Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Fan mail can save your life

This came in the mail today at work, in a small green envelope, written in a steady hand in clear print on lined three-ring notebook paper:

Sunday, September 18, 2005

I’ve always loved writing. My words told what my art work couldn’t. I’m 16 now, a junior in high school, still trying to decide what to do with my life. Writing would be my first choice, but I never thought I’d make it, so I kind of gave up on excelling in it. (Don’t get me wrong, that didn’t stop me from writing.) You can’t stop your stream of consciousness.

One day I found your column. “Listening about our generations,” was the name of the article. The best if I have ever seen it! Now, that article among others are tacked up on my bulletin board. The subjects you write about and the way you write about them is what got me reading. Your articles used to be just a part of my Sunday morning routine. Now they’re an inspiration.

Thank you for showing me that I can be whatever I put my heart into.

As you say …

(Name withheld to protect the minor)


And here’s the column she to which she refers:

Sunday, January 16, 2005

“Listening about our generations”

There came a time when he couldn’t find his CDs until he looked for them in his children’s rooms — often Tori Amos and The Cranberries in the girl’s room, Iggy Pop and David Bowie in the boy’s room. His parents never had this problem, the man thought.

But then something shifted with the seasons, and he recognized a special, strange moment of time, a turning of the slow metronome.

Listen to this, the boy said, and put on a CD by a band called The Killers. My friend Laura loaned it to me, the boy said. Listen to this, he said, and put on a CD by a band called The Postal Service.

Can I borrow your Garden State soundtrack, the old man asked? Can I borrow your Keane? Your Cure? Any friends loan you anything else?

Sure, the boy now buys his own Nirvana — a sign of the old man’s influence? — and he listens to Sinatra, though the man wondered if that’s because of his own sometime Sunday mornings playing old big band platters and jazz or if it’s because of school exposures to stage plays and Guys and Dolls.

And he wondered, where does the parent end and the child begin?

On a recent Saturday morning, the boy came back from a garage sale lugging a cassette carrier filled with a hundred 20-year-old tapes. Among them: Eurythmics, Thompson Twins, Talking Heads, Thomas Dolby, Fun Boy Three, Adam Ant, Elvis Costello, more Bowie and Pop, The Motels, Til Tuesday, Cyndi Lauper, Lene Lovich, The Police.

(So much alike, the boy and the man. The man thought he had better warn the boy about that, but knowing himself he figured the boy would not understand.)

This was music of the old man’s day. He had much of it on vinyl. He could tell stories about these albums and times surrounding them.

So he told stories and thought about how music really is the universal language, though everyone speaks it differently. Some recognize it from a distance, and some know it only subliminally. Others may not play, but they speak it straight from the soul. (“I got soul, but I’m not a soldier,” so the song goes.)

That is — music plays some people like an instrument, evokes emotions and memories, informs their lives. It can be so much a part of them that, even if they can’t carry a tune or pluck a string, it’s inseparable from their personalities.

They need music. They relate it to times in their lives. They feel it deep inside where empty places need to be filled. They use it to get through their days and nights. When they can’t talk, at least they can listen. And sometimes they can listen together and begin to understand.

Or at least borrow each other’s CDs.