On Tuesday, I put up a status on Facebook. Mostly, I post links to news stories and my blog, as well as, more recently, reminiscent statuses and photos of my "borrowed time" in Bloomington. This time, though, I was compelled to write a very long thing. I had just marinated myself in an album I hadn't listened to in years, and I had to share what I felt as I listened:
To make a map of my heart, first use every Beatles record. Then, use Jimmy Buffett's 1994 album Fruitcakes.
Thanks to Parrothead parents, I listened to that album a lot when I was 5, 6, and 7 years old. Thus, it has oddly formed much of what I desire and think. I believe that the "cosmic bakers" of evolution "took us out of the oven" of the savannah "a little too early, and that's the reason we're as crazy as we are" ("Fruitcakes"). I'd like to eventually live on the beach ("Lone Palm") to fight my demons ("Vampires, Mummies, and the Holy Ghost") and reminisce about my travels while traveling a bit more ("Frenchman for the Night"). I'd like to live a life of polite unorthodoxy ("Quietly Making Noise"), and I'd like to find someone with whom to share this life through my favorite medium: a book ("Love in the Library"). Eventually, I will hope for a daughter who "finger-paints the sand" and "stomps on big toadstools" while "askin' lots of questions" ("Delaney Talks to Statues"), and when I die, I will insist on dancing ("Apocalypso"). I heard a lot of music when I was young, but this stuck, and I'm glad it did.
(Friends with children: Be sure to expose them to inspiring work when they're 5, 6, and 7 years old. The wait may be long, but you'll be pleasantly surprised by what comes about.)
The last part ("Be sure to expose them to inspiring work...") points to a very important thing: Just because I was profoundly influenced by the lyrics doesn't mean automatically that the influence was a good thing. This didn't happen, but if I had grown up listening to racist minstrel songs, I might have been influenced just as profoundly; the influence just would have been negative, because it simply would not have helped me in life. Much more value-neutral, if I had grown up listening to punk or grunge, maybe I'd now be a hipster; if I had grown up listening to Rebecca St. James, maybe I'd be more Christian; if I had grown up listening to rap, hip-hop, and R&B instead of picking it up only in high school, maybe I'd not act so white & nerdy (acting black & nerdy, though, would be a distinct possibility). I'd be able to find happiness with pretty much all of those more-neutral options; it just so happened that Fruitcakes (and The Beatles) were available to me, so I found happiness there.
Equally as important: take a look at the first philosophy I gleaned. The associated lyric has resided in my head for over 18 years; once I began to learn about evolution, I found a way to relate the knowledge I was gaining to it. It wasn't a conscious process, either. I never thought, "Evolving on the savannah and then rapidly spreading out of Africa to the rest of the world would explain that lyric!" In a way, my mind may have been primed to accept that lesson of evolution by listening to that song, and memorizing it, at an impressionable age. This explains the title of this post: I was ready to accept the knowledge because, in part, I had been primed to receive it.
(A similar but opposite effect would have happened if I had taken the "humans lived with dinosaurs, but the latter didn't make it onto the ark" argument to heart. If that had happened, I'd be more primed to accept creationist arguments and try to explain away evolution. That influence falls, nominally, into the category of the aforementioned minstrels, in that such priming would have been demonstrably negative because it wouldn't make me responsive to the way things really are. Yay, science, and yay, not denying evidence.)
This musical confirmation bias extends past the priming for science and into priming for certain desires. The wish to find someone who shares my love of books, for instance, is quite specific. Although I have found love in other ways (and I've liked those other ways a lot!), I'm oddly attached to the idea of a woman, barefoot and carefree, reaching up a bookshelf and becoming as immediately engrossed as I would be in a random book. It doesn't have to be so specific as the book being near the Civil War history section of a marble-floored library on the coast of Florida; sitting in a chair at a carpeted Barnes & Noble reading "Guns, Germs, & Steel" sounds just as... uh... well... erm... romantic? It's weird to attach such a word to this encounter, since, looking objectively, it seems so mundane. The encounter, however, could be the start of something: I ask her how she likes the book, we start talking about evolution and sociology and human history, maybe we tangent into more profound questions, and BAM! we have each other's numbers. If I hadn't grown up listening to that song, my ideal romantic encounter would likely be very, very different. Since I did, even the very good encounters I've had don't seem as perfect as this one (probably because I've idealized it for so long!).
