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Background Music

Very close up picture of a dandelion

Background music plays an important role in my perfect playlist. I think the term background music can sometimes be used as a way to describe something that doesn't matter, something so trivial it doesn't even deserve your attention. That is not the way I use it. To me it is very much the opposite. Background music is one of many vital attributes that make up the essence of the most meaningful moments of my life.

Background music is also not the music I deliberately scripted for some moments. That music is in its own special category.

Background music was absorbed when my mental camera snapped a shot of a moment it wanted to keep. These snapshots are buried in my mind like joyous gems. Gems that cannot be recalled through any effort of my own, but only through the serendipitous combination of circumstances I can't comprehend or control.

The moments captured by these gems are so much more than just the music and the happiness I felt. It was the way the vinyl trim on the middle seat of the 1987 ice blue dodge caravan burnt the bottom of my thigh driving home from the grocery store with my mom. The smell of the dentist's waiting room. The curve of the seat in the booth of the Subway (sandwich, not transport) next to the movies on my first date.

The music could have come from the possibly contraband radios in the hands of the teachers on the outskirts of the school, or from the pit of a garage while waiting on an oil change. Background music comes from those local stations at the beach that seem to have access to a much better library that the station at home. Life guard stands, restaurants, and my friend's mom's van on the way home from practice. A station that seems familiar in its weather updates and DJ voice that is terrifyingly creepy anywhere outside of a disembodied speaker, but subtly different enough to alert me to the fact that I was outside of my normal routine.

Black and white photo of a boy with his eyes clamped shut screaming into a elaborate microphone set up

I see songs as little creatures that flitter all around us in our daily lives, and they used to be shrouded in mystery. Each new song came with at least one mystery, its name, and could only be revealed by someone that had previously been introduced to the song. Most of the time I didn't think too much about the name of a song, but when a background song feels compelled to become a foreground song, it sets in to motion a series of events that today is largely unnoticed.

Learning a song's name used to take time. Because of the complex math involved in combining the peculiarities of my focus with the intricacies of radio programing schedules and the variability of DJ-song-introduction timing, listening to the radio often did nothing more than flame the fires of my desperation. MTV helped by having the little title block at the beginning and end of a video, but no less whims-based in its focus grabbing and scheduling. I never gained the courage to ask an employee of a music store if they could help me work out the name of the song. The few "do you know the song I mean" inquiries I witnessed did not go well for anyone involved, but I wasn't afraid to ask a kind looking stranger to introduce me if I heard the song in public.

I didn't really notice when that particular life experience went extinct. It got lost in the gradual evolution of portable, on demand computing. I really miss the cascading relief that would occur when I finally scratched the itch of "what song is that?" I also wonder if losing the most trivial of life's friction points has lowered my natural immunity to impatience, but not in a way that makes me look backwards. I lean forward with the clarity of someone that knows what he looking for.

Discovering a joyous gem is magical. The constituent ingredients of certain moments will combine to create a buzzing in my head. The delighted dancing dendritical roots of the joyous gem shoot out as they explode into a bridge that connects my current happiness and my past happiness.

The bridges comfortably ground me. They allow me the ease of connecting to feelings in a predictable way, but without weighing down the feelings that make me so optimistic. They have also helped me map connections I either didn't see or didn't understand.

Whether inspiring a months-long search to discover the name of the song, or the surprise connections made when a forgotten song reappears, background music is the fairy dust that reminds me life is just mysterious and magic enough to keep me on my toes.


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