Music as the Suicide that Keeps You Living: Reflections on Music by Sandra Simonds

When Jackie asked me to write about music, I was a willing writer. I wanted to write about music and I did. I wrote something funny about my experiences in music in middle school. You won’t think it was funny because you haven’t read it. It doesn’t matter. That’s not the subject of this. I told Jackie I would send her something; weeks passed. I was dissatisfied. Then months passed. I think she was a little pissed off that I didn’t follow through with my obligations,  but she doesn’t know me; I always follow through. Music as the suicide that keeps you living. That’s not very funny, Sandra.

How can I talk about music? Do you do an autopsy on the heart of your friend, her whole body, mind, and not come out looking like a jerk? Especially when it’s pop music. Everyone knows that pop music is shallow. My superficial friend. I don’t care. I’m in love with you.

When I’m on vacation and I’m fighting with my fiancée in the rental car and all of the sudden “Sloop John B” comes on and we’re in the middle of Maine and a moose passes and I hear, “this is the worst trip / I’ve ever been on” and I start laughing and then he starts laughing and I’m very drunk, it’s provisionally okay. Vision is in the word provision. It’s okay. I’m glad I’ve never hit a moose. A moose reminds me of Elizabeth Bishop and “Sloop John B.” “Sometimes the sun sets facing the red sea.”

But sometimes it doesn’t.

I’m attracted to sadness and I’m attracted to sad music. The thing is, all music seems sad to me. When I was a girl in middle school and other girls made fun of me for not being cool, I could go home and listen to “Sloop John B” and I would feel, not better, but a sense of confirmation. I felt more sad and somehow that felt good. Someone else saw into the dark recesses of life’s heartbeat. “I feel so broke up, I wanna go home.” Pop music is darkness.

Why can musicians sing “I See a Darkness”?

Why are they allowed to sing “I’m lonesome as I can be” and why can’t poets? Why can’t we say “tonight you belong to me?” and not be laughed off the page. Music as sadness. It’s so unfair. I want some backup here. You could save me from this darkness.

I’m attracted to sadness in people because it’s not what they show. It’s what you see when that person looks away and they don’t know that you’re looking at them. The human eye is so terrifying as if every hurricane, tornado, flood, tsunami has been shoved all the way inside the pupil. The curtain that’s lifted—the veil that’s gone. I can really see you now. It’s what Patsy Cline gives us when she sings “I Fall to Pieces.” You know that there’s a tear hanging off of her tonsils. It’s there. And when you sing it, you’ll know sadness too. Music is the suicide that keeps you living. The human eye is terrifying because it’s a mirror more exact than any mirror we know.

I’m attracted to Elliott Smith singing “Angeles” because it reminds me that I look like that a lot, hiding everything.

I’m attracted to Neil Young singing “Cripple Creek Ferry” and when something awful happens, a break up, when someone dies, it’s not poetry I turn to, it’s music because I don’t need to think anything. I can just sing. It’s a mighty tight squeeze.

When I fall in love, I don’t want to read poetry. I want to sing “Heart of Gold” with him.

Is that okay? Should I be embarrassed? It’s such a fine line.

I know all the lyrics to every Beatles song. The Beatles. The Band. Joni Mitchell. Bob Dylan. I was born too late. You were born too soon.

I’m a hopeless romantic if Romanticism is defined as being nostalgic for a time that has never been. I’m hopeless. Music is the suicide you are allowed to suspend. Provisionally. Music is the stop before suicide that brings you back to the realm of the living. I wanna go home, but I think I’ll just sit here, smoke some pot, and listen to Graham Parsons sing “Hickory Wind” for a while.

I’ll kill myself tomorrow. Oh do I feel like the mother of the world.

I miss Elliott Smith. I was supposed to see him at a concert before he died. I wanted to say “I was in a coffee shop in West Hollywood and you were there and I just wanted to tell you that I really like your music.” I wanted to be a regular, stupid music fan. Not an intellectual. Not an expert. Not specialized labor. Just a lover. I didn’t need to think about poetry. I could just have this animalistic relationship to music. That’s it. But it never happened. Drink up baby.

California is Joni Mitchell. Joni Mitchell is my California where I was raised.  Los Angeles—constantly in the darkness. I don’t know if I’ll ever make it back to live in California but when that long blond haired goddess I’ll always think of my concrete, freeway-veined, homeland.  Oranges and sand.

My sister and I were in Maryland as kids visiting our grandparents on the eastern shore. I remember singing “Both Sides Now” to her because she was really sad. I think she missed my mom or maybe it was that first adolescent pang of sadness. We were swinging our mosquito bitten child legs off the dock. There must have been fireflies. There must have been a lot of sounds of bugs and birds and animals on that humid summer evening. I really don’t know love at all but I know my sister felt better.

I love suicides. It means that there’s something worth dying for. In the modern world, no one thinks that there’s anything worth dying for. That’s why we are all dead. It’s just that the people who I wish would commit suicide—Dick Cheney, George Bush, etc., are never the one’s that kill themselves. Fuck. It doesn’t seem right.

Pop music as violence, belligerence, longing, sounds—birds, trees, alligators, camels, ducks, pineapples, dogs, and yes, those dumb, stubborn human sounds doing what they do in that great expanse.

“God Only Knows” is one of my favorite songs.

Can you please tell me what these lyrics mean? If you should ever leave me / though life would go on believe me / the world could show nothing to me / so what good would living do me? You see, music as the suicide that keeps you going. Life is not life without you, but you are not the only thing that makes life life.

There are, in fact, things worth dying for. Your life is nothing. Mine is nothing. But they say only a nothing can be everything.

We live in a world that tells us that the individual life is supreme—but that logic degrades human life—the collective life. There are, in fact, things worth dying for. Your life isn’t that important. In the modern world, we have already given up—the real life—the life that matters in favor of the sheen of what life could have been.

But it’s that superficial music always reminds me that there is haul in the direction of a real. In religious times, maybe it’s what would have been called a soul. Music gives me access to a soul I only have an inkling is still there. And it isn’t the individual soul that I’m talking about. It’s the soul that knows itself only when it is heard hearing as in “listen to me / why is everything so hazy?” when Nina Simone sings “Lilac Wine”

or when Jeff Buckley sings it.

Is there really a difference, or am I going crazy? Music as the suicide that keeps you alive.


Perpetual Alps

I work in the black hole factory outside Bern placing umlauts over
the ‘a’s in war to turn them to ‘were’
on a Spinning Jenny much the way one would spin wool
in a former time which is why we who war
translate German into we were.
In the minuscule chance of planetary annihilation
there’s a big red button I can depress
to warn a congress of well-intentioned citizens to compress
the pomposity of their visionary despair, my hand,
a despair that knows itself into a facet of being called
ill bred and clumsy.
They’re immature if they
don’t think this is why I’m wading to solve a shanty town
so far from Swiss cows,
Me and my equation at a shabby address
in a velvet robe
the sarcophagus of middle afternoon apres
arguments thematics, ecstasy or efficacy of bon jour monde.

Sandra Simonds is the author of several chapbooks as well as the founder of Wildlife, an experimental, handmade poetry magazine.  She earned a BA in English and Psychology from UCLA and an MFA from the University of Montana.  She is currently a PhD student in Creative Writing at Florida State University.  You can order her book Warsaw Bikini now from Bloof Blooks.