I go to see so many films at the cinema when I’m home that you’d think that would be the thing I’d miss the most. Not so. The thing I always end up missing while I’m away is music.
Until you live a life without music you don’t realise how important it is. Nowadays we listen to music so much that it’s a major factor in our lives and how we view ourselves. We all have soundtracks that we pick each day – whether consciously or subconscious – to play along while we make our memories.
Some days we feel bad so we decide to listen to Radiohead. Other days we feel good so choose to play a little Alphabeat. Sometimes though we just choose random music – seemingly for no reason – but really there is a reason, we just consciously don’t know what it is.
Music can provide answers, even when you don’t have any questions. Maybe your brain has decided it has a problem that it can only solve by listening to a Celion Dion album. So you listen to it, although you have no idea why.
A life without music becomes a desperate one, filled with silence. Music takes on even more importance when it becomes a rarity. Everytime you hear a song, no matter which it is, you grasp hold of it and savour it. If no songs are around you search your mind to find something to sing to yourself. This is harder than you think. Almost impossible. I can probably sing along to a thousand songs if you put them on in front of me. Ask me to randomly sing a song though and my mind goes blank. Music exists to be played on a CD, not in your head. If somebody turns on a CD player in the woods, does it make a sound?
At times I’ve searched my mind for a song – any song – to fill the long, lonely voids of silence. This eventually lead to me singing Vindaloo by Fat Les for a week straight as it was the only song I could remember. Seemingly it was the only one that existed.
My desperation for music becomes so extreme at times that I search my environment for inspiration. This brings me onto Area Codes by Ludacris.
When working on a farm you end up doing a lot of weeding. Weeding inevitably leads to using a hoe. Obviously this can only lead to one thing. Singing “I’ve got hoes in different area codes.” Everyday. For two weeks. It never gets old. It’s always the funniest thing in the world. I clung to that song like a horny dog clings to its master’s leg. It was fun but always left me deeply dissatisfied because I never had the real thing.
A soundtrack is useless though without a film to go with it. A memory or an image. In this case having hoes will always be linked to John Zaorian. A friend I made while weeding who I would sing the song to.
In life friendships are arrived at in two ways. Either they’re built over a period of time, awkwardly, until one day you can both finally stand to sit in silence together. Or friendships are instant. Some people you just know you’re going to get on with straight away, and that’s how it was with John. I knew immediately that I liked him probably because he laughed at my sarcastic quips, unlike other Americans who simply stare at me, blinking, taking me deadly serious.
Our friendship was cemented the best way possible. Mutual appreciation. While working in the fields one day I asked John “so, do you like Curb Your Enthusiasm?” “Yeah, it’s pret-tay good…pret-tay, pretttt-tay..pretty good.” (If you don’t understand this you’re probably one of those friends that took a while to get to know.)
John is a born and bred Ohioan and he’d cycled around the West of America for hundreds of miles to get to the farm. The road had weathered him, giving him a tanned face, wild longing hair and a large bushy beard. His voice is a mix of stoner and apathetic generation-Xer and as with most voices I enjoy listening to, I immediately started to repeat everything he said like a small child.
Even the greatest of friendships wont last without one thing though – in-jokes – and over a matter of days we managed to think up over half a dozen. “That’s not my bowl of oats”, “Weed King”, “I’m gonna die!” These phrases probably mean nothing to you, and would still mean nothing if I explained them, that’s how in-jokes work. Fuck it though, an explanation is needed.
One day John hands me a book. The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac. “Dude, this book is sooo good.” I’m skeptical though, I’ve read On The Road and it certainly wasn’t my bowl of oats (!!). John agrees, On The Road wasn’t so good, but Dharma Bums is much better. I start to read it and soon realise he’s right.
The Dharma Bums is a book about Kerouac when he was practicing Buddhism. He would travel around the country for months – hitchhiking or jumping freight trains – while meditating. From time to time he would hike into the wilderness with friends hoping to get closer to his spiritual side.
