Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Music Leif Listened To The Last Two Weeks of His Life

Leif loved music all his life. He had eclectic tastes. His huge iTunes music collection, nearly all songs ripped from CDs he had purchased over a twenty year period, encompassed everything from Bach organ fugues to rap, from acid rock to Kitaro. The one genre he really didn't go for was country music, but there were even some country songs he liked and had in his library.

Music can either set a mood or reflect the mood we're in. We chose it to lift our spirits, commiserate with our sorrows, inspire us, even help us deal with anger. I think that listening to a lot of dark and unhappy, angry music sets a bleak view of life that's not conducive to happiness.

In the last couple of years of his life, Leif discovered new artists he liked, and I know he listened to a lot of what he called techno music. Much of what he liked was too "growling" with too strong a bass beat for my tastes, without much melody. He cranked it up loud in his car, very loud. He was delighted when it became possible for him to mount his iPod on his dashboard and play it through the car's stereo system instead of having to either pop in one CD at a time or have a changer in the trunk.

iTunes keeps a count of how many times a song has been played, and the last play date. Because of that, I could see what songs Leif was listening to the last two weeks of his life, and how many times he listened to them, and I could listen to them myself. I found that to be a very sad experience. He was listening to very sad music, the saddest of which was Johnny Cash's rendition of "Hurt," from the album "American IV - The Man Comes Around." This is one of the saddest songs I have ever heard, with the line, "I hurt myself to see if I can still feel," and the lines about everyone going away in the end. Leif listened to it 10 times in those last two weeks of his life.

This count is only what he listened to at home on his computer, not what he was listening to in his car. I don't know what he listened to then. But it was at home that he would have been alone and most likely to be feeling lonely and depressed.

I cried when I heard that song, and some of the others. Leif purchased it from the iTunes store not long before his death, and only that song, not the album. As I said, he wasn't fond of country music, but that song must have spoken to him in a deep way.

I know he didn't always go for that kind of depressing music. He loved the guitar soloists from some of the big rock bands in the 1980s, the magic of Kitaro, the hard charging rock of the 80s and 90s.

The photo with this post was taken in Germany in May 1988, twenty years before Leif died. He was 13. We had taken a "Space A" trip on a military refueling plane from Chicago to Bamberg, Germany. There we rented a car and drove to see Peter W's relatives in Heidelberg. Unfortunately, Leif didn't remember his German (he had been so fluent at the age of 5 when we moved to Japan from Germany), so he couldn't talk with his German cousins, but he enjoyed the trip.

One funny thing that happened while we were there staying with Peter W's Uncle Helmut and Aunt Elfriede was the Pink Floyd tape incident. They gave Leif some spending money as a gift and suggested that he and his cousin, Marc, go shopping. Leif wanted to get a cassette tape for his Walkman and found just what he wanted, a Pink Floyd album called "Ummagumma." It has several minutes of some rather odd animal sound noises on one track, called "Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict."

Leif thought this was hilarious and wanted Marc to listen to it. He couldn't explain to Marc what it was, so when Marc listened to it, he thought there was something wrong with the tape and that was why Leif was having him listen to it. When they got back to the apartment, Marc told this to the adults, who thought they should go back and exchange the tape for one that wasn't defective. When we asked Leif what was wrong with it, he had a good laugh and quite a hard time trying to explain that there was nothing wrong with the tape and he actually wanted it that way.

Since Leif's death, I've come to look at music in a different way. I grew up loving music, too, and I fully appreciated the emotional range and impact of music. Now that is even more pronounced. Peter W. said yesterday that he noticed that just about all of the songs on the radio are either love songs, or lost love songs, or somebody done somebody wrong songs. I got to thinking what kind of effect that would have on someone who was lonely, who was looking for love. Wouldn't that just make it all the more poignantly sad?

I've also come to realize that although these songs are written to be about romantic love, many of them have lyrics that apply just as well to any kind of love between people, and those about missing one's love are so much sadder to me now, for although I have my romantic love with me, I don't have my son, and the words of those songs are too true.

Music is powerful and musical tastes are individual. I didn't share much of Leif's musical taste, but I could appreciate what he liked about some of it; some I did like. There were bands and artists he introduced me to that I still enjoy. But now, I look at that music he listened to those last two weeks, and I wonder if it didn't help send him deeper into depression.

It would have been better if he had listened to happier, more uplifting music, instead of matching his own dark mood.

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