Two days ago, I got on the bus, popped those little plastic iPod buds in my ears, and went into another world for twenty minutes between Hoboken and Manhattan. I’d already been up since 5:30, grazing the various sites and online news outlets. (I read my newspapers at the office, over mind-blowing, too-strong coffee.) Nothing was very nice. The weekend had been a horror at worst (Norway) and a humiliation at best (America’s political process.) There were other bleak events — the not-surprising passing of Amy Winehouse … the thousands of mostly black and Hispanic people who marched against gay marriage in New York … various violent acts from all over the country. Let’s just keep telling ourselves guns don’t kill, shall we?
I needed respite. I needed music.
I’ve always loved music. Loved and cherished my vinyl and when that went away — though I fought the concept —I gave into CD’s and bought hundreds of those slim discs. (I do still have a great deal of my cherished vinyl. And a turntable, which I use, thank you very much!)
But even when I had a Walkman or a CD player, music was something I appreciated mostly at home, alone in my room. There I could dance, muse romantically, or be pulled into some thrilling other world of overpowering “my-life-is-over-my-man-is-gone” crescendos, witty Broadway ditties or mindless pop music. All of it was always there in my head — melodies, words, the beat. I always played music.
And then, the music kind of died. About eleven years ago I went through hell and back — for me. (It’s not like I work in a Chilean mine.) And here I’d thought I’d already been there, having beaten back AIDS. But no, this fresh hell involved my work, my employer, a friend who betrayed me, and a messy resignation. In time — though I felt as if I’d lost at least two limbs in the process — I returned to my old job. But I’d failed. I hadn’t taken advantage of my opportunities. I’d allowed fear and lack of self-esteem to rule me. I was back doing what I did, but as a shadow. And now … I was becoming truly middle-aged. My options narrowed every day.
For several years I simply didn’t play music. My records languished. My CD collection did not grow. But my darkness did.
Finally, my best friend gave me a present. An iPod.
“It’s an iPod. You know what they are?”
“Uh, yeah. Sure. But, what can I do with it? I don’t know how to do these things! What it is about? I can’t put music on this. I don’t understand this stuff. It’s so complicated!!” (Please note, I have yet to thank my friend for spending a couple of hundred bucks on me.)
“Wow, it is so easy. I promise you. You’ll love it.”
“Go home and speak to B. He’ll know.”
I went home that night, clutching my new little toy. That I didn’t want.
“Look!” I said. “Look what I have.” B. was enthusiastic. “Oh, how great. I think you’ll love it.”
“No, no!” I said, holding it out like Macbeth looking at his bloodstained hands. “I can’t understand. I don’t know how to do it. I’m hopeless with this kind of stuff.” I was pretty determined not to happy about anything, as you can see.
B., who has the patience of Penelope, took my iPod and said — in tones that brooked no objection — “let’s go upstairs to your room.” I trudged behind him as if he’d said, ‘We’re knotting the rope now, any last wishes?”
“Sit down at your computer.”
“Now, press that button.”
I did. Out popped a tray.
“Choose a CD.”
“Ummm … Judy?”
“If you must — just give it to me now.”
I chose Judy’s 1957 Capitol album, “Alone.”
“Okay,” said B. “Watch me.” He placed the CD in the tray. Pressed the button to close it. Did some stuff — and suddenly it said ITunes and there were tracks for the album up on my computer screen. He had attached my iPod to the computer.
“Now, see where is says ‘import CD,’ just click on that.”
I did and little swirly things happened on each track and then it made a loud “ding!” sound when it was over.
“So, here’s what you have,” said B. “This album is now on your iPod. You can play it anytime. And it is on your computer, too. You can play music right from your computer. And you can edit each CD to only take the tracks you want. Also, you can create your own playlists, too. All dance, all Madonna, all tragic songs.”
“Honest, wOw, I wouldn’t kid you. You think you got it down?”
“I’m sure you do,” said B. beating a hasty retreat. He left me alone for less than an hour. Then he popped his head in. “How are you doing?”
“Okay. I put a few more songs on my iPod” (notice, now it’s “my” iPod.)
“Really? How many?”
B., who met me when I was 17 and has lived with me since I was 24, did not look surprised. He knows me well.
So that’s how it began. The very next day I was listening to music on the bus, on the subway, at lunch over my margaritas. Suddenly, my iPod was a cherished possession and had seemed to restore me in some vital way. Oh, I was still attempting talk therapy and juggling anti-depressants. But just listening to the soundtrack of “Kiss me Kate” on the morning commute did me more good than any pills I’d tried.
I’ve been through two more iPods since then. I’ve packed 2,570 songs onto the poor little thing. Alphabetically, the artists begin with The Ad Libs (“The Boy From New York City”) and ends with The Zombies (“Time of the Season.’)
In between I’ve got everything from Marianne Faithful to The Beatles to Sarah Vaughn to Pink to Marvin Gaye. The Billie Holiday selections alone could fill my modest first iPod.
And, though nobody who knows me would say, “You’ve become your old self again,” I’m not quite the drudge of depression I was during my music-free years.
Life is still hard. I still worry my mistakes. I still feel guilty for being depressed at all, given the good things I’ve got. (It’s not a hard life, but I can make it grueling.) But, I tell you, my sisters and brothers, getting music back in my head has made me more recognizably human, to myself and to others.
I don’t have a cell phone. I’m not on Facebook. I don’t Tweet. And I don’t care. Just don’t mess with my iPod.
And to my wonderful best friend who thought an iPod was just what I needed … thank you, honey. You were right. I love you. (Hmmm … waited long enough for that, didn’t you?)