I noticed something I hadn’t before. I played it again, paying special attention to the lyric. Repeating. Over and over, so that there could be no mistake.

I had the lyric wrong. All of those times I had listened to it, I had gotten it wrong.

It had some significance at the time, certainly. I saw right away what this could mean. But it is only years later, looking back, that I truly recognized it as one of those subtle moments when things started to change. A seed that would ripen into a turning point.

The lyric wasn’t, “It’s so lonely when you don’t even know me, oh yeah.”

It was, “It’s so lonely when you don’t even know yourself.”