“She should have sung!” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
“The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music,” was the title of Friedrich Nietzsche’s first book. And to him, it means that language is the clumsier communicator compared to music.
Nietzsche, one of the most famous philosophers of all time, and heavily influenced by the ancient wisdom texts his friend Paul Deussen translated, such as the Upanishads, regretted what he considered to be his lack of musical talent, pretty much for most of his life.
What that title also happens to describe is what happened to my musical project during the last leg of the current pandemic. And to me, it also sums up perfectly what happens when we fail to take heart to communicate clearly—in actual words.
No matter how connected and understood we may feel through music made together, apparently, there is room for misunderstanding in the realm of wordless art.
So this is a possibly clumsy and fumblingly verbose attempt at sharing a lesson in the value of listening to your own authentic voice and honouring your boundaries, learned the hard way in a failed interpretation of people’s behaviour—which is an art form in itself.
Imagine you were in love with a poet.
And you’d had been in love since you could just about read because his words sounded like music and communicated with your little heart before your mind could fully understand them.
Imagine you had travelled to that poet’s grave, in a small churchyard in the Swiss Alps, and stood the before the tombstone, a heavy slab of rock set inside a low wooden fence.
On it, the poet’s own epitaph:
Rose, oh pure contradiction, desire,
To be no one’s sleep under so many
And you cried because there he was just a metre or two apart from you then. You felt you knew him so well, through all those letters and poems, which you studied for a long time and wrote a book on—but especially those letters!
A few years later, you were at a conference in Paris, at the Sorbonne, a place you didn’t feel you belonged—until you heard the sound of his words again. This time, for the first time, in French, a language you didn’t know well but you understood. Especially that poem called “Mouvement de Rêve” about the desire to find the centre, there, where everything stops changing all the time and just is, and you can rest and recover from all those ever-same disappointments and hearts opposed to yours:
Ascenseur, qui parcourt sans bruit les étages du rêve,
monte, s’arrête et redescend,
doux départ, arrêt bref, brève trêve
qui se charge de changements….
De la lenteur dans uns pilule
qui en fondant approfondit
cette fuite qui dissimule
le désir inassouvi
de rester, de trouver le centre
où se jouent soleil et rosée,
et de ne plus, sourtout, de ne plus choisir entre
les malheurs identiques et les coeurs opposés.
That poem stayed with you as you took the train to Lyon to meet up with your lover.
He picked you up at the station and drove you to an old mill in actual fields of lavender. You were supposed to write and record tracks for the band you were both in at the time.
What came out the first night though was that poem: as a chanson. He improvised on the piano and you just sang the whole thing right there and then.
It was September and already damp and chilly in the mill. During a walk in the fields, he told you, “It’s not you; it’s me.”
You then moved away to another town after that and the band was toast.
One day, some ten years later, the phone rang. It was an excited lady from Paris wondering whether you could come that spring and play a few “of those chansons” at the Fête de L’Europe, in the Mairie. The German embassy was involved too.
The dream movement had found its way to an international foundation concerned with that particular poet, and your heart was beating faster. The poems were clearly calling to be sung, and you said, “Yes!” Obviously.
Now, there was just one problem.
You needed a new pianist—a partner in crime, a co-composer. You thought of a few people, among them an earnest young woman that you had once jammed with, years ago. You called her.
And she said, “Yes!”
Together, you wrote nine more songs together, went to the studio to record twice, and gigged three times (including interpretations of mantras given to you by your teacher from India.)
People cried because the music touched their hearts—then, came the pandemic.
To cut the story short, when we finally could have played live again after two years, our differences regarding the necessity of the vaccine and the need for empathy, and my regard of science and solidarity, broke us up. And the upcoming gig, a lecture performance, would have been well paid, too, with funding from cultural aid for artists.
To be really honest, there were plenty of signs. I should have seen this coming and cut my losses sooner, standing my ground and practicing better boundaries. In my love of that poet, and that project, I failed to communicate clearly where I stand.
Sometimes, we can actually be open and tolerant for too long. And then, things can break irreparably.
In this case, for the love of music!
At least, sing, I did (and still do, if alone for now.)
“She should have said something,” though. The tragedy born from the spirit of music could have been averted.
For that is what this is to me, a tragedy. Those songs will now never be sung again.
Lucky, I’m a creator, not a destroyer—who is looking, as we speak, for fellow musicians who are definitely vaccinated.
And that is, in the words of a yoga teacher colleague, not mine—”an excellent arsehole filter.”