Music is the way into a universe of feelings, available to us always and good for all situations – including the loss of souls near and dear to our hearts.
“If you can’t control, what is the best thing to do? The best thing to do is to surrender, gracefully, and somehow to allow that situation to carry you along and not be damaged by it.”
This is Brian Eno, speaking to Rick Rubin in an extended Broken Record podcast conversation released earlier this month. I love Eno’s suggestion that we can view surrender as a decisive and potentially positive act. At first, this might not seem to fit with our brutal world of relentless forward motion (and the consequent feeling that we must always be in control if we are to survive in it). Yet he sees surrender as an essential part of how we not only survive but thrive. Eno argues that some of the best moments in life tend to be associated with surrender:*
“What we find ecstatic is nearly always an experience of surrender. We should not forget the surrender part. We should not think that surrender is passivity or cowardice or incompetence. We should say it’s one of the ways we deal with the world.”
The act of surrender can help us deal with so many things. Among them loss. When we lose those dear to us, we need to allow ourselves to feel and to free the emotions that surge through us as we mourn. We need to surrender to these feelings.
Grin plastered on his face
To be lost in music is the most beautiful form of surrender. When we hear the right piece of music at the right moment, it can unlock emotions we might otherwise struggle to access or to express. Music is the way into a universe of feelings, available to us always and relevant to all situations.
This month has seen the loss of two beautiful souls, each for me inextricably intertwined with music and the universe of feelings it opens up for us.
The first was my friend Mat Davies, who passed away on Friday 20 August 2021. As I noted in Spirit in Black, I was deeply moved by the reactions from around the world to this awful news:
“The shock, the sadness, the disbelief flowed out. But these feelings were mixed with wave upon wave of beautiful tributes to Mat’s spirit.”
It was striking to see how music – and, more specifically, Mat’s absolute love of music – played a part in so many people’s recollections of his spirit. My friend Steve Tovey tweeted a delightful response to my post, referencing the Slayer song that it was named after:**
“I can just imagine Mat, hat and rain mac on, wheeling off to do his little circle dance, grin plastered on his face, to the titular riff of this piece.”
Steve’s words immediately conjured this lovely and smile-inducing mental image to my mind, too.
Music also played an important role in how some of us sought to pay tribute to and to remember Mat in the hours and days following his passing.
As the initial shock of the news that we had lost Mat began to settle in, I found some solace in an affectionate discussion with my friends Jay Kuhns, Gary Franklin and Steve Tovey as to what might be the best choice of music to play in tribute to Mat that evening. Each of us came up with different selections of music, but every piece we mentioned was so very Mat, and would have brought that grin to his face.
I have continued to think about Mat all week. Every time I play a piece of music that I know he loved, he is there in my thoughts. But I wasn’t prepared for the unexpected impact of music that I know he would have loved, but will now never get to hear.
Earlier this week, I was inspired to seek out the excellent new Deafheaven album Infinite Granite,*** after seeing a Twitter conversation between Mervyn Dinnen and Michael Collins (two souls who also knew Mr Davies well). Mr Collins tweeted regarding this album:
“It really is a beautiful piece of work (the back catalogue is well worth your time too).
I lost myself in it last night.
Absolutely what was needed at the moment.”
Sometimes the perfect piece of music arrives in your life at the perfect time. The timing of this Deafheaven album’s arrival into our lives is almost uncanny. It feels almost like it was designed for the feelings that have affected me this week. The profound emotions explored by this music – and the knowledge that Mat would have loved it – makes it perfect for this moment. The album was released on Friday 20 August 2021, the day that we lost Mat. Mervyn tweeted that the Deafheaven album feels “almost like it was meant to be released at that time.”
Charlie is my darling****
The other loss to hit me hard over these past few days was that of someone I never met, nor ever even saw in person. But he was always there since before I was in the world, a lovely soul who helped make life better, both through his music and his spirit. On Tuesday 24 August 2021 the world lost beloved Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts at the too-young age of 80.
Charlie Watts was the perfect drummer for the Rolling Stones, providing precisely the unshowy and finely judged heartbeat for their music for more than half a century. One tweeted tribute that I read mentioned that he had not missed a Rolling Stones concert since 1963. The outpouring of love and affection for Mr Watts has been extraordinary. How many lives had he touched and made better over that time?
I particularly like Bob Stanley’s tweet, neatly conveying the greatness of Mr Watts himself, singling out the genius of his drumming on Get Off Of My Cloud,***** and attaching a wonderful photograph that captures the subject’s innate and ineffable sense of style (while also reminding us that he was a contemporary of The Beatles).
Silence can also be a way into a universe of feeling – particularly if unexpected silence is your choice of tribute to a musician who is taken from us too soon. I was moved to tears by the simple beauty of how the Rolling Stones chose to mark the passing of Mr Watts. They painted their official website, black. All content was removed from rollingstones.com for a few days, save a beautiful portrait of Charlie Watts. As I tweeted, this was “a tribute of true class to a gent and drummer of true class.”
When music becomes a religious experience
Music has helped me to surrender to the emotions that wanted and needed to be let out and lived through following the loss of these two souls.
Music can articulate or help unlock an infinity of emotions. Returning to Brian Eno’s conversation with Rick Rubin, I’d like to close with Eno’s words that touch on those moments when listening to a piece of music can feel like a religious experience, one that opens up a universe of feelings:
“There are certain stages in one’s life when music becomes a religious experience, when suddenly it represents all sorts of things, a whole host of baggage comes with the musical experience. As you know, pop music always involves not only music – in fact, not mainly music. It involves haircuts and ways of dressing, social manners, ways of talking to each other, all of those things come bound up in the same package. They’re all part of the same universe of feelings that you’ve decided to enter into.”
* Here is my full transcription of what Eno has to say about surrender in this podcast: “Since we come from a technological culture, we tend to think that control is the solution to every problem. But there are lots of situations we cant’ control, because we don’t know the rules for them, we don’t have the technologies to deal with them. So, if you can’t control, what is the best thing to do? The best thing to do is to surrender, gracefully, and somehow to allow that situation to carry you along and not be damaged by it. So surrendering I think of as an active verb, not a passive verb. I think of it as a way of dealing with things. In our repertoire of dealing with things, we have at one extreme end control and at the other surrender. What we find ecstatic is nearly always an experience of surrender. It’s interesting to me that although we are constantly trying to control, our biggest thrills come from letting go of control. And so what becomes obvious is that it’s the combination of those two that we should really be specialising in. We should not forget the surrender part. We should not think that surrender is passivity or cowardice or incompetence. We should say it’s one of the ways we deal with the world.”
** Slayer serve some Spirit In Black realness, from their superb album Seasons in the Abyss.
**** Charlie Is My Darling is the title of a documentary about a Rolling Stones tour of Ireland in 1965.
***** Click on the video below to glory in Charlie’s drumming (and, indeed, everything else about) Get Off Of My Cloud.