Sunday, September 30, 2007

Let the Healing Begin

I'm only now able to talk about it. Therapists recommend that we share our feelings and experiences to speed the recovery process, but I needed to wait until the flashbacks had settled down a bit.

It was afternoon, the Columbus Circle subway station. He was playing one of those instruments I associate with Chinese Opera, you know, one of those stringed instruments that always sounds like a singing adenoidal cat. Actually it often sounds like someone is just SQUEEZING an adenoidal cat. There are lots of instruments than can have this sort of nasally sound, saxophones, bagpipes, oboes, clarinets, Middle Eastern music often uses some kind of nasal woodwind, hell there even some singing styles that have this quality, and you know what, often I even LIKE this sound. The uilean pipes (the bagpipe's little brother) in Irish music is often a lovely form of cat squeezing (strumming, whatever); I love the Bulgarian Women's Ensembles, and those ladies do a lot of their singing through their noses, sounding sometimes like really resonant kazoos, seriously, I even enjoy this particular Chinese Opera instrument from time to time, especially since it is the only stringed instrument (as opposed to woodwind) that is nasal on purpose, honestly, I can enjoy this sound... but it is a tricky and delicate balance. Oh so very delicate.

This guy, the one playing in Columbus circle, have to tell ya, not hitting that balance so well. But it gets worse. Like many subway buskers, he was playing along to a prerecorded song. Most of the time the recording is just the backing music, or the orchestration, and the live instrument then plays the melody over top. Not this guy. He's playing the melody, so is the recording. The prerecorded instrument is probably a synthesizer, so all the rough edges, all the corners and pointy bits of the notes have been filed away, which is a sound that sometimes works for me (hello Eurythmics) and sometimes not (god, stop with the Bossa Nova). To be fair, this time it wasn't so bad, except it was emphasizing the serious sinus trouble this particular cat had as he was squeezed, but more importantly it also highlighted in GLARING detail all the times the performer was flat. And he was flat a lot. Quite a lot. Oh so many, many times. Not all the time, mind you, which I think would have almost been easier to handle. No, he'd go along just fine for a few phrases, lulling us all into a false sense of hope, then on a particularly soaring, fortissimo note he'd squeeze that poor suffering cat extra hard, shooting for that note... and just not quite make it.

But the horror doesn't stop there. You see, I haven't told you what SONG he was playing. And you know it. We ALL know it. This guy, this no doubt pleasant, fine human being, with all sorts of responsibilites, relationships, dreams and desires, this guy squeezing his adenoidal cat with passion and vigor if not with so much talent, this guy was playing, wait for it...

The Love Theme from the Titanic.

Yup, Celine Dion, I will Go On, and does she ever. Are you getting the full picture here? While I'm listening to the flat nasal cat squeezing and the prerecorded synthesizer, this weird obsessive part of my brain, one of the parts that seems not to like me very much, is playing the tape of ole Leather Lungs Dion wailing away, pounding her chest, pouring her very being into this horrible horrible song.

I debate finding some sharp implement with which to puncture my eardrums. I even consider asking this guy if I can borrow his bow to do it with, but I realize that while this might stop the sound of him and his synthesizer and his cat, it won't do a thing about Celine. Nope, she's in my head, singing away, and what's more, she's going to be in there FOR THE REST OF THE DAY.

So I pull out the songs I use when faced with this dilemma. I sing quietly to myself. I sing Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Kate Bush, Prince, Sting, Peter Gabriel, random TV theme songs I'd forgotten I knew ('Davey, DAvey Crockett/king of the wild frontier'), I am so distraught I even sing another song I LOATHE and routinely get stuck in my head, in the hopes that its staying power will prove stronger:

Her name was Lola
She was a showgirl
with yellow feathers in hair
and a dress cut down to there
.....across a crowded floor
his name was Guido (is it Guido? I think that's right, boy, Barry was really playing some stereotypes here, huh.)
........... he called her Rover
at the COPA
Copa CaBANa

Nope, not even this is working, and I really really hate this song. So I pull out the big guns, my last ditch effort, the one I try not to use too often for fear of diluting its awesome power:

Meow meow meow meow
Meow meow meow meow
Meow meow meow meow
MEOW meow meow meow
MEOW meow meou meow
meow meow meow meow
MEOW meow meow meow

Still nothin', ole Leather Lungs is still wailing away, I'm mercifully spared the lyrics, but that is small consolation, the cat is still screaming through its congested nose, hitting flat on at least 40 percent of the notes...

Then my train came. Sweet merciful heaven. But as I feared, Celine was with me for the rest of the day, and at least half of the next one.

