Once, during a summer when I was immersed in intensive organic chemistry, I found myself alone and lonely. In an effort to connect back with life, I played my then favorite song, The Pretenders’ Back on the Chain Gang, on the stereo I was boarding for my roommate. As the song would end, I would replace stylus to vinyl and listen again. After the sixth play, with behavior bordering on obsessive, I reluctantly switched over to the FM band. In one of the odd serendipities that play in my life, the tune sang out from the airwaves for a seventh time giving me a sense of inevitability, solace and finality.
“Music hath charms” but the magical charms are bittersweet. On that long-past summer afternoon the instant of sheer satisfaction in my favorite phrase (“Those were the happiest days of my life”) gave my heart each time a warming thrill. But each instant also left it yearning. I could anticipate the moment, I could revel in it as it occurred, but I could never hold it. Music is forever touched by a reflection of an emotion.
With the possible exception of sculpture, where you can physically grasp the object of beauty, most art is enhanced by redolent echoes, the nostalgia for the sensation which you have encountered. With painting or printmaking, you can stare and dream as long as you wish, but you can never reach in and immerse in the beauty. In dance or in theater, or the spoken word of poetry, the moment strikes you and then passes.
Writing may be the most permanent of arts. The word is always on the page and the page can always be in your hand. In my favorite works, there is always a moment where I pause and savor before moving forward in the story. In some, I will return to a passage or a chapter even after I have finished the book for the first or fiftieth time. I will read and relive the moment, attempting both to hold onto and be held by the stirring sensation of completeness.
Perhaps after the seventh time, I will have achieved my goal.