The other day I woke up unable to recall the one song I have loved all these years.
It was a frantic moment; almost as if I had lost myself.
The first time I heard that song, I had immediately fallen in love with it for the journeying groove in which it couched its truth. Everything about it moved except for its core; what’s more, everything moved because its core recognized the futility of staying put.
So I thought. So I choose to continue believing for I don’t usually latch on to songs by their lyrics. I don’t read music. The times I memorized lyrics and sang, I felt surrendered to a purpose. Music, for me, has no purpose. It just, is; much like life. You can snuff out life just as you turn off the music. But when you are alive, can you question consciousness? It is what it is. Similarly, you like music. Don’t try explaining why your atoms and molecules rearranged to happiness, hearing the sounds. Don’t try explaining why you swayed to music. Let it be. And from that, some songs stay. Those that stay long, you may opt to work your way back from musical impression to the lyrics. It is a bit like finding a good friend. You know each other with time. You think you explained the other having unravelled the lyrics. Then, just when you thought you had it all explained, a whole new mystery starts! The cosmos is restless.
“ I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ – the line meant little to me when I first heard U2’s song, way back when their album ` The Joshua Tree’ was nominated for the Grammy Awards. The nominated songs and the award presentation used to be telecast as a half-hour capsule on national television those days in India. I fell for the song’s structure and progression right away. For me, its seminal line was merely a name to remember it by. What attracted was the whole thing.
Years passed. Now working away from home and my room with a music system, music transformed to small portable audio player and headphones. Eventually when I failed to keep pace with technology, it transformed to tunes in the head. I even liked returning from a month of self imposed ban on the media, to my music – hearing it with renewed freshness. My affection for the song was perhaps a sign of things to come, for my sense of life as adult has always been out-of-body, as though peering at passing sights from the confines of a self limiting-shape. Every time that procession of passing sights took hold, the song would fill my head. Indeed U2 was especially talented in creating such imagery through their music; many of their songs possess the feeling of travel. Wind in your hair, self on a comet streaking through the cosmos, the clarity in un-belonging. I could go on. Larry Mullen Jr, Adam Clayton and The Edge – that’s a trio of talented rock musicians. They build the musical ambiance, the journeying spirit that bears forth the band’s lyrics and Bono’s vocals.
As the years passed, my affection for their music outgrew the one song I loved, to the many embodying that journeying spirit which the band captured in its work beautifully. But it was when one’s failures in life multiplied amid world inspired by media to worship perfection and success that I really understood (in my own way) why the words ` I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,’ mattered. My daily life had become a clash of two trends – the comet-rider wanted to move on; earthly life, gripped by money, wanted to stagnate so that life’s explained ways can be milked for income.
What is life if it gets explained?
What if we found what we are looking for; what next?
Are we wired to find and settle down or are we wired for the journey?
I remember the first proper length of time I spent camped on a glacier surrounded by snow clad peaks. The remoteness of Zanskar, the whiteness of the peaks in the dark of the night – all stayed in mind. I am a very average climber. Rest assured, if I can do something, anybody can. I hiked, climbed rock, ran and cycled – in everything I did, I was very average. But I came off understanding why I liked doing those things or being in remote places away from people. Life is a quest; I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. Equally, if I found what I am looking for, what happens to the quest? It ends? Even the idea that there is no quest and only this life to endure as the wise love to tell you – how would you like it delivered; as a truism at start that denies the journey or as discovery in life lived as a quest?
A lot of people these days emphasize the importance of looking inward.
They have a point. It is augmented by the fact that the ancients advised so, which suggestion I am not a fan of for I like being alive to my times. I am not a yogi to feel rested and peaceful within the walls of my being, universe internalized.
I like my journey.
I felt alarmed when I couldn’t remember U2’s song.
My comet seemed stalled.
I spent the next couple of hours listening to U2’s songs and concerts; and in that, my old song.
I shed tears of joy.
Middle aged engine restarted.
I felt a gentle breeze kiss my face as journey recommenced.
So we traveled, till one day something else happened.
Out of the blue, a tune surfaced in my head and kept going on and on.
It wasn’t a song that latched on to my mind the first time I heard it years ago.
But the way it resurfaced, I could sense urgency.
As with U2, I got on to the Internet and spent much time listening to Sting, possibly the most gifted singer-musician out there. The song in question was ` If I Ever Lose My Faith in You’ from his 1993 album ` Ten Summoner’s Tales.’ The funny thing about suddenly having this song in my head is that it wasn’t as imprinted in my brain as some of Sting’s other compositions. But that day, the song about losing faith wouldn’t leave the head. It wasn’t totally surprising for I had been experiencing a sense of loss, something slowly vanishing. I don’t know exactly what I am losing faith in. Like I said before the precise cause for a song’s lyrics don’t engage me. Over analyzed and over articulated, world by technical mind has become boring. Often a song strikes a chord for no better reason than that it did. It is like finding curves in world made monotonous by grids and pixels. I know I am losing faith in something. Don’t ask me to describe it as if my saying so will help you fix it. How can the problem find the solution? In bits and pieces, the song offered imperfect words for the predicament. Above all, it swept me with its swaying music, hinting in its moments of wordless fluidity a refuge for the un-belonging I know is mine.
Un-belonging and universe are the same.
(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. This article is the expanded version of a piece that appeared in The Economic & Political Weekly.)