After the Orlando shooting, I was overcome by an ocean of sadness. But my favorite songs filled me with hope again
Music has been one of the only things that brings me any form of real convenience. Science has shown that music can attain us physically stronger. Music acts as a type of legal performance-enhancing medication, devoting athletes more stamen, more energy and increased ability to ignore and overcome pain, says a wealth of studies.
I needed its magic powers this week. So many of us are struggling with how to manage the ocean-sized sadness and boiling rage that weve been feeling since the attack on Pulse nightclub in Orlando last weekend. I spent Monday and Tuesday having a bit of a malfunction on social media, screaming at people, hurling epithets.
It all came to a head when I remembered my mothers fears that she would lose me to a homophobic attack. There were periods that day when I just wanted to stop typing the essay I was working on, stop reading and curl up in a ball on the floor.
Instead I put on my headphones and drowned myself in loud, propulsive music. Every period I felt my resolve slacking, I shut my eyes and lost myself in the pumping bass lines and pounding drums. I took deep breaths, steadied myself and kept going, just like I would in the middle of a workout.
Then, when it was over, I did curl up on the floor. I put on a playlist of gospel and soul, the music I go to when I need real solace. Mavis Staples scratchy alto sends healing warmth spreading out to my limbs like a shot of whiskey used to back in my drinking days. Aretha Franklin sings Bridge Over Troubled Water like her voice is parting the Red Sea and shes coming to save you and take you to the Promised Land.
When I was 20 years old, I got my heart really broken for the first time. Most people, I believe, go through that sort of debilitating breakup in high school, the one that leaves them stunned and aching, astonished at how much their heart can hurt.
Food tasted like glue and wet paper. Sleep was a miserable cycle of urgent, painfully real dreamings about the guy who dumped me, followed by waking up and recollecting everything all over again.
Suddenly, all the music I loved wasnt cutting it. Morrisseys asexual moaning and endless, airless Depeche Mode remixes were falling short of actually ever reaching the soul-deep aching I felt.
I told a nurse I worked with named Angela about what was happening. The next day she brought me a cassette transcript of Otis Reddings Greatest Hits. She pointed one perfectly polished fingernail at track one on side two called Pain in my Heart .
Start there, she said. She was absolutely right. Otis Redding, 21 years run at that point, was right there with me, singing from inside my aching heart. From there I went to Etta James Id Rather Go Blind . This was something I could understand, something I could really feel all the way down where it hurt.
Black American music is the sound of triumph over pain, of beauty and spirit winning out over sadness and despair. When Rosetta Tharpe asks Didnt it rain, children? and stimulates her electric guitars sound glitter like the sunlight, its clear that the rainfall has passed and the time to rejoice has come.
Everyone has their empowerment music of choice, whether its Prince, Bob Dylan or Beyonc. At hours like this, when no terms can soothe our hurt , no kabuki-performing politicians with their promises of thoughts and prayers can ease our agony and dread, music has the power.
What do you listen to when you need to feel better?
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