Thursday, December 19, 2013
ON THE AVENUES: Tight fitting genes, revisited.
A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.
Last evening was the debut of New Albany: City by the River, and the documentary film by Daniel Frank and Philip Collins is quite good. The occasion wasn't without its surreal moments, and upon reflection, I'm reminded of this essay, which first appeared on June 23, 2011. Actually, I'm reminded of the last paragraph, which remains true then as now.
Music does something to me, and I’ve never been able to explain why. It just does. Sometimes I walk into a supermarket, hear a pop song on the sound system, and my attention wanders. I forget the shopping list.
My earliest childhood memories have melodic accompaniment. When very young, I’d go to sleep to the cracklings of an ancient AM radio, and perhaps that’s why absolutely nothing about being five years old remains except hearing "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction."
The grooves on a LP collection of children’s music subsequently were worn and frayed. I recall two cuts in particular: An American folk song called “One More Day,” and Mozart’s “Turkish Rondo.”
The anecdotes are both endless and tedious, but the point is this: Music plays inside my noggin at all times, and has done so for as long as I can remember. It is central to my being. And yet, for all the ways that music is the soundtrack of my life, I possess no musical skills.
I cannot play an instrument, and my voice, once capable of carrying a tune, has digressed through decades of misuse and abuse to the point of shower stall braying alone, safely away from the ears of others. I listen, drum fingers, hum, whistle and participate as best I can. It’s enough.
My conclusion? There is a music gene, and I have it. Music has spoken to me from the beginning. Had my formative years been spent with musicians as role models as opposed to athletes, perhaps it all would have turned out differently.
As it stands, I’ve no complaints. The innate pleasure to be derived from listening to music is more of an essential heartbeat than an optional amusement, and I can’t imagine life otherwise. If the music in my head ever stops playing, it will be the unmistakable sign of imminent death -- and as all atheists know, death is a symphony without encores.
A musician like J. S. Bach certainly thought differently, regarding his considerable musical skills as gifts from God, intended to be used to glorify and exalt Him. The simplistic vision of angels cleverly arranged on cloudbanks, deploying a phalanx of harps to while away eternity, surely derives from this idea of music and holiness intertwined.
It doesn’t resonate with me. Music may well “have” its own gene, but its manifestation in a tangible, real world is a human construct. Liturgical music would strike that tuneful genetic chord no matter what, but the mysteries and meanings we read into it result from eons of conditioning, not a deity’s intervention.
Of course, if given the chance to choreograph my final departure, Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings would be a fine choice for greeting eternity. The music would play, it would end, and on the very next beat, so would I. There would be the final silence, and life would continue without me.
Yesterday I had a beer with a member of the Sojourn Church’s forthcoming New Albany congregation, which has purchased the sadly abandoned Silver Street Elementary School. We had a deep and enjoyable chat about life in Nawbany, and an atheist and a Christian sharing bar space over craft beer has to be a good sign.
One tidbit bears repeating, which is my statement to him that as an unbeliever, it matters surprisingly little to me what is said within the confines of a church so long as the sacred doctrine doesn’t result in secular discriminatory litmus tests outside its walls.
As an example, if church teaching casts gays as existing outside the celestial directives, will the ones living around the corner be declared ineligible for neighborhood outreach assistance? The answer I received was reassuring in its furtherance of love as Sojourn’s answer. We’ll see how it plays out in real life.
At some point in the conversation, I was asked if I could identify the source of my atheism. Was I rebelling against the religion of my parents?
No. While my childhood was not without general religious assumptions and a nebulous, largely unexamined “faith in something bigger” approach to talking points, there were no onerous obligations or regimented teachings, and overall, both my parents were tolerant. If rebellion were the only goal, I’d have likely become a fundamentalist owing to the absence of instruction.
Echoing the music gene, and adding to it my belief that homosexuality predates mankind’s insistence on concocting religions to assuage its recognition and fear of death, maybe what I lack is the God gene, a predisposition toward accepting one or more versions of a deity. I’m only guessing, since I’ve no experience with such a state of consciousness.
That’s because in all honestly, I cannot remember a time in my life when such a concept as God seemed plausible to me in the least. Rather, it was all to be regarded as mythological, a phenomenon for placing on dusty outmoded shelves beside ancient Greek small-case gods, Mayan sacrifices and Norse sagas.
Only later, in university, did I learn there was a name for the God gene’s absence: Atheism. It was the ultimate in revelations, for it was revealed to me that others felt the same way, and could explain their non-belief rationally. I needn’t embrace the palpably untrue, after all.
Yesterday, there was a moment of seriousness, yielding to mirth. Told that from Sojourn’s perspective, God is directing it to the city of New Albany to do His work, I replied that having charted the dimensions (dementia?) of the New Albany/Battered City Syndrome, maybe just this once, God didn’t know what a mess He was getting into. Genetic or not, this town is a strange place, indeed.