What Music Speaks

A column about music, part one: Why Music Speaks

" Because it’s buoyed me from birth. Because it is a soothing, new skin inside my mother’s hum. Because my record player with the clown under the lid stared back at me while the shiny black spun. Because I could close my bedroom door and hide with it, in it. Because my mom blasted Streisand, Queen, Manilow and Loggins, filling the house with something other than my parents’ silence. Because my elementary school friend, Chrissy, loved Journey with a fervor I’d never seen in all of my ten years. Because I wanted to love something as much as she did, I decided to love them too. Because we all loved Shaun Cassidy, Donny Osmond; Teen Beat posters on bedroom walls. Because Kool and the Gang wanted me to celebrate good times. Because my best friend Debbie and I made a dance routine to “Boogie Fever” to perform on The Gong Show. Because Debbie’s brother Lenny chased us around her backyard with a baseball bat screaming the lyrics to “Hell’s Bells.” Because our elementary school girl-gang roller-skated down the street singing, “We are the skating queens,” to the tune of “We Are Family.” Because my big brother’s gigantic headphones with the spiraled black cord that, when plugged into his stereo, stopped Van Halen’s thunder in a hot slice, blocked out the sound of my mother shouting for him to turn it down. Because I sang, “You Light Up My Life” at summer camp and a counselor said I had a pretty voice. Because I memorized “Rapper’s Delight” at eleven years old and decades later can still bust it out. Because my mom sang every song on the radio, even in front of my friends, even while I begged her to please stop, “STOP! MOM!” Because the screaming of a murdered woman at a minute twenty-five in “Love Rollercoaster.” Because child Phil Collins witnessed a drowning and wrote, “In the Air Tonight,” performing it for the perpetrator. Because “I buried Paul” at the end of “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Because when “wait ’til your dad gets home” happened and the yelling got bad, the volume went up. Because James Taylor’s “Handy Man” was playing when I was nine and he was seventeen and I was too scared to stop him. Because my first boyfriend was a Filipino Michael Jackson hired by my mother to give us breakdancing lessons. Because I became part of his breakdancing crew. Because beatboxes on shoulders, cardboard, pop-locking, knee rocking and uprocking on the streets of San Francisco while crowds gathered and for a moment I could be something more than nothing. Because the love-labor of making the perfect mixtape would create a portable joy, marked with ballpoint pen, slipped alongside beautiful brethren in a hard, plastic case. Because Ronnie James Dio’s, “Holy Diver” while high in the backseat of my girlfriend’s boyfriend’s Camaro, going 80 miles an hour, the night blurring while I didn’t care about anyone or anything. Because “Girlfriend In A Coma” was playing when I almost got into a head-on collision. Because cassette tapes happened and I mourned the loss of my albums, my record player. Because CDs happened and I mourned the loss of my cassette tapes, my boombox with the dual cassette decks. Because MP3s happened and I mourned the loss of my CDs, my Sony Walkman. Because the iPod was a handful of music; a miracle mixtape. Because streaming brings every music ever made. Because when I had kids, I­ — like my mother — blasted Queen, adding Led Zeppelin, the Stones and Van Halen and so many others. Because they needed to know these things, for their souls. Because they needed to know what came before them, what came before me, what came before all of us. Because I sang and they too begged me to stop. Because it infiltrates. Because it lifts. Because it saves. “Where words fail, music speaks.” — Hans Christian Andersen I am here to fail."