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No alarms and no surprises

Mr. W had 'No Surprises' on at full volume in the car when he came to pick me up from work the other day. So we didn't talk to each other for a full 3 and a half minutes…letting the song have its moment, waiting in shared appreciation until it felt ok to speak… Course, I'd forgotten what came next, and 'Lucky' is hardly background music for chit-chat either. All in all Radiohead pretty much stymied any chance of conversation till we got home.

In a previous post I confessed to having actively destroyed a few particularly 'dangerous' CDs in a moment of ascetic fervour.* Indeed, my cherished Radiohead collection was first in line for the cull. I tease myself, but it was a smart move, at the time.

Music is powerful: the better the music, the more dangerous. And Radiohead are pretty epic. All that raw, bleak, despair - unchecked by any rational basis for hope - Thom Yorke's fragile wail over layers of tense, resounding instrumentals...and the guitar solos! 15 years old, with more than my 'fair' share of emotion, social dysfunction, and chemical imbalance...oh, and Thom was the only one who understood...and oh, how I would abandon myself to the waves of mutual misery.

The music met me in my struggle but offered me no way out; far from cathartic, it became a catalyst, urging me to indulge my melancholy and painting it as somehow noble, profound, inevitable. Adults are quick to scorn youthful melodrama but when presented with confusing, meaningless pain, romanticising it is just a way of attempting to make sense of it - or rather, to give sense to it - in the hope of somehow making it more palatable.

By God's grace I eventually recognised my relationship with that music as 'a thing which entangled' (Hebrews 12:1-5) and physically destroying the CDs was my way of 'throwing it off'. The hyperbole of the gesture was somehow fitting; lent it a symbolic significance beyond its immediate consequences.

Later, I would learn that even life at its hardest presents you with choices. If you know, a priori, that something is likely to affect you on an emotional level, you have the opportunity to make a rational decision about whether or not to let that happen. So, now, I can enjoy Radiohead on an artistic level, and even (if I'm careful) a cathartic one - benefiting from the companionship of shared emotion expertly expressed. But still there are moments when I know I'd be wiser to stick on something else, like Tree's eponymous album based on the Psalms - something that helps me through rather than draws me in. OK, so, musically, it's not OK Computer. But it's full of heartfelt struggle meets reasoned hope. Or even better, I turn to the Psalms themselves...
I waited patiently for the LORD;
   he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
   out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
   making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
   a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
   and put their trust in the LORD.
As for you, O LORD, you will not restrain
   your mercy from me;
your steadfast love and your faithfulness will
   ever preserve me!
For evils have encompassed me
   beyond number;
my iniquities have overtaken me,
   and I cannot see;
they are more than the hairs of my head;
   my heart fails me.
Be pleased, O LORD, to deliver me!
   O LORD, make haste to help me!
As for me, I am poor and needy,
   but the Lord takes thought for me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
   do not delay, O my God!
(See Psalm 40 for the whole thing).

Now for something funny and tenuously relevant:**

* Good thing I married into a decent CD collection - saved me having to buy them all back! :-)
** As someone who very much enjoys all of Radiohead's varied work I emphatically distance myself from the opinions here expressed...


I have to admit that music doesn't affect me quite like that but books do. Some books are much better to avoid as my imagination takes me too far into them. There is something about the way that things affect us which can be really healing or really harmful. It's so good to recognise that.
Ah, obviously haven't found the 'right' music ;-) Perhaps I should lend you my Radiohead collection? With you on the books thing though! I've noticed over the years that I'm far more vulnerable to things which are subtly undermining than to things which are obviously and explicitly 'bad'. We somehow know to reject them - the same way we wouldn't eat a worm if we found it in the garden but we might if someone hid it in our spaghetti!

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