Unintentionally the book is laugh out loud funny at times – mostly because Kerouac takes life far too seriously at some moments, but the next moment he’s acting like a fool. Often he’ll start a chapter with an amazing spiritual epiphany and end it by getting drunk. In one such chapter a girl comes over to the cabin where he’s staying with some friends and immediately his friends start to have sex with her. Kerouac refuses to join in though as he’s trying to stay celibate. His Buddhist friend – who is also his role-model – says “come on Jack, nothing wrong with a good healthy orgy”, but still Kerouac refuses.
While reading the book another unintentional laugh escaped from my mouth and John was on hand to ask just what was so funny. I explain the situation.
Kerouac goes to live with his parents over the winter and every day he walks to a clearing behind the house to meditate and ponder his existence. At one point though his existence becomes too much for him, he faces his own mortality and he can’t handle it. Dramatically he drops to his knees and screams into the trees “I’M GONNA DIE!” Now the thought of a person doing this in a movie is funny enough, but somebody in real life? That to me is hilarious. John doesn’t laugh though.
From then on – whenever I became pissed off with something or my patience was broken, suddenly I’d scream “I’M GONNA DIE!” Only then did John laugh.
No more toilet roll left? “I’M GONNA DIE!” Burnt your toast? “I’M GONNA DIE!” Stubbed your toe? “I’M GONNA DIE!” Soon enough it becomes an in-joke to be shared.
Eventually my last night on the farm comes about and John and I decide to say farewell by walking down to the nearby river and lighting a fire. It’s rained for a few days but we’re not to be put off and we stomp down to the river bank cheerfully with a wad of paper, a lighter and a healthy-sized bag of marshmallows.
Immediately things go sour when John mentions he wont eat marshmallows. “Man, don’t those things have gelatin in them? – let me check – yeah man, gelatin, I can’t eat these.” “Nevermind, we can still make a fire.”
So we collect some twigs and make a tee-pee with them, throwing a handful of paper inside to start us off. I pick up the lighter “the twigs are a little damp, we should be ok though.” I click the flint and an orange flame lights the paper – instantly the fire goes out. I try again, again it goes out.
“Let me try” John takes over, but the same thing happens for him, “Um, the paper must be damp too.”
I sign, “Fuck sake. I’ll get some dry leaves.” So I collect some drying leaves and put them with the paper inside our perfectly formed tee-pee. We try again, again we fail, the leaves wont stay alight either.
Slowly my anger is building, no way will I be beaten, I grab the lighter off John. “Here! I’ll do it!”
No matter how hard I try it wont light though, I just can’t do it, and eventually I end up burning my finger. “FUCK!” I shout. John starts to laugh “Man, if we were stuck in the wilderness we’d be fucked. We can’t even start a fire with a lighter.”
“We?! There’s no WE! I can do this. People make fire with sticks! STICKS! I can do it with a lighter easily!” Again I burn my finger. “ARGH! SHIT!”
John laughs. “Come on, Dan. Let’s go back to the house!”
“NEVER! I wont let this beat me!”
Suddenly it starts to rain, but it only makes me more determined to light the fire. I’m obsessed. After a few moments of desperately blowing into the tee-pee, John puts his hand on my shoulder, he speaks sympathetically “come on, you have to just let it go.” I ignore him, clicking the lighter manically, but now the lighter wont even work, it just emits hopeless sparks. Rain falls down my face. “I can do this, John. I swear. I can do it!”
Out of nowhere a gust of wind blows down my perfectly built tee-pee. I stare at the pile of twigs before me – my fingers throbbing. John pats me on the back “I’m sorry, man.”
I drop to my knees, take a deep breath and I scream, “I’M GONNA DIE!” My voice echoes along the river, birds fly from the trees and lightning flashes across the sky.
Moments later I walk back to the house feeling demoralised until a thought enters my mind. I smile to John, “not to worry though, eh? I’ll just cook the marshmallows on the stove.” He smiles back uncomfortably. Soon enough I realise why. I’d forgotten the stove was electric.
“I’M GONNA DIE!”