Finding Paradise in a Cruel World

 

 

 

 

We’ve all heard the saying that “Music calms the savage beast”. I haven’t been in the company of any beasts bordering on savagery lately, so I’ll just have to take it on faith. What I do know, however, is how music can inspire and soothe a sad and solitary soul. That has been the state of my own soul more times than not lately.

When I’m in one of these dark places, the last thing I want to do is go out and be around people. But that’s exactly what I need to do. Luckily for me and my morose mood, I decided to venture over to Berkeley a couple of nights ago to hear some music. Two musicians who I knew via Twitter were performing. Gretchen Peters is an award-winning singer-songwriter and a fellow “grammar geek”. I mentioned Gretchen back in this post. She has a new album out called Hello Cruel World. Accompanying her on the tour is Barry Walsh, an amazing pianist and songwriter and also Gretchen’s husband. Barry, too, has a new album out called, “Paradiso”.

Barry’s piano playing evokes such powerful emotions in me. Whether the songs are his compositions or his take on something by French composer Erik Satie, for example, Barry’s playing brings me to tears. The tears may be joyful or filled with sadness, but I’m definitely moved.

What sets Gretchen’s music apart from much of what we hear today is authenticity. She not only tells you a story but she uses her words beautifully to paint a scene, set a mood or describe a character. There are no clichés or gimmicks to be found. Take for example these lyrics:

 

There’s a man out here puts his head in the mouth of a crocodile.
Puts the whole thing in, takes it out and gives the crowd a great big smile.

“Woman on the Wheel”

The moon had a fight with the parking lot light
And slunk off to hide in the clouds.

“Camille”

I’m a ticking clock, a losing bet.
I’m a girl without a safety net.
I’m a cause for some concern.

“Hello Cruel World”

Hello Cruel World walks on the darker side when it comes to the mood it exudes. You may think that a dark collection of songs would be the last type of music to lift me out of my heavy fog. When I listen to Gretchen’s stories about regret or resolve, passion or pain, it provides exactly what’s been lacking in my life: connection. Certain lyrics resonate and make me feel less alone in my solitude or sorrow. When you add the benefit of sharing the experience with others, be they friends or strangers, the effect is like an elixir.

I know that one night out, or one CD isn’t a cure-all for life’s problems. But what it is a cure for is that sense of isolation that arises from the feeling that nobody else knows what you’re going through. A gifted artist can reach inside himself or herself and pull something out that reverberates with something within you. Gretchen and Barry do this for me and I want to thank them for that.

I urge you to check out both of their sites and if they’re coming to a town near you on their tour, make a point to see them in concert. At the very least, take a listen to some of their music. You will not be sorry.

There’s the Rub

 

I have a love/hate relationship with massage. On the one hand, I enjoy giving them and I’ve been told I’m very good at it. On the other hand, I’ve yet to receive one that left me feeling better, not worse.

 

 

My physical therapist is astounded by how tight and stiff my neck, shoulders and back are. And knead, push and pull as she might, I don’t seem to loosen up. So, I’m thinking that perhaps it’s time to give massage another shot.

The last experience I had with massage was over a decade ago and I don’t remember much except that during and after, I felt like a baseball bat hit me all over my body. From my experience as a massage giver, I know that’s not the way to get repeat business (or a another date, for that matter).

You may be wondering (or at least I hope you are), just how I learned to give massages. Well, I have to take you back to the not-so-golden days of high school. At St. Rose Academy, Christmas break really didn’t mean a complete break. The week before school was to resume, we were given a choice of activities from which to choose for our intellectual or cultural enrichment. These included:

Travel: Enjoy a week in Lake Tahoe or Mazatlan with a teacher as chaperone. I don’t know what exactly skiing in Tahoe was supposed to teach but the case could be made for brushing up on your Spanish in Mexico. I’m sure there were many girls who asked, “¿Donde esta Ramon? El es muy guapo.” This option was chosen by: Rich girls generally, and slutty, rich girls, specifically.

Volunteering: Work at a soup kitchen, help at the local recycling center or other such worthy endeavors. This option was chosen by: Really religious girls or girls looking to pad those college applications with heart string-pulling extra-curricular activities.

Classes: Show up at school and learn something that isn’t part of the standard curriculum during the year. I distinctly remember learning dance steps to The Manhattan Transfer’s Boy From New York City in one such class. To this day, I dislike that song. Another class offering was shiatsu massage. This option was chosen by: You guessed it. Me.

It was a couple years later while in college that I picked up that old massage book and starting practicing on my friends. I don’t recall how it came up in conversation but when my friends found out that I learned shiatsu massage, they begged me to give them all one. (Oh, how I wished some cute girl would have wanted a massage. But, alas, I was still trying to convince myself that I was straight. Unsuccessfully, I might add.)

Back then, a typical Saturday night for me and the dateless bunch I hung out with consisted of drinking wine, talking about ideas (philosophy, politics, etc.), and listening to music. Most often our music of choice was mellow and along the lines of Sade or Bryan Ferry. Ferry’s Boys and Girls album provided the primary musical background to those evenings. (Too bad it wasn’t the background to other kinds of evenings with people who weren’t my friends, if you catch my drift.)

I do miss those days. I was young and in college and my life was ahead of me, full of possibilities. I enjoyed deep conversations and even deeper laughs. Fast forward 26 years and the only place I seem to experience either chat or chuckles is via social media. While Twitter and Facebook can do many things, you can’t give or get a massage and discuss past lives while this plays in the background:

Too bad.