by Spencer Welch
The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with the song still in them.
–Henry David Thoreau
Lately in the wee hours, the brush of tears across my cheek wakes me from dreams. Life is always there, silently pressing against us. Some days, I can laugh in its face. But there are nights when only a tear-stained sleep can cleanse the dust of the day.
Thoreau’s “quiet desperation” cannot be outrun. It is not a demon circling outside, cornering us in the dark. It is a beautiful ache resting in the bones. A muted hum ever there reminding us when the rattle of the day subsides.
What will be our answer? Some drown out the drone with a fevered pace of parties and appointments. Wine or work, pick your sedative. The ticking of passing minutes, hours, years muffled by busyness.
As a boy, I told tall tales so convincing I began to believe them myself. As a man, they became the excuses I make to avoid silence. The agenda that keeps me from sitting alone, listening to my heart beat.
After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.
What will be our answer? For me, it is music. When this quiet dread demands a reply, and there are no words, I speak through music. Through song.
Perhaps singing is my antidote of choice because the voice is the only instrument seated in the body, closest to the ache. Through the alchemy of song, we take this breath of life and transform it into sound, colour and rhythm. The same throat that moans in the black of night can groan in the blues. The quiver in the voice that betrays a broken heart can also massage the soul with its vibrato.
Singing. Playing piano. Songwriting. A trio of triage for my heart. The first love of my boyhood returns to embrace the man.
But with writers there’s nothing wrong with melancholy. It is an important colour in the writing.
Amid the chaos of jackhammers and angry klaxons, music organizes sound. Forming something out of the formless. A perfect fifth ringing out in this mess. A minor third to incarnate the melancholy. A dotted eighth to match the beat, beat, beat in our chest.
A lyric to translate the spirit’s stir.
What will be our answer? In the days we have left to walk here, no answer will quell the questions of the human condition for good. The happiness we seek cannot be fully savoured without tasting the pain as well. But music, singing, creation can bring ointment to the wounds, balm to the ache, salve for the soul.
It has for me.