Music Only I’ve Heard

Have you ever randomly come up with a tune in your head and it just sets in, making a home there in your head, appearing among the flashes of your thoughts again and again? (Regina Spektor released a song about that recently, “Spacetime Fairytale,” and maybe she’s gotten inside my head after all these years, probably because of this podcast.)

Something similar happens to me with poetry, random strings of words that flare into my mind and the power of them grips me in a tight embrace. But with poetry I’ve learned that if I don’t immediately write those words down along with whatever words follow them, they’ll be all but gone, the only remnant a memory of having stumbled into those words, whatever they were.

And then if I write those words down and I like them enough to add them into my growing collection, most of those lines will stick in my head. I can and do recite any number of them (usually silently), often finding myself realizing a secondary or tertiary significance to lines I’d previous thought had clearly only one meaning. These random lines surface daily, from any number of the 100+ poems I’ve churned out over the last four years. It’s a feeling of meeting a friend you haven’t spoken to in awhile, or, if it’s from one of the poems most frequently on my mind, a feeling of seeing again one of your closest friends with whom even frequent contact is never enough.

But this has never happened with music for me. I’ve always admired/envied Regina Spektor (among many other talented songwriters) for her ability to make a piano express an impossible beauty (on full display in her “Us,” the first song I ever heard of hers back in 2006, and check out “Love Affair,” and “The Trapper and the Furrier”), even drums and a guitar (“That Time”). But I’ve never regarded myself as musically competent. I played clarinet in middle school. Yeah it was a lot of fun, comparatively speaking, now that I think back to it. Except I was struggling through, with undiagnosed ADHD and a light autism, as well as tremendous trauma in progress, so I didn’t ‘apply myself,’ and I was almost always last chair. The experience is underwriting my aversion from music for sure. But all the same, I’d never heard a melody in my head until a couple weeks ago, and I don’t even particularly like it but it just will not go away.

But also I’ve been listening to more and more male singers and realizing that my own voice was done no favors by the register at which I’ve preferred to sing along with (mostly) women’s voices. It was always more natural to me to raise my pitch when I sing, developed long ago with female country singers like Shania Twain and Lee Ann Rhymes, and carried on with Britney Spears (“Mona Lisa” should be getting some play after #FreeBritney; it’s a different song now), Destiny’s Child (“Bug a Boo”) and Yoncé (“Diva”), and then almost every female singer-songwriter who could’ve played a Lilith Fair, Fiona Apple (“Daredevil”), Anna Nalick (“Drink Me,” “Stone”), Missy Higgins (“Peachy”); but my heart belongs to Lana Del Rey (“West Coast”). Lana’s “Summertime” cover led me to finally to Billie Holiday, whose own cover of “Summertime” will never be outdone. Listening to Billie Holiday (along with this episode of Throughline on “Strange Fruit“) made me finally understand Regina Spektor’s “Lady.” Billie also led me to Bessie Smith (“Me and My Gin,” “Lock and Key,” “Take it Right Back”). Anyway I could spend hours just putting in links to music, but you get the point. This is one of the areas where the queerness in me shine brightest: musically I identify as female almost entirely.

But my voice has taken a distinctly deep turn, cigarettes probably more than the tail-end of maturation. By now it’s a deep gritty vocal fry, with a kind of sultry tinge that makes me uncomfortable whenever I think of the few times I’ve heard recordings of myself talking.

Weirdly, more than a few people have said positive things about my voice. But I’ve blown off most of them because typically they were men I was dating and I understood the urge. There’s just something wonderful about hearing a person speaking for whom you have romantic feelings. It’s the same urge that would drive me to try not to talk so much so that I could hear their voices. Plus it just seems like a profoundly bad idea to take a compliment seriously from someone with romantic motivations. But it hasn’t only been those men, if I’m being honest with myself. Many friends, some of my students and a few professors have also made complimentary remarks about my voice. (I used to have a very gay voice, like the worst stereotypical depiction of a gay boy, Heyyyyyyy, that was me. Disdain for my voice was part of a self-loathing starter pack. I’m mostly, but only mostly, over that.)

