The Sudden, Psychotic Need for Jazz

About a week after the breakdown on Christmas day, in a moment of relative calm, I was sitting outside in my pajamas, staring at the property fence, and two things happened: I said, “Fuck this shit,” and I rearranged my room.

The Fuck this shit wasn’t about my room—the room where I spend most of my days, reading, writing, getting ready for class. It was about staying silent about something that has had a hold on me all my life. It was time to break the silence. Thus, this blog.

Moving things around in the room was one of those little radical moments we have when we need an a little shake-up, to take life on from another angle. For decades, I’ve listened to Bach. He’s just my fave. I wrote a whole novel with his Goldberg Variations playing on Spotify. I’m fans of other composers, Chopin for one, and Scarlatti. All classical.

The thing about a breakdown is, it breaks you down. Chunks of you fall onto the floor. You look at them, wiping the snot off your upper lip with the length of your arm, let the tears dry, and think, Hmm. I wonder if there’s another way I can put these pieces together. Make something interesting, something new.

My son Ben is a jazz musician. He helped me make the change. We’ve got vinyl records, and a retro-1930’s record player . I set it up in my room, put the needle on the edge of a Hank Mobley record, and wow.

My head has so much Bach software in it, I know it too well. Once I started playing jazz—Miles of course, Charlie Parker, Fletcher Henderson, and oh my goodness Billie Holiday—something happened. The jazz cut new grooves into my exhausted brain. The more I listened, the more I tasted the genius of it, something that Ben has spoken of for years. I’m listening to Mobley right now, and having a bit of a time typing, because my head is in a bee-bop movement, and my shoulders sway.

Music has done this to me before. One morning in college, I woke up early to write a paper. I was listening to music on NPR. They played Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.” I’d never heard it before. It’s a romantic piece, one that works more on the emotions than the intellect (unlike Bach).

In memory, the scene is quiet, with coffee on the table, the radio on, and it’s sunny outside. I’m twenty. I’m feeling, well, I’m feeling normal. No mood swing, no erratic thoughts. The Adagio rises slowly, a long movement that’s heading to a peak. It touches the summit, a climax, and holds that high note for so long. Then, sudden silence.

I could hardly breath. Suddenly, I broke into tears. The Adagio lifted again, out of the silence, softly, like a mother putting a child to bed. I couldn’t control myself, I cried, so hard, and I was so happy because I was so sad, so suddenly broken. I was thankful, and wondered, Does this happen to everybody? I know now, the reaction was due in great part to the illness. Bipolar, while swinging me from one emotion to another without explanation, has also given me these moments, when I feel something so tremendously that life, after hearing a piece of music, is more than it was just a few minutes ago.

I never want to be cured of that.

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