Same goes with wanting to live on the beach and to travel. Not only "Lone Palm" and "Frenchman for the Night," but also "One Particular Harbor" and "Jimmy Dreams" and "Son of a Son of a Sailor" and "Far Side of the World" and many, many other songs have embedded in me a spirit of both wanderlust and comfort with the coast. That's not to say that I've constantly spent a lot of time on the beach or in transit. My family did take a vacation to Florida more than once when I was younger, but my wandering never really started until I went to IU and studied abroad. My desire to wander, though, seems to have always been there, and I credit these lyrics, and the time and positive circumstances in which I heard them, with preparing me to enjoy, prefer, and look forward to a life full of movement.
I also credit it with the great restlessness bordering on frustration I feel when I stay in one place for too long. But that's a more complicated relationship. That feeling is more "Lone Palm" than "Frenchman for the Night." I do have a strong desire to find a place and be comfortable there. When I'm comfortable for too long, though, I have to find a way out, or at least a way to mix it up.
As for "Delaney Talks to Statues":
Independently, I've come to believe that the best thing to do for a child is to let him or her discover the world on their own. A parent has to make sure that the discoveries aren't permanently harmful (telling them not to walk off a cliff is a much better idea than letting them find out why!), but after that, they should be free to roam. A child's innate curiosity and ability to absorb knowledge like a sponge is a very precious thing, one that I wish more adults cultivated in their children and in themselves. It should never be short-circuited for the sake of immediate expediency or parental frustration. I can't help but look with contempt at parents who see their kids wandering off to a relatively safe place and yelling, "Don't touch that! Get back here! Stay with me!" It teaches the child that something new is dangerous, especially when it is told in such a stern voice, and it encourages them to value what is familiar above all else instead of touching, learning about, and interacting with all the "something new"s they'll encounter in life.
If I have a child, I will sing some specific songs to that child. (I'll have to get better at singing, first!) One is, somewhat cliché, "Good Night" by The Beatles. I don't know if my dad ever sang it to me, but I did try to sing it once when I was babysitting in my teenage years. Although I never tried again, I think I'll try it one time when my kid is very young, and if it works out, I'll keep doing it. The second depends on the gender. If it's a boy, I'll pass along John Lennon's "Beautiful Boy" (also cliché, I know), only because I really liked the scene in "Mr. Holland's Opus" where Richard Dreyfuss sings and signs it to his deaf son. If it's a girl, I have two Buffett songs: "Little Miss Magic," an early song about his first daughter, Savannah Jane; and "Delaney Talks to Statues," about his second daughter, Sarah Delaney. I really want to sing those songs to those future people, if they come. That's largely a function of my own sentimentalism, but I've also stepped back, looked at the songs, and said, "These are genuinely good songs to pass on." "Delaney," especially, makes sure to say that exploration and curiosity are very good things, especially in a child.
If I wanted to make "Delaney" most apropos, of course, I would have to go back to my sense of wanderlust (full circle!):
Down by the water
Shells sink, dreams float
Life’s good on our boat
In another post, I might talk about humanity's incredible penchant for finding happiness no matter the circumstance. For now, I'll simply point you to this TED talk and say this: I probably could have found happiness and meaning if I had never heard of Fruitcakes, or even of Jimmy Buffett, and if I had never liked to read books or learn about science. I would have constructed happiness out of The Beatles more exclusively, out of sports, out of a more primal appreciation of nature, out of religion, or out of politics. This, however, is how I ended up constructing meaning, and so I built happiness out of this and the other things with which I was presented. Because this is the only path I know, I might say, "I wouldn't have it any other way," but I know there are other paths that would have made me happy. The choice was made, though, and my resilient brain has found happiness with that choice. That, in itself, is as profoundly beautiful to me as finding love in a library.