When I was a teenager, I had a bulky (by today’s standard), electric blue radio-cassette player and an equally bulky red not-walkman Walkman. It recorded things, which felt like the height of luxury, and allowed me to fast forward and rewind tapes. Attached to these were a pair of cheap, flimsy red and black headphones. For about three years, my ears were rarely uncovered and music accompanied me wherever I went. I remember my mother’s exasperation as I placed the blue radio-cassette firmly on the dinner table and began to eat with the headphones firmly planted on my head. It was a regular mealtime discussion, her insisting I unplug to eat and me reluctantly, on daring days petulantly, removing the headphones and turning off the radio or the tape.
As I grew older, I became more aware of how to behave politely when eating in company, but music remained a regular companion; I was never without a cassette player, later a CD player, later an MP3 player. The headphones changed too, getting smaller and whiter, but they also remained. And when I wasn’t listening to music or unskilfully playing music, there was a song in my head. Generally a song written by someone else, often a song I loved but sometimes one that just got stuck there, but if nothing came to mind, I would mentally hum a simple tune over and over to fill that space until something better came along and took up musical home.
Now music is lost. That part of my brain has fallen silent. Music is too evocative, it is too meaningful. Songs that remind me of bad times of course cause pain but equally songs that remind me of good times now only serve to remind me that those good times and those people have gone. I don’t play music anymore. It’s just another thing I’m useless at and I don’t need reminding of how long that list is. The little part of my mind that hummed tunes has closed off. Now there is only silence.
But I can’t live with the silence, I can’t let my thoughts win. So these days the little white headphones remain plugged in but instead I listen to podcasts and audio books. I try to pick interesting ones to occupy and calm the chaos. Sometimes it works. But I miss the music.