Thursday, April 30


I'm big on metaphor. And all the rest, too. You know, messages, "lessons", trails of breadcrumbs. My mother used to say, mostly in jest, "It's a omen!" (like, say, when chocolate covered graham crackers, which she loved, but rarely bought, were on sale for a great price at the grocery store). Little did she know.

A couple of years back, I was reflecting on my art, discussing the types of things I am inclined to make. At the time I was a potter, spending a goodly amount of time in the studio with my hands in the mud (ah, those were the days). There, in that place, where I felt at home and had been welcomed by the community, I still struggled with "fitting in". Not in the sense that I didn't have great friends there--I worked and talked and created alongside some of the most terrific people I have met. But something nagged at me.

Quick--when you hear that I was a potter, what do you picture me making? Bowls? Mugs? Vases? Teapots? I bet you picture a wheel, don't you?

My point exactly.

Sure, I have my share of bowls. And mugs. And vases. And even a teapot or two. But I could never get how people could make those things over and over again, even in their infinite variety. I was always searching for the "thing" that I really wanted to make, the thing that I could pour my heart into, work on constructing day after day, week after week, and never get bored. And when I found the answer (occasionally), it was never a bowl. Or a mug. Or a vase. "Oh, so you did sculptural work!" No. Not really.

At the time, I had joined an advanced class in which the instructor encouraged us to "find our style", find out "what we make". The struggle continued. The jokes flew. "What's she making now?". I let them wonder. I kept working, molding, joining, imprinting clay with only my hands and a few small wood or metal tools. And in time, I had an answer.

It came to me in much the same way as the name of this blog. Not as a revelation, not as an idea that arrived fully born, an empty vessel waiting to be filled, but as an effort to weave the hair-thin threads that ran through my disjointed conclusions into a coherent theme. And as with the title of this blog, it may not always fit perfectly. Sometimes I still make a bowl, especially if I need one (or if it's for somebody else--other people like round things). Just like sometimes I write about things that have nothing to do with the theme of "what I don't get". In the end, it all seems to fit together anyway.

So, what did I come up with? When it was my turn for critique, and I introduced my work (and my threads), I said "I like to make things that appear to be other than what they are" and "I like to make things that have hidden parts or meanings or uses that people will not automatically perceive."

Like I said, I'm big on metaphor. And not so big on utility. Which begins to explain the phenomenon of "songcatching", at least for me.

(Yes, I've seen the movie. Yes, it's odd. Yes, I liked it. It surprised me. I like that. Great music, too. No, it's not quite what I'm talking about.)

I've never known what to call it. I "get" songs. All of a sudden, in the middle of nothing in particular, a song comes into my head. They come out of nowhere, and could be of any genre, and by any, I mean any. I walk around humming or singing the song the rest of the day--which, if you know me, you know is easy to make happen. Just sing a few lines or play something over the muzak in the grocery store and I'm singing it all day, even if I don't remember hearing it. We call them "earworms" in our family, thanks to a tribe of friends from way back. But the songcatching isn't like that. It isn't a song I've heard that day (at least not to my knowledge). It just comes.

And in case you're wondering...yes, of course, I am limited to songs that I have heard at one time or another in my life. But that's a lot of songs, since music of all sorts was continually played in my home as a child, I did that whole 70's and 80's radio and 45 and LP thing, and music has remained integral in one shape or another since then. It helps that I have one of those memories that has gaping holes for important things (birthdays, appointments, my childhood) but endless storage space for lyrics to a 1941 song that I'll never need. But hey, I guess you never know.

Oh, and sometimes the songs come sneaky-like, disguised as other things. Like once, at an acutely painful time, I was driving in Harvard Square, and I was behind a car with a bumper sticker that said "Be As You Are". Deep. I thought that was the message in itself. It was enough, and it gave me comfort. But then it started bothering me, like an itch that you can't reach. Be as you are. Be as you are. Isn't that a song? Be as you are. About four hours later, I "got" a visual image, this time the cover of "Flag", a James Taylor album that contains the song B.S.U.R..

So I listened. Nothing. I listened again, shaking my fist at....whatever...and saying "Okay, I got it, this is the song...what is it?" It didn't resonate. I played it again. Nothing. Okay. Just a fluke this time, just an overly suggestible mind triggered by a crunchy bumper sticker. No prob. So I gave up and went to make dinner, leaving the recording playing. The song after B.S.U.R. was Rainy Day Man. I stopped dead in my tracks. That was the one.

Up until now, there just haven't been that many people that know about this, so there have been few that I could call up to say "I got a song", if I were so inclined. Sometimes it's interesting to "figure it out" with someone else. And sometimes, though not so often, the songs are not for me, they're for someone else, and I'm obligated to call them up and give them the song, even if I don't know why (kinda like "witnessing", I figure). But now I'm taking the chance, inspired by a few bloggers who continually amaze me with their courage, so that now and again (and again), I can (if so inclined) post here about it. Let's start now.

I got a song.

Today's is a doozy. It's been awhile, maybe there's some extra energy saved up somewhere like a spring wound too tight, or maybe somebody messed with the jukebox. I don't know. The one I got today--I don't even know the lyrics. Only one line, and the tune. It often happens that way (when it does, the "message" is not usually in that line, but somewhere else in the song. It's a trail marker). When you hear it, you just might burst out laughing, and wonder what in the hell it could possibly have to do with my life--I did. Just in case you can't tell on your own, this is not one of the "duh" ones. This one is a little more convoluted. But still dead on--believe it or not.

(deep breath)

Here it is:

The conclusions, I'll leave to you.

I sometimes imagine that songcatching is, for me, what some people mean when they say that their muse speaks to them, or that Jesus speaks to them, or that they try to sit quietly and "listen", even when they can't explain what or who they're "listening" to. For me, I see it as simply the most recent manifestation of a lifelong relationship with "voices" (don't worry about me, I'm fine), in one form or another. I "get" songs. I don't know where they come from, but they're always dead on, in one way or another. Sometimes it's a hit-over-the-head obvious meaning, and sometimes it's more like scratching my head, trying to figure out what thehell the message is. Sometimes I don't find out for days. But in the end, as I say, it's always dead on.

Now you know. So when you open this blog on some future day, and find yourself listening to some long-forgotten George Michael song (ha! remember him?), you'll be slightly less confused. Or not.

And yes, I do occasionally catch for other people, either intentionally or inadvertently (and sometimes by request). on the lookout for low-flying songs!  And if you're a songcatcher, tell me about it!

1 comment:

ConverseMomma said...

I think you might know my feelings about this already. I can name dozens of songs that have been the themes of seminal moments in my life. Sometimes just an opening bar can totally transport me.

I like the attitude behind this regrets.