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The Salieri Complex

After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible…is music. – Aldous Huxley

Music is just so powerful.  I cannot explain it.  How can something so logical and perfectly understandable on paper be transformed into pure emotion and feeling once translated via an instrument?  I shake my head.

That scene.  The one from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”…the one where scientists go to India to record the phenomenon of people chanting and singing the same sequence of notes over and over again.

That scene gave me chills the first time I saw it when I was a kid.  It still does today.  It was just a few notes.  But it evoked a very strong feeling when sung in unison by hundreds of people.

That was a weird example to get at what I’m getting at.  I am tired.  It has not been a good day.  What can I say.

I am not a musician.  I never have been.  I wanted dearly to be able to play an instrument when I was young; the piano or guitar…something.  I learned to play the Recorder in grade school like most other kids at that time.  (Incidentally, I can still play the theme from Star Wars on it).  But I never did become proficient on any instrument.

To me, at that age, I think I wanted desperately to be able to express my feelings and emotions with clarity and beauty, and doing that through music seemed to me the most natural way to do it.

I couldn’t play an instrument to create music so I thought “I’ll be a singer”.  See, often theatre and singing go together.  I wrote songs and tried singing them.  Only, haaaaaa.  I can’t sing.  I suppose I can hold a warbly tune, but only when it is comedic value you’re looking for.

I cannot cry for you, Argentina, but I can probably make you split a gut.

I found other outlets for my burgeoning expressiveness instead; theatre, dancing and writing.  I was moderately successful at these things in that they temporarily fixed my “fix”; the desire to express myself.  These things were such a high for me, but with the highs come the lows.  And during the lows, there was music.

I was so disturbed after watching “Amadeus” for the first time and thought, “Oh boy.  I know I should identify with Mozart here as the protagonist, but I’m thinking it’s really Salieri.  I get him.”

The scene in which Salieri as a very, very old man is recounting his experiences with Mozart in a time long gone by, and Mozart’s unparalleled genius in creating music and the ethereal emotion it evoked, and how he – Salieri – only wanted a small piece of the divinity he believed Mozart possessed in serving as a conduit for such sounds.

Why, God?  Salieri begged to the Heavens…why have you given me this desire but not the ability to communicate it through music?  Why??

Salieri believed it to be a punishment from God himself that he possessed the pure desire to create musical masterpieces but could not, and that Mozart while seeming to care very little for his God-given talent, could.

Salieri felt imprisoned by this desire, wishing for it either to disappear, or, the ability to magically mutate it into musical glory.

He did not receive either wish.

I identified with him very strongly.

Music has defined my life in so many overpowering ways, as it does for many people.

Certain songs take us back to a specific moment in time, a place.  Sense memory through music has proven one million times  more potent to me than that of smell, touch or even sight.   I am not alone.

Haven’t most of us heard a song that puts us instantly back into the arms of a person we loved and lost or even won, to the point where we can truly feel them, smell them, touch them at a very specific point in time?  The examples are endless.

Music is time travel.

Music speaks more clearly, more resoundingly, more universally…than any other form of personal expression known to man.  I state this as fact, not as opinion.  I dare anyone to argue this point with me.

I cannot create music, but throughout most of my life and certainly throughout the last couple of years, I have depended on it heavily to help me express or fully realize what I am feeling or thinking during times of pain or contentment or confusion or joy.

My iPod is like my own personal, little therapist.

I guard my aloneness with swords and arrows and slingshots.  I do not need much of it, but I do need it.  I crave it.  I must have it so as to bring order to chaos.

And when I am alone and my world is out of focus, skewed, wrapped in gauze…I search for sounds.

I was just searching on my iPod for something by Prince, or Bowie, or Gabriel or who knows who.  Searching.  I’m not sure how I do feel or want to feel at the moment, so the search has been difficult.

Sometimes, music picks you.  Sometimes it helps pull you out of the haze, or at least keeps you comfortable while you are in it.  And once you can get past the envy that you could never write something so simple and yet so transcendently beautiful, the fog lifts if only for a little while.

I wish I had a permanent soundtrack following me around; subtle and yet enhancing the backdrop of my life, keeping me company and alerting those around me to my moods and where my heart and head are at.  It would be so helpful.  No explanations needed.  You’d hear the music and just know.

And no one would have to talk to you in order to say “Jeez, she’s such a bitch today.” or “She is super happy!” or “Oh my God she is so SAD.” or “Nice attitude on her.  Whatevs.”  Because you would hear it a mile away.  No need for words.  It would prevent a lot of potentially uncomfortable encounters.

Perhaps Apple will invent one of those personal soundtrack devices some day.  For now, I will have to be content with ear buds and a soundtrack only I can hear.

Sometimes the music just picks you.  It is definitely not Prince, and it’s not Mozart.  But there it is.  I am suppressing my inner Salieri.

Surrendering to my inability to create something so simple and beautiful, while allowing it to take me mercifully to a place without gauze.

Billy Joel knows what I’m talking about.

