How Music Makes the World Taste Better

Heading into the fog in St. Pierre, Eddie Vedder on the headphones.

I forgot to mention that that last post was an old one. I wrote it back in the spring of 2011, before I got married and before we took Arcturus across the Atlantic. I was dreaming about that crossing then. Now it's reality. Strange how that happens (or perhaps not so strange at all).

Mia, my Dad and I came back to Pennsylvania from Annapolis last evening. We've been refitting my dad's Wauquiez Hood 38 Sojourner in anticipation of him sailing in the Caribbean 1500 next fall (which is another story). When we got home I took the dogs out for a short run around the block. The Vansbro Marathon in Sweden is quickly creeping up on us, so we've really ramped up our training. The race is July 4, and its off road through the forest, so we're both expecting a slow course with lots of hills. 

Mia and Clint en route to St. Pierre. This is what July is like up north.

But I feel great. Mia and I ran 16 miles in Annapolis a few days ago, and I did another 10 around the Bay Ridge development, the run I used to do with my friend Tiffany when we both worked on the schooner Woodwind. And I felt great last evening with the dogs, and part of that reason was the music I had on. And during that run last evening, I got the inspiration to write something about it.

I wrote that human's must indeed be creatures of the land. After 23 days at sea and landfall in Ireland, the smell of the earth was incredibly powerful. It literally brought tears to our eyes. Music, for me, does something similar, and has provided a soundtrack for some of the most important and memorable events in my life, adding a layer to those experiences that boost the whole thing to another level entirely.

On my run yesterday it started with David Byrne & St. Vincent. Ice Age came on as I ran down the driveway and added a spring to my step. David Byrne is one of my favorite artists (he's the former lead singer of the Talking Heads). The beats layered in the background of that song in particular, and the horns overlaid on top literally gives me goose bumps when I hear it. Combine that with the adrenaline flowing from the exercise, and I'm transported to a higher level. 

It's not just running either. That thought - while I was listening to the Arcade Fire's Sprawl II -

Sometimes I wonder if the world's so small,
That we can never get away from the sprawl.
Livin' in the sprawl, dead shopping malls rise
Like mountains beyond mountains
And there's no end in sight
I need the darkness, someone please cut the lights!

- came to me yesterday during that run (I'm affected enough by music that I got chills just writing the lyrics to that song just now). 

Music is not a modern thing. Music in a recorded state is modern indeed, only around for the last 100 years or so (incidentally, David Byrne wrote a fantastic book called How Music Works, that basically offers a history of music as a cultural entity over the centuries and how it's changing now in the digital age).

Back in the clipper ship days, sailors had their chanties. Haul Away Joe must certainly have gotten the blood flowing amongst the crew as they hoisted the mainsail. I bet they weren't just singing it to pass the time. They probably had chills too during their favorites.

We had a soundtrack on Arcturus as we headed across the Atlantic. Approaching St. Pierre off the south coast of Newfoundland, I was hand-steering late in the evening listening to my headphones. That far north, the sun doesn't set in July until 10pm. The sky was aflame, just settling towards the horizon behind us as we sailed east. I had my headphones on and was listening to Eddie Vedder's Far Behind  from the soundtrack to Into the Wild: 

Take Leave
the conscious mind
Found myself
to be so inclined

Why sleep
in discontent?
Oh the price
of companionship

My shadow runs with me
underneath the Big Wide Sun
My shadow comes with me
as we leave it all
we leave it all Far Behind

Empty pockets will
Allow a greater
Sense of wealth

Why contain yourself
Like any other
Book on the shelf

Oh man! The shivers were tingling on my neck with that one! How freaking appropriate, given our circumstances. There we were heading towards the horizon, both physically and mentally, sailing towards points unknown in the world and in our minds, and I had THAT to listen to as we're doing it.

And just like smells trigger old memories, music does the same. I'm very careful when I listen to music I like to ensure that I'm listening to it while doing something I want to remember. A bad experience can ruin a good song, but a good experience can elevate that song to an entirely new level.

The whole way across the Atlantic, we got into a routine with the music. The Smashing Pumpkins' Adore album became a repeat during the crossing. As we approached Ireland we started playing the Dropkick Murphys and the Irish Rovers to get us in the mood (which it did, tremendously).

Landfall in Ireland. Shippin' Up to Boston was the soundtrack for this one.

There's an album, Dreams by a band called The Whitest Boy Alive that immediately transports me to Sweden, where I first heard it and got to like it (I'm even careful now only to listen to that album in Sweden, for fear of it taking on a new persona if I hear it elsewhere). The White Stripes Black Math is my favorite song to run hills to.

And now, each time I hear that Eddie Vedder album, I'm mentally transported to that evening on Arcturus as we began our journey, and man what a feeling! It's cemented in my brain, and will (I hope) always be that way.