On second-dawn days, when the afternoon arrives as waves of breeze and brilliant light, I dream of changing careers. Of packing up our modest Midwestern lives, settling into San Francisco and a nest within the rafters of a cathedral built for baseball.
Behind the organ, I am the true oracle of Oracle Park. Expect few musical gimmicks or stadium staples. Only the game’s true soul music.
When our third baseman fumbles a grounder, I sound out Don Henley’s “The Heart of the Matter” because the flesh will get weak and I’m thinking about forgiveness. When a visiting slugger sends a hanging slider into the left-field bleachers, I’ll play Stevie Wonder’s “Heaven is 10 Zillion Light Years Away” to remind him of his smallness.
Should the kiss cam gaze upon Josh and Natalie from Petaluma, I’ll dig up Mazzy Star. Bars of “Fade Into You” till the moment grows uncomfortable, till he cups her face in his hands and 41,000 people flutter and wonder if they’ve ever been kissed so well.
And should the kiss cam gaze upon Josh and Natalie from Petaluma, I’ll dig up Mazzy Star. Bars of “Fade Into You” till the moment grows uncomfortable, till he cups her face in his hands and 41,000 people flutter and wonder if they’ve ever been kissed so well.
My daydream breaks soft into static. Returned to clarity, I contemplate sharing the contents of my vision with former piano teachers. Their laughter clips staccato and harsh, like notes from the keyboard’s highest end. My hands and feet brokered tenuous treaties over Bach inventions, they recall. What gives me faith to approach the pedals begging basslines and melody?
I envision inviting my wife, a classically-trained musician, to plot with me. She laughs too, though the sound is more sympathetic, something like birdsong. No, dear. No, dear dear.
Lead me squinting from the ballpark lights. Give me a stereo to hoist upon my shoulder, to hold as a divining rod. Maybe this is all I want. Playing the perfect song for any moment; walking a few paces behind my people to curate a soundtrack for their living, the music of their becoming.
I’d cue up Coltrane for the first days of spring, “My Favorite Things” or maybe “Equinox.” Anything that sounds like petals opening and trees shaking off their rust. By December, I know just two songs: Darlene Love striking Christmas chimes, pleading with her lover to please come home; and Adam Duritz releasing balloons toward California’s cold heaven, hoping “this year will be better than the last.”
For the tired true believer needing something perfect to exist in this world, “Bring it On Home to Me.” Sam Cooke lining up every note, but losing control of his heart.
I’d play Oasis for sympathy when the word on the street says “the fire in your heart is out.” Then Elton John like a billow tending to the embers, coaxing something wispy with “Tiny Dancer” and “Your Song.”
For the tired true believer needing something perfect to exist in this world, “Bring it On Home to Me.” Sam Cooke lining up every note, but losing control of his heart. Lou Rawls coming in from the wings like a rhythm-and-blues Cyrano. Sam singing, “You know I’ll always be your slave / Till I’m buried in my grave,” his voice cleft, like he’s already there.
Nina Simone and “Mississippi Goddamn” when pipes break beneath the sidewalks of our city. And Nina like a kaleidoscopic on “To Love Somebody” for the smitten, suddenly aware of their electric nerve endings and every heartbeat they once took as a given. Days and nights of Nina, whole weeks of nothing but Nina till the world tilts aright.
For the tentative at prayer, which is all of us, something slow and growing from a whisper—perhaps the second movement of Beethoven’s “Pathetique”—to unstick the words. And with their “amen,” I’d play “Thunder Road” as a promise God hears and will answer. But only the final minute, only the instrumental coda, as the E Street Band becomes a symphony of horizon lines, the divine voice bouncing off canyons of possibility.
When it rains, I play whatever I want; all my favorite songs have rain in them. The singer may not pronounce the word itself, but you smell rain as chords change, catch a storm blowing up in the rhythm section. Whether a cold, gray drizzle or sweet summer shower, it’s always there.
I’ll send out dedications as each day gives itself up. For my wife, three versions of “Nothing Compares 2 U” all in a row. Sinead for my undying reverence. Prince for all my warm blood and breath. Chris Cornell to leave no doubt.
Sentences and songs come crying from the same womb.
As my son lays his head down, Simple Minds. I tinker with the equalizers, and their anthem sounds distant and detuned, a far-flung satellite transmission orbiting sleep, calling him to remember all we have. Don’t you forget about me.
Divorced from another dream, I forfeit my right to play the world its songs. Logistics be damned, where would my taste—my instincts—leave us? Anyway, all I know how to offer are sentences. But sentences and songs come crying from the same womb.
Baldwin wrote Charlie Parker sentences and Dexter Gordon sentences, sentences like Monk’s glowing-hot melismas. Louise Glück breaks lines of bemusement and courageous desire the very same places I hear Maggie Rogers take a breath.
Thomas Merton once wrote, “There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun. ... If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time.” Isn’t this what The Flaming Lips are up to when Wayne Coyne coos like a dove, asking “Do you realize / that you have the most beautiful face?”
A Franz Wright poem puzzles over the “intense love” and “hope” which accompanies a belief in second chances. “It’s unendurable, unendurable,” he murmurs. Tell me this isn’t the song playing from jukeboxes all across America.
So I leave you my sentences, hoping a few linger. Hoping you mouth the words like you do with the Top 40 hit stuck in your head, the one it seems you’ve always known. And when someone asks what you’re humming, you can tell everybody this is your song.