Life is what you do, while you’re waiting to die… Or so says the opening song of the 1968 Kander & Ebb musical Zorba. The pessimist in me identifies with this typically caustic Fred Ebb lyric completely. But I identify even more with something that Oscar-winner Tan Dun said in our recent interview for FSM Online—“To me, life is music, music is life.” Truer words were never spoken.
In addition to my dogs, music is my constant companion. Since I work from home, music plays day and night (probably much to the chagrin of my neighbors). It accompanies me on my walks through the streets of New York City and shuts out the incessant white noise of humanity that threatens to overwhelm even the most jaded, long-term resident. Film music, contemporary music, classical music, opera…it’s all grist for the ever-churning mill of notes that constantly turns inside my head.
Music is food, water, and breath for me. Music truly is life. Like a lover, it occasionally lets you down. But like a good friend, it’s always there when you need it.
I don’t understand people who don’t listen to music, any kind of music. I don’t trust them. In my most uncharitable moments, I feel there is something fundamentally wrong with them, like people who don’t read or hate dogs. You can have one, even two, of the three missing from your genetic makeup, but the absence of all three means we have absolutely nothing to discuss.
Have you ever played that pointless, twisted game where someone asks you, “If you were forced to give up one major sense, what would it be?” I love to read and giving up my sight would be difficult. But touch and hearing could help overcome that. If I had to give up my mobility, it would be incredibly difficult in New York City, but still doable with a little (okay, a lot of) patience (which, admittedly, is not one of my virtues). However, the loss of hearing might prove to be the most debilitating. Without music, without the sound of my dog, my family, and friends, life would truly suck. It would require a major overhaul of my priorities to rethink exactly what life meant to me going forward.
Thankfully (knock on wood), I don’t have to deal with these issues. But for some reason, those questions enter my mind from time to time, perhaps for no other reason than to remind myself how fortunate I am. I hate it when I catch myself taking things for granted (which happens more than I care to admit). And that could be something as foolish as the latest film score release or 2-day shipping from Amazon. Yes, my life is enriched by such seemingly innocuous events and I often struggle to keep that in mind.
So what’s it all about, Alfie? As if I know. But I know that no matter the mood, no matter the scenario, the inexplicable power of music enriches my life. If life—and in my case, by extension, music—is what you do while you’re waiting to die, then “this is how the time goes by.” That Fred Ebb was a damn good lyricist and a smart man.
And so we circle back to Tan Dun. Life indeed is music, music is life. No music? No life.