So What...?

Sometimes you come across a piece of art that has such a profound impact on you that it literally changes your life. These moments can be rare, but when they occur they stick with you forever. They are no different, in my opinion, than those memories of learning that someone has died, or seeing the most beautiful person you've ever laid eyes on for the first time. The reason they are so profound is because they are so honest. The only way to describe it, is as if you are in a state of limbo: it is if nothing in the world besides you and this piece of art exist. The artist has created that direct connection through their medium that was intended, and there is no turning back. You will forever remember the exact moment when  you experienced this revelation, and it is, in my opinion one of the most beautiful moments that life can offer.

I can think of three specific times in my life where I felt this impact- all involving music. The most recent was when I heard Joni Mitchell's re-recording of her track "Both Sides Now," from the album of the same name. Prior to that was hearing The Adagio from Mozart's "Gran Partita," These were like a profound metaphysical shift, but we will save the experiences for another time. They wouldn't have happened if it weren't for one night in the summer of 1997.

I was 9 years old. We had spent the day down on Cape Cod- Falmouth to be exact. This was a frequent occurrence with my family during the summer. We would spend the weekends going down the Cape to enjoy the time the summer weather offered us. These were always enjoyable outings with my family, and I think it firmly cemented myself in "Team Ocean" while my familial counterparts seemed to all be "Team Pool." There is something rather cathartic about a beach, and I'm sure I will find time to explain why another day.

This particular outing stays in my memory specifically due to the ride home. Now, traveling to or from Cape Cod means one thing: traffic, and lots of it. From our house in Stoneham the ride was about 2 hours. At 9 years old that's a hell of a lot of time. Luckily we would easily keep ourselves distracted in the morning, on the way to the cape: games, coloring books, bothering my younger sister, or just laughing about the fact that there was a town called Sandwich. I mean, who wouldn't to be the mayor of Sandwich? It sounds like the most gastronomically satisfying role one can have in politics.

The ride back was usually a different story. We always wound up eating dinner on the Cape, so we wouldn't leave until about 8 or 9. So you need to figure that two hours after a day at the beach at 9 years old and you are pooped, or REALLY bored in the back seat of a car. Thankfully my father introduced me to a gentleman on this particular night that would keep me company on countless occasions for the next 16 years: Miles Davis (To be honest, looking back at how I wrote that last sentence, that individual could have easily been Michael Jackson).

I'll never forget that night. It was about 75 degrees. The sky was a bluish purple, and there was the most soothing breeze hitting my head from the open window in the back of our maroon Chevy Corsica. If one were ever to describe a moment as peaceful, this was it. Most everyone in the car, was asleep or on their way to that point. But I just stared out the window looking at the sky, watching the glow of yellowish street lamps whiz by. I was alone with my thoughts, and enjoyed the moment.

And then, it happened: Without warning, my father put in the tape that would change the course of my life forever: Kind of Blue. Some people talk about their favorite album, but this wasn't my favorite. No, this would become so much more. Kind of Blue revealed itself to be the perfect album. From the moment that Bill Evans' piano head came in on "So What," I was hooked. There was almost a haunting expression to his playing, and yet it was so peaceful. In just a few bars, this man was able to say so much, with so little. Then the intro: that D to Eb hook. Ba-Dum. Ba-Dum. It just pulsed away with an ease that almost said "Hey kid, relax." And then boom. Here he came. Like a tidal wave Miles Davis trumpet hits. It was like being hit by a Tsunami. How could this ever so slightly shrill trumpet be the warmest thing I had ever heard? It was so full and rich. Where were these notes coming from?

At this point, I immediately closed my eyes, and let the music consume me. I had never heard anything like this. Every note, every rest, every breath: they were there for a reason. It just worked. It was a rare moment of perfection. Just imagine this if you will: Five men in a recording booth all in a groove. Just a man and his instrument. Here it was for my enjoyment over and over for my listening pleasure.

The next shock-wave hit me during the track "Blue In Green." Here I am lying in a Chevy Corsica at 9 years old, in the year 1997. Yet, with the most tender touch on the Piano Keys, Bill Evans transports me into late 1950's New York. Every time I hear this song I get the same impression: It's night time, rainy in downtown New York City. The city is quiet, but peaceful. I'm walking along with an overcoat, clutching my shivering shoulders. The lights of the city begin to flicker. It's bedtime now, the city is about to sleep. Yet, the music beckons me to stay out. To enjoy the solitude that is offered when everything shuts off. Just a man in his environment. Perhaps I am smoking a cigarette. Or maybe I pass a late night diner reminiscent of Edward Hopper's Nighthawks.

It is a rare feat when a piece of music can create such a lasting impression. Yet, 16 years on, this same image is still planted firmly in my head. Perhaps this fantasy of New York never actually existed at any point in time, but the image that this track was able to provide is good enough for now.

This whole time I had been lying in the Corsica, slowly drifting in and out of consciousness, but never losing the music. It is, from what I can recall, one of the most perfect moments of life. It's like this quintet collectively stood around me and said "It's all good." And it was. The flickering lights, the midnight blue sky, the warm breeze, and Miles.

From that point on, I was hooked. It become a part of every trip for the next few years. The drive back from Cape Cod HAD to close its doors with the sounds of Miles Davis. I had experienced the ultimate high, and dammit I was going to get my fix come hell or high water. To this day, it is one of my go to albums. I've had to have listened to the album from beginning to end at least 150 times at this point. Never once does it ever get stale, or repetitive. No matter how many times I listen to it, I still get that same chill up my spine, ever questioning how these five men were able to achieve what they did on this 45 album.

If Heaven exists, I'd like to think that it takes the form of a highway with a 9 year old boy sitting in the back of his parents car, hearing this album for the first time, and having nothing but the most profound sense of peace wash over him. Because that is exactly what I experienced, and man, it was nothing short of Heavenly.

Antonio MerolaComment