Put on “repeat”.  Sleep……………………….

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Just Say No. Well…Maybe.

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I’m a sinner.

Despite being a genuinely good person at heart, I’ve certainly sinned during my lifetime.

I am imperfect.

I was at a party my Sophomore year in college.  It was at my roommate’s friends’ house down the street from ours, off-campus in the old Greek Row.  I had been drinking, but wasn’t drunk.  I was most definitely high, though, because my roommate was a stoner musician. I mean she played a wind instrument in the orchestra, not the drums or guitar in a grunge band or something, but still.  And well… I was high.  But not crazy-high.  Just happily buzzed.  The typical mellow, no worries, chilled, isn’t-everything-so-awesome-and-interesting kind of high.  I didn’t really know the people who lived in the party house, but they seemed cool. Nice.  Musicians also.  Artistic.  I was a Theatre major and I loved being around “that scene”.

At some point I wandered off from the group hanging out on the back porch and in the kitchen, and into the living room.  There was the stereo blaring The Ramones.  No one was around.  I stood in front of the speakers looking at the cassette tapes (uh huh, 1988.  Hey, at least they weren’t 8-tracks).  Probably 100 of them.  Without so much as even looking around to see if anyone was watching me, I picked up three of them and put them in my coat pocket.  They were three I wanted but didn’t have.  The only one I still remember was Sting, “The Dream of the Blue Turtles”.

So I put these three tapes in my pocket very nonchalantly and turned and walked over to the couch, sat down by myself, put my head back and listened to the music.  I smiled to myself because I had just stolen these tapes, and I didn’t care.

Now Nancy Reagan would have said it was the pot stealing my soul.  It altered my thought-processes!  It brought out the demons in me!

Nah.  I’d always wondered what it would be like to steal something.  Small, you know.  Not grand-theft auto or bank robbery or anything.  But I had always been a good girl, and I wanted to do something “bad”.  The weed simply lifted the veil of morality that separated me from my inner bad-chick.  And honestly, it kind of felt awesome.

I walked around that party the rest of the night occasionally putting my hand in my coat pocket touching the tapes.  I had a little secret and I liked it.   Plus, they honestly had at least 100 tapes in there, they’d never miss these.  And they’d never in a gazillion years suspect lil ol’ me.

The next morning I woke up not with a hangover so much as a fog.  We didn’t get home til almost 4 am, and I woke up around 7:30 and I was just…tiiiiirrrrreeeeeddddddd.  I sat up in my bed, reached for the litre of Pepsi next to my bed (you know, dry mouth from all the reefer) and guzzled half of it without breathing.

It was FREEZING.  I think it was February.  My room was in the back of the house, and it was basically an enclosed porch.  I’m almost positive there was no insulation of any kind in that room.  It slanted significantly downward and to the right toward the back, with some paneling semi-nailed into some 2 X 4’s comprising a closet and old, dingy dark brown carpeting covering the floor.  I loved it.

My coat was laying at the end of my bed.  I reached over and put it on, got up to go to the bathroom, grabbed a piece of plain white bread from the kitchen and shoved it into my mouth (pathetic excuse for delayed-munchies junk food) and got back into my bed under the covers shaking violently.  I put my right hand in my right coat pocket and felt something hard.

My eyes opened real wide, and I pulled out the tapes.  What the…what???

Uh oh.  It all came back to me.  I was a thief.  There was Sting in all his tantric glory.

Oh. Boy.

I didn’t feel guilt right away.  I felt confused.  I remembered taking the tapes while being of “sound mind”.  I knew it was wrong when I did it, but I did it anyway.  I made a conscious, if not slightly altered, decision to steal them from my friend’s friend.  Yep.  I sure did.  I put them under my bed and put my hand back under the covers until I stopped shaking and started to fall asleep, I’m pretty sure with a slight smile on my face.

The next day was Sunday.  Me and my roommate went out for lunch.  We got back to our house and watched some TV.  Laid around.  Studied some.  Just a lazy day.  At some point mid-afternoon, she got a phone call.  She went into her room to take it and I went back to my room to find a book.

When I came back out she said, “That was Mike.  He’s so pissed off.  He’s calling everyone to find out who stole his shit.  Give me a break”.

Oh boy.

“What shit?” I asked.

“I don’t know, some tapes.  He’s so uptight.” she said shaking her head.

And I just shrugged my shoulders and sat down.

We both had our feet up on the Salvation Army coffee table, on top of the “Juggs” magazines we kept there as a conversation piece.  (Four girls lived in our house, all of us artists in some form or another, and we thought it was hilarious that we had four copies of “Juggs” as our coffee-table books.  Very weird, yet still damn funny to me).  And it hit me.  Um, I had done something bad.  And now I was feeling bad.  I had to return them.

But how??

“You know what?”, I said as if I had just remembered something, “…wait a minute”.  And I got up and ran to my room.  I reached under my bed and put the tapes back into my coat pocket.  I went back into the living room with my coat and reached into my pocket in front of her.

