Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Crowded Loneliness

I was sitting in the living room of my rented trailer 22 years ago, watching MTV, when the band Mötley Crüe appeared on the screen. After I proudly named all four members of the band, a charming young woman, who was sitting there with a few other friends, looked at me and asked, "Why do you know that?"

It was the tone of her voice that suggested to me what she meant by the question: why had I bothered to learn the names of the members of a useless rock band when I knew the names of the principal conductors of every major symphonic and philharmonic orchestra in the world?

I just laughed and said, under the cacophony that the band was producing on the TV, "I don't know." It was sweet of her to ask, though. She knew something of the distance I had come since I joined the Navy. I made a conscious decision to neglect the things that I loved in favor of what everyone else loved. My tastes were lonely ones, exclusive. If, after I joined the Navy, I was to keep listening to Mahler and Debussy, watching Antonioni and Bergman, reading Camus and Bellow, I wouldn't have had any friends. I felt that I needed to change my life, and assure others, my fellow sailors, that I was one of them, no better and no worse. For the next eleven years I avoided the music and films and literature that I loved and followed the crowd.

I believe it was a better, richer experience because of it. I noticed that my journals grew thinner, that the things I chose to set down in them were spreading further apart in time. Entire years were chronicled in only a few pages. It wasn't that I had nothing to apostrophize - it's that I was being borne aloft on the crest of a wave and I didn't have a moment's spare time to stop to analyze my thoughts or my feelings. I was alive.

But now, these many years since returning to my private life, I find that I no longer have the time or a proper occasion to listen to Das Lied von der Erde or to Pelléas and Mélisande. The music I now hear all around me hardly qualifies as music in my estimation. A part of me is screaming. I am almost never alone, either, here in my house among the coconut trees. But I miss those lonely places I once knew but never visit any more, where I was accompanied by Meursault and Augie March, Albert Vogler and Umberto D., and Claudio Abbado and Neville Mariner.

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