So. I'm still recovering. Even just writing this entry has set Celine off again, though fortunately today the Purina Cat Chow song is proving stronger. Oh, beloved Cat Chow song, thank you for your mind-erasing power. I'm still a pretty shaky though. I may be asking for your help over the next few months. I'm not sure what I'll be needing. Backrubs are always welcome. Chocolate is never a bad idea. Taking me for little walks to rebuild my stamina well help too. Anyone thinking aversion therapy is the way to go should think twice about coming over. Just to warn ya.

It wasn't easy, but I'm glad I was able to tell this story. If I can spare another person this trauma, then it was all worth it.


Unknown said...

Sometimes I'm really glad I spent so much of my youth wrapped in classical music. I am a huge fan of blocking out awful music by singing "Ode to Joy" or some such in my head. With all the instrumentaion too. Nothing can compete with a 80 piece symphony in your head.

I looked up Copa by the way, (I hate that song, why did I look it up?) His name was not Guido, it was Rico, see, huge difference. Oh, and I don't think he mentions calling her Rover at all. I'm just gonna give you that one and assume a vesion of Celine snuck in your brain and threw you off.

Jeff said...

The irony of this entry, Patrick, is that now we all have Leather Lungs crammed in our frontal lobes (the part of the brain responsible for suicidal tendencies). It's funny, too, that the show out here in Scranton has developed a theme around the Titanic sinking. Oh, our improvisation WILL go on...

My favorite for mind-wiping:
Manuhmanuh (sp?)

Anonymous said...

I think I may have told you this already, but before she married my brother, Denise used to tell anyone who asked her what their song was going to be, "Love Theme from Titanic. With dialogue." She said it with a complete straight face, and almost everyone believed her. Including me, momentarily at least. That was when I knew I liked her.

Cooper said...

You guys can keep Celine down there. We Canucks are magnanimous like that. We WILL (bravely) go on without her. You're welcome.

Patrick said...

Davey, Barry may not have MEANT to sing "he called her Rover" but I swear to god he does. In the Midnight Oil Song "Blue Sky Mining" the lead singer sings "whose gonna shave me" at least half the time (it's the start of the chorus) which is especially amusing because he has that weird condition where he has no hair anywhere on his body (also no eyelashes), so maybe he's joking. I swear to GOD he sings it. Go listen to it.

My friend Dan had his voicemail message say "Leave your name and number and I'll call back when I'm Mable." When I heard it, I started off on a revery about how I didn't know he was changing genders, or maybe he just cross-dresses, and when he's Mable he returns phone calls because she's like his secretary or something, and I wanted to know why I had never met Mable, since he and lived together for about nine months, and had done three plays together - and then his voicemail cut me off before I could leave my actual message.

Dan changed his outgoing message. I don't think I was the only one who wanted to meet Mable.

'Ode to Joy' is a good one. I grew up immersed in classical music as well, but it was mostly instrumental. I need words when I have a song stuck in my head, because it almost always has lyrics. I don't like opera, so it's good to be reminded of a classical piece with singers that I actually like.

Jeff, 'Manuh Manuh' is a good one. Also the Cookie Monster theme song, 'C is for Cookie'.

Brian, I'd forgotten that story about Denise, but it makes me love her more too.

Cooper, you're such a giver, but really, we just couldn't, it's too much. Really too much. Really. Actually I'm largely indifferent to Celine Dion, I just really really hate that song.

Joe Jubinville said...

You poor devil - at least you haven't been infected with the worst ear-worm in the world... I'll spare you from citing it, but it is sung by a purple dinosaur and starts "I love you, you love me..." Oops.

I was on the IRT years ago and this guy comes through one of the connecting doors with a saxophone. Which he immediately starts to riff with scarcely musical squawks and bleats. Finally one old lady has had enough. "Cut out that racket!" she yells. The 'musician' says "Then pay me something!" and starts to squawk again. The old lady covers her ears as the guy makes his way slowly down the car. There is something sweetly deranged about the guy and the novelty of his musical protection racket, and he does manage gather a few donations before disappearing in the rattle and roar between cars. The passengers in the next car can be seen looking up with various looks of chagrin on their faces.

Patrick said...

Such a quintessential New York story; I agree, you have to admire that kind of initiative. Or chutzpah. I've been on a train when a guy started blowing his unmuted trumpet; that's not an environment where woodwinds or brass of any kind is really a great idea. But obviously that was the point for the guy you saw.

I bet memories like that make you appreciate your beach all the more.

I somehow managed to miss the Barney phenomenon; when he was big, I didn't have any kids in my life, I guess. So the song isn't strongly enough planted in my brain to do much harm. It did put me in mind of Mr. Roger's theme song, but that's a minor irritation for me, just an aural rash rather than a full-on brain torment requiring gouging out my ears. But thanks for sharing.