Poignant is the word that comes to mind. Perhaps in stark contrast to my listening to My Chemical Romance, I’ve also been listening to the latest albums by artists such as Bruce Springsteen (Letter to You) and Meat Loaf (Braver Than We Are). And Leonard Cohen (Thanks for the Dance). In the last case the album was so late as to be posthumous. Before that I spend quite a bit of time with David Bowie’s Blackstar. These albums are, at least in part, about growing older and dying. Now death is nothing new to rock-n-roll, but it seems as if as some of my favorites age they’re sending a message out from the autumn of their careers. We may still be here, but we won’t be forever.
I’ve never really been afraid of dying. In fact, as a kid I often imagined myself as an older man with some anticipation. Now that I’m approaching that threshold of elderhood the view is just a touch different than it was to a small boy with a lifetime in front of him. Leonard Cohen, at least, was dealing with aging as early as Various Positions, the album where he gave the world “Hallelujah.” And Springsteen has toyed with it in various places, such as Devils & Dust. What I’m hearing in these songs, however, is a kind of acceptance that isn’t really fearful at all. It’s as if rock suddenly matured. So many of the original pioneers died young and tragically, and those who survived have been calling to us like ghosts to let us spend our worn-out days in peace.
Perhaps it’s just that it’s November. Light is becoming a rare commodity, and it will remain in short supply until around the middle of March or so. Music helps us through the transitions. There are albums that convince me I’m immortal. If I weren’t so tired at the end of the day I might continue to believe that. On a weekend when I had a few free moments I went to a local CD store. Wearing mask and gloves, I could see that only people about my age were there to buy actual discs. We’re not the streaming generation. It gave me some comfort to see the names of bands I’d almost forgotten. These artists, of course, will continue to live on after they’re gone. They’ve left us a legacy. We’d be wise to consider their advice from time to time. And take a moment or two to reflect on the coming of December.
Although I love music I rarely have time to listen to it. My work demands concentration and if I have music on I have trouble paying attention to the task before me. I awake early to write, and if I try to listen to music while expressing my thoughts through my fingers I find myself conflicted. I work until supper and the debriefing time that follows work is often fraught—we’re all experiencing frustrations with our new, pandemic reality. By the time supper’s over, I’m ready for sleep and one of the things that can keep me awake is an ear-worm. Awake predawn the next day and repeat. On rare occasions when I have a thoughtless task to complete on my job, I’ll be able to put on some tunes.
Photo credit: Al Aumuller/New York World-Telegram and the Sun, from Wikimedia Commons
When that rare syzygy came the other day I put on MCR, or, for those who like to spell things out (such as me), My Chemical Romance. Every time I listen to MCR I wonder why I don’t do it more. I suppose it’s because I have only two of their albums and I don’t want to wear them out. What struck me as I listened to The Black Parade was how religious language sometimes creeps in, even when the band is secular. This is important because rationalists have long been trying to dismantle religious thinking, falsely associating it with only certain amorphous groups such as “Fundamentalists” or “extremists.” Religion, however, is very much a part of being human. If we deny it, it simply crops up in another form. It may take some time for the new shape to be recognized, but when it is it’ll be called religious.
I often wonder why universities, which are supposed to be such curious places, tend to show so little interest in religion. It’s like that embarrassing uncle at a family gathering—the one everyone else avoids. Still, our political system is run by religious ideology—take a look at the Supreme Court and try to deny it. Our daily life is suffused with it like the air in a room with a scented oil diffuser. Religion is all around us and the academic response tends to be “meh.” I might be less distressed by this lack if it could be demonstrated that people are becoming less religious, but they’re not. MCR doesn’t (in the albums I have) exude religious thoughts often, but they are there. They also appear in other secular music, almost as often as sex and drugs. If only I had more time I might be able to listen for more examples. Right now, however, it is time to get to work.