This essay is about coincidences, relationships, love, death, expression, creativity, and the profound role that music can play in our lives.
I’ve been through the wringer this week. I don’t quite know what to do with it all, so I am going to write about it here. This post has nothing to do with social media or marketing, but everything to do with music.
On Tuesday, I found out that someone I had once loved deeply had suddenly died. Wednesday, I attended his memorial, burial and reception. Twelve years after we ended our romantic relationship, I was embraced again by his family and close friends. As I write this, it is Saturday, and I have been struck bolt awake every morning since, the knife edge of sudden, painful realization again in my chest. People around me are mystified by my devastation. How could I be so profoundly affected by a relationship long ago resolved and, so I thought, put to rest?
He left a wife of ten years and two little children. At 38, his death took everyone by surprise. It wasn’t just me, even close friends and family were stunned. He was so well loved and respected. Several hundred people attended the service, with only a few days’ notice over the long holiday weekend. He and I had not seen each other in almost three years, and I would never even have known he had passed away if a mutual business acquaintance had not emailed me the news.
One conclusion I have reached is that for me, music is the only thing that truly gives expression to thoughts and feelings that are simply unbearable. But for that gift, the gift of being able to write and listen to music, I would not be here myself.
In the five long days since I heard the news of his death, I have moved through so many emotions it is difficult to catalogue them. I have cried, I have raged, and I have rationalized. One conclusion I reached, however, is that for me, music is the only thing that truly gives expression to thoughts and feelings that are simply unbearable. But for that gift, the gift of being able to write and listen to music, I would not be here myself. Struck silent in a world in which I often feel the trespasser, I sometimes feel surrounded by only people who speak a different language. The sharp pain of my own silence on matters of the heart too much to bear, I would have fallen many times over into the abyss of unspeakable pain, but for music. It is my mother tongue.
I don’t know the nature of such a tremendous pain that could drive someone to the ultimate act of self-destruction. I just know he could not articulate it to anyone in that crowd of grieving friends and family. No one I talked to could understand why he had taken his life. Or if they could, they weren’t talking. A man creative and persistent enough to have patented a technical computing solution while still in his early twenties could not find another way to solve the problems inside his own head – or heart. Or, perhaps he decided to experiment empirically with the metaphysical questions of life and death. I don’t know.
All I know is that there is a song I had begun listening to three weeks ago, before I had even heard of his death. It’s an older song, written by an Italian singer and European rock star named Zucchero. I don’t know why, but it had popped into my head and stayed there. I hunted it down on iTunes, having long ago stashed the original CD in some closet. My old friend and love had given me that CD thirteen years ago, and there was one song, Menta e Rosmarino, that was my favorite. It was his way of singing me love songs with another man’s voice, I think. For some reason, I took to listening to this old song in the car, over and over, nostalgia and melancholy filling me. I knew I should stop, but I couldn’t. The lyrics to Menta e Rosmarino are about a relationship gone wrong, about making emotional decisions, about love unrequited. For copyright reasons I cannot reprint the English lyrics here, but you can look them up.
I never thought to call my old love. My nostalgia was not something to share. He was married. I am in a committed relationship. We lived in different worlds. Although only miles from each other, our distance had been measured repeatedly and seemed permanent. The song remained so persistently with me, however, that, finally, at the suggestion of an acquaintance, I decided to try and cover it – to sing it myself. I embarked on that task, unaware that somewhere else, his drama was unfolding and would end in an act so sad and lonely I could not imagine it, an act hinted at in the lyrics of that very song.
The incredible thing is this all happened just before I heard the news of his death. It was eerie. Although we had not spoken in a few years, he was alive when I began working on my cover version of Menta e Rosmarino. He was gone the Friday right before I finished recording my final vocals in the studio on Saturday. I knew nothing of this coincidence at the time. I only heard of his death the Tuesday following, and we buried him on Wednesday. It was almost as if he had been calling to me those past few weeks, bringing this song to me, and I didn’t realize what it meant until it was all too late. Perhaps it was coincidence, but very unnerving nonetheless.
My cover of Menta e Rosmarino is now both solace and expression for me. It is an inexplicable, unspoken message from someone I loved, through a medium we had once shared, music. It is inextricably stamped with the twin wax seals of love and death. It is an act of creation from an act of destruction. It is, more than anything else, the articulation of profound emotions that I cannot otherwise express.
Update and Postscript, October 2013 – Over the past year, I have been inspired to write several original songs related to my friend’s death. They have come, one after the other, from a place deep inside me. Some have been finished recorded and released, some not. The one I like most is the one I wrote first, in the week after his death, called Creation. This song embodies my desire to put life into a larger perspective, and to give his death some meaning. I have also become close to my friend’s mother since his death, even though we were not close in the past. As a mother of three children, I cannot fathom the pain of losing a child by his own hand. I was honored to be able to perform Creation live for her this summer. Although I know that there is little that can mend the broken heart of a grieving mother, it was an effort on my part to both rationalize and comfort. It is one way I can honor and perpetuate the memory of someone gone far too soon.
Lyrics by Solveig Whittle. Music by Solveig Whittle and Stevie Adamek
The dawn is breaking
My world has changed beyond belief
Tears arrive with waking
The path to joy lies within the grief
We cannot turn the hand of fate
We cannot bend the arc of time
We are just the instrument
The newest form is waiting
Stone and chisel, greeting
The violence of meeting
Like those who came before
We believe we change the world
Creating love and war
With head and heart and fingers curled
But, for just one moment
You and I fall through this open door
Our time is only meant
To teach us how to search for more