And for me men’s voices have been exemplified most frequently through Patrick Stump’s phenomenally intense voice (“Dance, Dance,” “West Coast Smoker.”). That’s just not my range, but I am an Overcast Kid for life anyway. The depth of Leonard Cohen’s voice in his “Hallelujah” has stuck in my mind ever since Imogen Heap’s cover led me to it. There’s something enchanting to me about Viet Cong’s “Continental Shelf,” (now the band is called Preoccupations, lol Mouse Rat anyone?), but they’ve got The Killers’ vibe (“Somebody Told Me”) and of course Panic! At the Disco (“Build God, Then We’ll Talk”), and that range isn’t my range either.

Now just recently I happened to catch the end of a clip on NPR that mentioned Iggy Pop’s “Passenger,” a quick sound bite of which had me instantly transfixed. (By the way, the recent cover by Alison Mosshart [The Dead Weather (“I Can’t Hear You”)] is excellent also and I play them together a lot.) Aside from the melody/rhythm (one of my favorites, reminiscent of Cat Power and Lana Del Rey’s “Woman”), Iggy’s voice is a revelation. Maybe there’s music in me after all.

It came about like any other poem coming to me, except that I was singing the words under my breath instead of reciting them. It’s about an artist and the Muses, a frequent topic of mine, that came to me when I realized I could use the Muses as a female character to write about (because LOL I’ve always realized I couldn’t ever package myself as straight, even in a persona).

The first verse goes like this. (Yeah, no… it’s not that great):

I overheard them on the wind
walking down the way, and hey!
They said, Hey kid, come sing for me,
and I’ll sing it right back to you.
Yeah, turn out your thoughts
against our cold frames,
and I’ll sing it right back to you.

Then the chorus…. But I have to warn you, I hate it. It starts with this weird Beatles-vibe that just isn’t ok with me. (No shade to any Beatlephiles out there; it’s just not my thing.) The second half of the chorus is somewhat better. It ends on a jazzy upswing, and lately I can’t get enough 20s and 30s jazz/swing/etc.

She’s a shadow in my mind
and a terror on my brain,
a lurking burning fire
and she’s racing through my veins.
Now she’s running through the night
with a wicked sort of grin and she laughs
cuz there’s no one there but me.
No, there ain’t no one there but me.

Who even knows what the hell the deal is but the melodies that accompany those words in my head are starting to haunt me—they’re that frequent, as if they’re earworms. My disbelief in myself knows no bounds—that’s one thing I do believe in—but, meh, this is not a song worth singing.

But probably it’s just good news for a poet and would-be author like me that my voice is capable of enchanting in its way. But through all this I remain convinced that it is less the voice than the passions and enthusiasms a voice can express. On that score, I’ve no shortage. Anyway my media are words, my medium the printed page; that’s not ever changing.

And there is certainly a kind of music to reciting poems—if there isn’t, is it really poetry? Also in this novel I’m working on, so much of it flits into poetry masquerading as prose that I’ve actually reformatted a few of those as bits of poetry. (It failed each time because the lines are wildly varying, and many of them took up two lines, which was unsightly…). And after all rap is poetry, to such an extent that I’d frame a class around rap, if I were ever able to teach the Greek Lyric Poets (Alcaeus and Sappho and the others), or even Greek poetry in general.

Anyway, I’m not sure what to do with this music in my head. It’s not like I can play this song on repeat until it loses its appeal and fades into the background and I’m not about to leap into a recording studio.

But hey, here’s a playlist for you, too, of random songs from the playlist of music that my neurodivergent-ass mind is hyperfixated on. Woot! Hyperfixations!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


Make a one-time contribution to what I do

Make a monthly donation to what I do

Make an annual donation to what I do

Anything donated helps fund my creative endeavors!


Or enter a custom amount


Thank you SO much!!

Thank you SO much!!

Thank you SO much!!

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly
%d bloggers like this: