The Scavenger Hunt

I have been struggling through the death of my sister, who just turned 29 this August and died two months later.  Her death hit close to home for everyone around her, and I’ve been spending a lot of time with my family and her friends to cope with this situation.  What has been so difficult is finding the right soundtrack for my misery.  I love music and I download it constantly and listen to it whenever I get the chance.  I’m a teacher and you can find me jamming away in the morning before school starts when I should be making connections with students, on my prep periods, and at cafés after school grading.  I listen to music on my commute, when I run, when I read, when I write, when I blog.  It is always there in the background.  What I didn’t realize until a few months ago was how much of it is kind of depressing.

“That Year” by Brandi Carlile – I saw Brandi Carlile in concert last summer before hearing any of her music.  A coworker and friend had an extra ticket and said, “You’ll love her, you’re coming, and you’re paying for the ticket.”  Thank god he was right.  Her latest album, “Bear Creek” is amazing and a joy to listen to, so I immediately also downloaded her album Give Up the Ghost.  I’ll let you guess what that album’s about.  I fell in love with the song “That Year” which is such a tender and lovely song.  Until the death of my sister.  It became a song that just popped up on a mix and immediately made me cry.  I was sitting in bed and the tears just welled and poured.  Poured.  Down my face movie style the way you think they poured too many tears in the actor’s eyes right before they cut to them crying.  That’s exactly how it was.

Then I used the website/app HypeMachine which is a music aggregate, identifying songs that are discussed online and promoting those that are repeatedly promoted. This didn’t work.  At all.  There are so many tech and indie rising songs that have made me SO MISERABLE, I just had to mention it.  Just one example:

“Rescue” by Yuna – This is a nice light song.  I think it’s about women’s independence and not needed help, but I’m never entirely sure what a song means because I’m really bad about listening to/understanding lyrics.  But when the lyrics make reference to “she” needed no rescuing with a smile in her face and blood in her veins, all I can picture when I heard this song was my sister’s dead body when we saw it at the funeral home the day they’d let us first see her.  That’s not a memory I’m ready to write about yet.  The only thing I’ll say about it is that she didn’t have blood in her veins.  And hearing that in this song hurt my memory of her so much.

I thought I’d find solace in pop music (something I usually strongly avoid!) in an attempt to create new memories with a new soundtrack.  It’s the kind of music I listen to when I’m running, and don’t really listen to so much as sync with as I move.  It’s also, so I’ve come to discover, really good to help me write.   It allows me to turn off that overly critical part of my brain and just let the bare minimum of words flow.  That’s probably why this blog is so mediocre.  I spend no time on craft.  But pop music didn’t work at all.  Two examples:

“Old School Love” by Lupe Fiasco – “As long and I’m here, as long as you love me, give me that old school love right now. Gimme that late 80’s early 90’s old school.”  Lupe Fiasco.  I loved Kick Push when I was younger.  I have a feeling this song has no mourning, brotherly-sisterly love at its heart, but I couldn’t not get the idea out of my head that this was Lupe speaking as me.  That I’m here, and that Alex, my dead sister, still loved me everything would love me, and that sent me spiraling down into a deep feeling of loss of love in my life that I have tried not to rush with relationships, new friendships, or an obsession with old friendships.  That’s been difficult to.

“Die Young” by Ke$ha – Need I say more? There’s actually a story to this:

There were four of us in the car.  One was driving, and three of us riding along.  My sister’s friend/ex-boyfriend, two of her friends from high school and middle school, and me, her brother.  We were just sort of jamming after an amazing night.  We came together and instantly became the best of friends.  We were overflowing with laughter, which isn’t something I expected.  My sister always criticized me for using my sense of humor as a defense, but it worked in this situation, and I think we were all doing this to some degree.  We had gone out to dinner.  We had gotten cigars.  We had some drinks.  We were driving home, jamming to the pop music on the radio.  Then “Die Young” came on the radio.  Instantly, my sister’s ex-boyfriend gets weird, and I notice the lyrics, and I just start yelling: “Turnitoffturnitoffturnitoff!” I couldn’t say it fast enough and the mood of the car immediately turned.

No one was singing any more.  No one wanted to.  We turned the music off.  No one wanted to talk any more. We had said all of the words and no one in that car wanted to die young.  We knew what it felt like to deal with the burden of not dying young. That situation has made me cognizant of every word around me.  The language my students use with each other.  The references I make with my students, and the words of the music that I sometimes play in music.  I’ve reverted almost exclusively to jazz, which is what I typically listened to.  I’ve just become more attuned to the necessity for it.

I’ve started to search for the music that will make me remember Alex fondly.  I’ve started searching for songs about love enduring, about nothing at all, songs concerned with joy and hope and happiness because those are the emotions I need right now. It’s been helping. It’s been difficult.  It’s been a scavenger hunt. Any help/suggestions would be appreciated.


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