Music, Monsters, and Moving Forward

Bugs Bunny introduced my to classical music.

I first heard the”Wedding March” by Mendelssohn not at a church wedding, but in the “Rabbit of Seville” episode where Elmer Fudd pursues Bugs through a theater. It was also where I was introduced to Rossini’s overture to The Barber of Seville. To this day I cannot hear the staccato music without thinking of the cartoon. It makes me happy: the cartoon, the music, and the memory.

Music is like that, binding you to memories and moments, holding the power to change a mood as easily as any of the other senses. I cannot smell Old Spice without thinking of my grandfather (also the sound of coins being shuffled in a pocket reminds me of his subtle, nervous habit). I cannot hear music from the 1980s without recalling an event from my youth. In fact, when a very popular new wave music station suddenly began to play Latino music one day, I had to stop the car an pull over to check that I had the correct 92.7 dialed in. How dare they stop playing the music I spiked my hair to and to which just I chose the right Madonna wanna-be gloves or tops, the ballads of badass in which I psyched myself up for a night of dancing, and the lyrics of woe and longing I played, ad nauseum, while I recalled the latest guy who did me wrong?

The radio station was supposed to remain unchanged so that I could always turn to it for those times I needed those memories. Now we have satellite and streaming and playlists on our phones; but, back in the 1990s and early 2000s, we relied on radio stations to remember their important role of nostalgia supplier.

My grandmother couldn’t listen to music from World War II. Too many songs recalled difficult times, the pain of loss; and so she discarded the whole–the songs of victory and encouragement and hope and love–to avoid the few.  Too bad. My grandmother was shut off from her emotions, and could have used a little music to move things along. She could have used a really good cry rather than keeping a stiff upper lip, and maybe she should have recalled some of the heartbreak and laughter because in life, and in music one tends to follow the other (though not at the time nor in the order we like).

My grandfather loved music, all of it, all the time. He wasn’t afraid to sing it or hum it, and when those weren’t possible, took to tapping his feet. His eight brothers and sisters were musical, and they played various instruments and sung the music they grew up with and marched off to war with and lost spouses to. They cried and laughed at the music, letting it wash over them, bringing memories in and letting it move them. When I heard familiar songs like “California, Here I come” and “Oh You Beautiful Doll” while watching another Bugs Bunny cartoon, “Hair-Raising Hare”, it dawned on me that perhaps the other music I heard was also not an original Bugs score. It hardly mattered, and I eventually learned all about opera and classical music; but, what mattered at the time was the times to which the music was tied, and what it could do to people. And monsters.

In the latter Bugs episode, he is lured into the castle of a mad doctor who has plans for Bugs as dinner for his gigantic, orange monster, who has a penchant for high-top sneakers, named Gossamer. Gossamer pursues Bugs to several popular tunes, like “Shuffle Off to Buffalo”, and Bugs districts him with a beauty routine and more songs. William Congreve wrote in The Mourning Bride, 1697: “Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast, To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.” Music conned Elmer Fudd into believing he was a blushing bride (also after a day of beauty–perhaps Bugs was a frustrated spa technician?), and Gossamer into falling for Bugs’ tricks. It has the power to convince reluctant lovers, reduce grown men to tears, help an angry heart forgive, and move people who have no sense of rhythm to get up and dance (and I say to them, bravo!).

This time of year, I put on Christmas music just after Thanksgiving. It convinces me that this year the holidays will be different, it gives me hope I can do something about that. I subject myself, my spouse and my cat to a month of Marshmallow Worlds, Frosted Windowpanes, and Dreams of a White Christmas so that we can soften the resolve that we built up the prior year that said: This year we will not over-shop, not bake ourselves into a frenzy, not cook for an army, not worry about those few relatives (and they don’t know who they are) who have the ability to take a Christmas we hope will be like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and instead turn it into more of a “Die Hard” theme (both holiday classics now, and I can see why).  But the day after Christmas, I turn off the music and refuse to hear even a tinkle of the Nutcracker Suite for another 12 months.

Then comes the dangerous time of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. We are told is a time to look back and examine, and look forward and plan. It’s human nature to reflect on our past events, we have the cognitive ability that plagues us with this unlike lucky creature like my cat. However, this looking back business may be hazardous. There is an entire page on the Psychology Today website devoted to this topic. The problem with looking back is that you lose sight of where you are headed. It’s why your car is covered by a window and supplied with only small, rear and side-view mirrors. The other trap is the ever-dreaded resolutions.

The calendar is a trick of itself. While it is believed to be older than originally thought, the first calendar was a way to track the world moving around the people on the ground. Now, people won’t move forward without having every moment planned or figured out. If you’ve lived for ten minutes, you know that plans are futile beyond the moment. Even physicist Albert Einstein and philosopher Henri Bergson argued about time Einstein believed time either lived in clocks or peoples’ heads, while Bergson felt we as humans were intrinsically tied to time and its passing.

But that ignores the moment. What if the past were left in place. Look back at it, but don’t stare too long for danger of getting caught in it. Remember a mirror doesn’t reflect completely. Memories play tricks. We love the people we lost, but not for who they really were. We long for the simpler times past, while overlooking the dirty, little details that were also woven into those days. Look long enough back and you might only discover the monsters. Try to control the future and you’ll only be disappointed while you’ve also been missing the present. All the dirty and lovely little moments. A love ballad holds both happiness and heartbreak, depending on the listener.

Even the Bible talks about not getting stuck in the past, “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,” Philippians 3:13.

So what to do about these times, the holidays, the memories, the music and monsters? Leave them be. Be happy you get to stick around for another year. Look, observe, learn what you will, and then forget everything. Just keep moving forward. Life does. While many animals seem to possess the ability to be reflective, they are free from going beyond immediate thoughts. Nature demands they ‘stay in the moment’ else be eaten or lose out on something more important. Humans could learn a lot from this.

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