I don't mind being the one hundred billionth person to write about the power of music to transport you to another time or place. Good food can do it, like my previous rant about my grandmother's devil's food cake; how easy it is to conjure the red carpet, apricot trees and apothecary jars of 1552 Jacob Ave. exactly how it was only in my childhood? Or in Ratatouille, when Anton Ego takes a bite of exquisitely sliced eggplant and tomatoes, and is immediately a skinny boy with huge eyes in his mother's kitchen (when we saw this in the theatres, the kid sitting behind us whispered, "I feel like that sometimes"). So it is with music. Here are two examples at the forefront of my mind right now:
Bullet with Butterfly Wings, Smashing Pumpkins:
Backstage in Vanguard Theatre, in the Fine Arts building, in college. I'm on my hands and knees, painting a canvas backdrop that will be the focus image of the stage design for Working, a musical we're putting on, I'm guessing Spring of 1997. Is that right? I can't remember. Doug Cook, my good friend and theatre teacher (and freshman orientation advisor), comes into the backstage area through the door near my boss Tim's office. Doug is wearing his full-length gray Dickie's jumpsuit that he keeps in his office to put over his teacher clothes when there is painting to be done. He is singing, at the top of his lungs, "DESPITE ALL MY RAGE I AM STILL JUST A RAT IN A CAGE!!!" and the sound is echoing through the catwalk and proscenium.
Let's Get It On, Marvin Gaye:
Summer 2002, Dunn School, Los Olivos, California. It's Jansen Family Reunion week, and we're all bunked up on the campus of my Mom's school, having pool parties, making videos, getting on each other's nerves. For the first time since before things like this mattered, I am single. This puts me in the unenviable position of having to sleep on the couch in the living room of the house we have borrowed, while my sisters (and their boyfriends) occupy the guest room and master suite. Four or five of my male cousins sleep on the floor around the couch. This summer, their favorite thing to do is record the sound of their farts into Simon's computer. And also to clog up toilets by not flushing them for several days. My plumber uncles are not amused by this. These boys, however, find pretty much anything brown to be the height of hilarity.
Friday, the night before everyone has to leave, we have an impromptu dance party at Mark and Amy's house. It probably wasn't officially impromptu, Amy and I have the annoying habit of trying to PLAN things like spontaneous dance parties, but this one balmy night in August, it works. The less fleet-footed members of the family are outside, admiring the waning crescent moon through a telescope, while the rest of us are hoofing it in the living room to disco and r & b classics. This is the family that I grew up with, my mother's brothers and their wives and kids. My little grandmother is parked on the couch, clapping along with the music and cooing over particularly athletic feats of footwork. This is the last time I remember recognizing her when I looked at her face. The boys want to participate in the revelry but don't want to be caught doing anything as gay (the opposite of brown) as dance with the grownups, so they are just zooming around the house, sliding on the hardwoods in their socks. Beau ignores my beckoning, but Simon is willing to step up and boogie with me, and Brandon is, instead of dancing, posing in familiar bodybuilder stances. I put on Let's Get It On, the Jack Black version from High Fidelity, and my mom and my Uncle John take this one very seriously. He's flinging her around and dancing in swerving circles and Mom has her arms in the air and is swaying her hips. In one particularly inspired move, she reaches up and unpins her hair, and swings her head with a flourish, and Uncle John steps back as if he's lost his breath. I am envious of their friendship; every year she and I make great strides towards dissolving the structures of traditional mother-daughter confinements, but I don't know if she'll ever be, around me, the way she is so easy with her brothers. Aunt Paula is dancing with Brandon, and Amy and I are in the middle of the room, twirling each other under each arm like ballerinas.
Later that evening, I'm riding my mom's bicycle. It has been years since I've been on a bike, and just like the cliche, I'm suprised by how easily the motions come back to me, the act of balancing, braking, steering. The night is cool, the moon is near and bright, and I'm thinking about how seldom I am alone outside at night. I'm inclined to be a little bit spooked by this thought, and in a small way it makes me very conscious of my single-ness; ordinarily I would be walking home with Brandes. I keep thinking, I'm too old to be single, to start again! And then I consider my mom, and she's single too, and that idea and process was so unthinkable when it started and then it somehow became okay. And then it became the only life any of us could imagine. This is the week I have been told that my ex-boyfriend has died, and many larger thoughts of mortality and maturity and the future are looming. But for tonight, surrounded by the reality of family, I have never felt safer in my life.