The world is full of randomness and chaos. No, it really is. Most times, things don’t line up, which is why when they do we see it as fate or destiny or coincidence. But for the most part, there is a lot of randomness to the world. I believe in a master plan, and I believe in the over-arcing narrative, but I think most of the details are left to just sort of happen. Sometimes, things do line up. Sometimes the next song on the radio is the one you had stuck in your head when you woke up. Sometimes you find five dollars in the pocket of the coat you haven’t worn in a while on the day you forgot to bring a lunch. Sometimes you blow a tire in front of a tow truck. Sometimes these little moments just happen. You don’t always notice them, but it’s magic when you do. Here are four moments when music lined up with my world. They are simple moments, not the complex, long winded rants I’ve subjected you to before.
The first two moments are similar, in that they deal with accidental soundtracks for books. I do enjoy reading, and I usually listen to music while I do. I try not to select the music, because I try not to go into a book with preconceived ideas of the tone of the book. On one occasion, I was reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in the living room of my apartment. At the same time, Heather was reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Back then, we had DirectTV, and we would frequently put on one of the music channels for background music. Heather was more tired than I was, and I had reached the point of no return in the book. Every book has one of these. It’s when you get to the part where it’s steamrolling to the finale and everything that was built up is now coming to fruition, and you can either put the book down then or push on through to the end and finish it. Sometimes you can see it coming, sometimes you only recognize it when you’re twenty pages past it. I was at that point, and decided to tough it out. Heather went off to bed. As I got to the part where Harry and his Dumbledore’s Army friends infiltrate the Ministry of Magic, The Killers’ All These Things That I’ve Done came on the satellite music station, and got to the uplifting anthem at the end of the song (“I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier”) just as our heroes were facing off against the Death Eaters. It felt like the perfect soundtrack for that part of the book.
A similar thing happened when I was reading Catching Fire by Susan Collins, the second book of the Hunger Games Trilogy. At that point, I was sitting in my car, waiting for Heather to finish work. We only had one car, and had done what we could to mirror our schedules, but it took a lot longer for her to close her store than it took for me to close my store, so on a lot of those nights I would have some time to myself waiting, and I filled it with reading. For the record, I read more than just Young Adult Fiction, but I don’t have stories about the other books to fit this narrative. Anyway, I had my music player of choice, at that point my Zune, turned to shuffle as I was reading. When I got to the part of the story when Katniss is back in the arena and is in the initial fight at the cornucopia, Tom Waits’ In the Colosseum decided to come on. Not only was it apply titled, but it worked surprisingly well for the scene I was reading.
“Soundtracks” to books is neat and all, but it’s even better when the random music creates a perfect soundtrack to the world around you. On another night, I was again waiting for Heather and listening to music. I can’t remember why, but for this moment, I was not reading. It’s possible I had just finished a book, or forgot to bring one. It’s also possible that I had put it away, thinking Heather was almost done (which she wasn’t, but that’s fine). It was early December, and although it had been cold, it had not yet snowed. As I sat there listening to music, smoking and watching Heather and her employees bustle around her store, it finally did start snowing. It wasn’t a driving snow or a fast snow, it was one of those snows with the big, water heavy flakes that flit around in the wind as they fall. It was dark, but the parking lot was pretty well lit, enough that the light twinkled off of all of the flakes as the lazily descended to the ground. While this scene was playing out in all of it’s Christmas card beauty, Ani DiFranco’s Dilate had been playing on my car stereo. There is an extended solo of just her acoustic guitar for the last third of the song, and it fit the moment perfectly.
My final moment came on a clear June night while I was driving north through the byways of Ohio. I was meeting my dad in Sandusky to join him the next day for Cedar Point’s Coastermania. I had a later start than I had wanted, mostly due to last minute house cleaning, so it was well dark when I started the drive. There is no good direct route between Columbus and Sandusky, and I was a little tired, so I opted for more of a “back roads” route that seemed pretty direct. I would take Route 61 all the way north to Norwalk, then switch to Route 250, which was led straight into Sandusky and was the road the hotel my dad was staying in was on. Route 61 not a heavily used road, especially not after 11pm on a Thursday night, so I saw very few other cars along my way. It was also a very clear night, so the gibbous moon shone quite brightly over the factories, forests and farmland in that part of Ohio. I was listening to my Zune in it’s final days of it’s lifespan, and had decided to listen to it alphabetically as a final swan song to it. I had started this project just a couple weeks before, when I discovered that my Zune was no longer able to sync data, so the songs on it would be the last group of songs on it ever. It was still able to charge, though, so i felt it was time for this last gasp of it before retiring it and shifting to using my phone for music. I was still in the early “A’s” of the list, and after hearing a version of Adagio for Strings done by the all female string quartet Escala, it moved on to Adagio for TRON by Daft Punk. This was good, and really pretty as I drove alone through the clear night. But when the Teddybears’ remix of Adagio for TRON came on, it truly became special. I don’t have the right words to describe it. It’s very much a “you had to be there” kind of moment. But with the rolling hills, the silent trees, the glowing moon and the crisp early summer air all combining to set the mood, the music found a way to compliment a drive through that nightscape. It almost made it feel like a drive through the far reaches of space, or on the face of the moon, or anywhere that wasn’t a country road in Ohio. I drove the route in reverse during the day the following Saturday, and it definitely didn’t contain the same magic it did that night with that song.
These moments are fleeting, and they can’t be manufactured or repeated. There is a serendipity at work that makes them happen, and makes them perfect. You may not notice them all the time, and I’m sure I’ve missed a couple of them, but possibly their rarity is part of their charm. I look forward to the next one, though I’m sure it’ll be after this project. Again, you can’t make it happen.