Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Alive is the Opposite of Empty

Comments, please; I'm thinking about reading either this one or the next one I'm going to post shortly at the reading on Thursday.

You are listening to “Nessun Dorma” from Puccini’s Turandot over and over again and trying to decide if you are doing it as an artistic gesture, like lighting scented candles that smell like someone’s sweater while trying to forget them, but about a minute into the aria you dismiss this because you remember why you are listening to it. There is an unmistakable purity in the music, and at the same time a thickness that grabs at your sternum and makes you move your arms despite yourself, and when the chorus echoes the theme there are tears on your face, even though you do not cry at songs anymore, not since you made yourself whole, you think, not since you made yourself immutable and secure. But Puccini, that Italian bastard, he’ll get you every time. He’ll make you cry at the climax of a high note that comes from the guts of a singer in a way that empties your whole body—you know what this feels like because you are a singer too—and he’ll make you realize that this is one of those works that makes the musicological “does music evoke or express emotion” question irrelevant because feeling this powerfully is all that matters in the instant of the aria.

It is over now; you cannot listen to it any more without destroying the sanctity of the song; if you overplay it, it will become moot, meaningless, you tell yourself you should only play it when you want to feel your innards ripped out of you, when you want to feel quartered between the horses and poles of your emotions and your mind. But then, what was it that you needed when you decided it would be a good idea to turn it on, to play it over and over again until you were crying out loud each time the chorus in the background conjured images in your mind of spirits of dead lovers, clutching your chest and sobbing at each high C at the end as if you too were vomiting your soul into sound like Pavarotti; what made you feel more alive thinking that if you were to listen to “Nessun Dorma” once more you should perhaps die, your circuits shorting out like a computer trying to process too much information? There is nothing that needs to be forgotten; you have come to peace with all the pain in your past at least for now, there is no lingering agony from that too-long lost love and once Christmas is over you will once again be happily nestled in the arms of someone who actually loves you back, and so it is somewhat strange to you for a few moments that it should be necessary to undergo this sort of cathartic emotional explosion, that you have this unyielding compulsion to make yourself cry over and over again, because who in their right mind would separate themselves from their happy thoughts of the present to become immersed in some sort of empathetic agony brought on by the works of a musical genius?

And then you think of Kat, who you no longer understand, who is happy to just barely scrape by on existence and seems to have no source of joy in her life, but that is all right; she doesn’t need to feel anything, as long as she can still go to work each morning and eat dinner each night and have a reasonably normal life with nothing of interest, nothing to disturb the way that things run every day, she is all right, and you feel like a horrible person sometimes because you have stopped feeling sorry for her every time she calls you to tell you about how her father is going to stop sending her money because she isn’t doing anything with her life, because it is true. You are listening to “Nessun Dorma” over and over again so that your life can do something with itself, so that you can remember what it’s like to feel so many emotions at once you can’t distinguish between them anymore, because when your father calls you up and asks you for the fiftieth time, “aren’t you lonely?” you can say no, because in your mind nothing deserves the implications of the word “lonely” except an existence in which you aren’t sure whether you even have emotions anymore, because while you know you still have them to keep you company, when you know that anytime you listen to something written by a composer who understands what humans feel, anytime you read something by a writer who has the same set of needs and desires that the rest of us do, you will have resurrected in your mind something non-material that can transcend physical loneliness, and then you will never be without hope.