Almost 4 years ago I was helicoptered from my local community hospital to Cedars-Sinai with a severe heart condition and given less than a 25% chance of survival. Below is an excerpt from "Heart Like a Starfish" which chronicles that journey and the healing power of music, in particular a specific brand of music that is born from a thousand defiant windmill strikes that alternate between violent screaming feedback and cleansing, contemplative release:
Only love can bring the rain
That makes you yearn to the sky
Only love can bring the rain
That falls like tears from on high
"Tell Uncle Allen he can borrow my CD player for as long as he needs it."
Your brother Dennis tells you how your nephew Henry said that as he carried the small plastic Fisher-Price CD player out of his bedroom and headed to the hospital. Henry's CD player is one of his prized possessions. The White Stripes. The Ramones. Black Sabbath. His musical knowledge and taste is impressive for a 7 year old (or even a 17 year old, 27 year old or 47 year old).
You turn your head slowly in the direction of the small plastic CD player. You close your eyes and hear an echo of Henry's voice saying "Tell Uncle Allen he can borrow my CD player for as long as he needs it."
You mist up. Smile. And mist up again.
Music is where I've always gone to heal. I was 7 when my parents divorced. And it was "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" by Elton John that helped hold me together through their separation. When I was a small, scrawny, glasses wearing, acne covered, retainer fitted Junior High schooler, I lost myself in KISS. Where else was I going to go? After KISS came Quadrophenia by The Who.
You have no voice only two thin shaky arms and ten warbling fingers to communicate with. You motion to Dennis. You make a slow, trembling motion mimicking the turning of a radio dial.
"You need more ice chips?" Dennis asks trying to decipher your pantomimed code.
You shake your head "no" and make the motion again.
"Ok, ok...let's try this again...You need me to go get the nurse?" he guesses.
You begin to feel like a squeaking, bobbing dolphin trying to communicate with its trainer.
You shake your head 'no" again and point a finger to the white plastic Fisher-Price CD player.
"Ahhhh...I think I got you now!" Dennis exclaims looking over at the plastic CD player.
He goes to the player. He grabs Quadrophenia by The Who out of the stack of CDs. "What about this?"
You enthusiastically nod three times in the affirmative.
He throws the disc in.
Quadrophenia. It had been the soundtrack to your awkward adolescence. It was everything that you were at the time. Angry. Confused. Alienated. You connected with it intensely. It made you feel a lot less alone and a little more ok than you would have felt otherwise. For you it felt closer to a rite of passage than a song cycle. It feels like that again as Dennis presses play and Quadrophenia echoes, aches and rages out from Henry's small white plastic Fisher Price player.
You close your eyes. You are weak but feel yourself moving to the rhythm. You can't really speak but find yourself squeaking along with the words as best you can. Grinding your teeth. Clenching your weakened fists as best you can. Closing your tired eyes a little tighter. You know this song. You were this song. You are this song. Sing it . . . sing it . . . sing it.
. . . and so you sing . . .
To the world outside it sounds like a forced breathless whisper.
But this is not a whisper.
It is a roar.
Love, Reign O'er Me.
Rain on me, rain on me.
Addendum: 6 months and one successful heart transplant surgery after the above transpired my brother and I saw The Who play Quadrophenia in its entirety in Anaheim, California. We sang through the goosebumps and tears as the jagged, crashing, healing wave that is "Love, Reign O'ver Me" once again crashed all around us.