“Some guy at the party asked me if I wanted some tapes, and I obviously said okay, because I found these in my pocket yesterday and forgot about them”.

“Whoa!” she laughed, “Seriously?  Some guy at the party gave those to you?”

“Yeah, really.  Some guy sat down next to me and asked if I wanted them, and I said uh, okay, and he gave them to me.”

“Holy shit!  I have to call Mike!”

“Yeah”, I said, “I have no idea who he was, I just thought he lived there and was flirting or something and gave them to me.  And then I forgot about them.  He was pretty wasted.  But yeah, they’re obviously Mike’s.  So tell him I have them and I can bring them over to him.  Tell him I’m sorry, but I had no idea they weren’t that guy’s”.

Oh my God.  I was making so much shit up on the fly…and I was freaking out.  But I was an Acting major, so I tried very hard to utilize my training to cover my very-guilty-sorry-thieving-ass.

She called Mike.  She came out of her room and her face looked surprised and she said, “Wow, he’s pissed and he’s coming over here right now!”

“What?!  Pissed why??” I innocently asked.

“He thinks you stole them!” she gleefully yelled.

“What?!  Oh please.  Why the hell would I steal those?  I have a ton of my own tapes.  And I wouldn’t do that!”

“I know!  I told him that but he doesn’t believe me!”

Oh. My. God.  Now this guy who I didn’t know at all was coming over to what…beat me up for stealing his tapes?!

He only lived around the corner and within a couple of minutes he was knocking on the door.  I was cool.  Very nonplussed.  On the outside.

The tapes were sitting on the coffee table on top of the April issue of “Juggs”.  I thought if he saw them there he might be distracted from wanting to kill me.

He came in and said directly to me, “What the hell, man?  Why did you steal my tapes?”

“Hey, I didn’t steal them.  Some guy gave them to me and I was pretty stoned so I didn’t think much of it and forgot about them until you called here.  So here they are, sorry.”  I ushered his gaze toward the Juggs with all the zeal of one of The Price is Right showcase girls.

“Well this is only two of them.  Where’s the other one!?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.  I don’t have another one.  These two are the only ones he gave me”.

“Bullshit.  Where’s the other one?”  He was kind of menacing now. And it pissed me off.

“Hey, look.  He gave me two and these are them.”

“What did this mystery asshole look like?” he asked sarcastically.

I thought very quickly and decided giving him the “bushy-haired stranger” description would be too obvious a lie, and at lightning speed I ran through the guys who I remembered being there so I wouldn’t describe any of them.

“I hardly remember.  He was blonde.  That’s about all I remember.”  That description fit roughly 85% of the guys there that night so I felt sure I wasn’t pinning this on anyone in particular.

“Whatever, man.  Not cool!”  And he grabbed the tapes and left.

My roommate stood by the door with her mouth open and said, “What an asshole!  He’s always been asshole, man…I’ve never liked him.  Ugh.”  She came and sat back down next to me.

I was completely and totally freaked out.  I’d never stolen anything before in my life and I was wracked with guilt.  He knew I was lying.  It was good to hear that Mike was not highly thought of, that kind of lessened the guilt, but not by much.

My roommate completely believed me, because she knew I wouldn’t steal stuff.  That is what made me feel instantly horrible.  We laughed about it, all the while I was feeling bad on the inside.  My parents had raised me better, and I was a very good girl.

I went to my room soon after to take a nap.  I sat on my bed, reached under my mattress and pulled out…Sting.

So here was this crazy guy coming over to a girl’s house to accuse her of stealing his stuff, a guy who wasn’t digging “Juggs” (what’s up with THAT?) and…knew I was lying.

Still, I kept Sting.  What was wrong with me?  Had I turned to a life of hard-core crime?  Was MaryJane really the gateway drug Nancy had been preaching against all these years?

WHY had I kept Mr. Sumner’s tape?

You know what, to this day I’m not sure.  Except maybe at the time I was thinking, “Hey, if I’m going to get caught I don’t want it all to be in vain.  He can’t prove I did it…”

And maybe because a little part of me still wanted to feel “bad”.  A little rebellious.  A little ballsy.  Push the envelope a little.  I laugh to myself as I write this…yeah, a REAL little.  What a bad-ass.  Are you rolling your eyes along with me?

I still have “The Dream of the Blue Turtles” in a tub in my basement.

I’d never stolen anything before that night, and I never have since.  Well, not long ago I walked out of the gym with one of their towels.  I had simply forgotten to throw it in the bin when I was done and had left with it absent-mindedly.  I brought it back the next day – after washing and folding it.

I heard the song “Russians” on the radio the other day, and here I am telling the tale of my inner-outlaw.

I don’t feel guilty about it anymore.  I’ve done a lot of other worse, though not intentional, things in my life.

It was just one of those things that I did…maybe as proof to myself that I could take a risk and get away with it.  It was stupid and not right.  It was wrong.

But…is it bad that I don’t really regret keeping it?

Eh. I blame the weed.

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