It might have been my mama, quoting someone on NPR, about cleansing the palate with Bach after listening to overloads of other music. If so, thanks Ma.
On Wednesday the 11th, I’ll acknowledge that I allowed extraordinarily discordant music of another sort into my poor battered aural mechanism. I witnessed more of the “press conference” than was wise, and realized by the evening that I needed to cleanse the psychic palate.
So, I took the most honest friends I know (of the species canis familiaris) for a walk. They seemed to sense that I had been mildly poisoned by absorption, and they were part of the antidote. I donned my Skull Candy headphones, and cued Glenn Gould. The Well Tempered Clavier is the default soundtrack in my life, so I started with that.
Writing about music is a little like explaining a joke. So, it may or may not mean much to you for someone (in this case, me, OK?) to say this:
There is a vast catalogue of profound, exhilarating, uplifting music in the world. But Bach?
After listening to about half of Book 1 of the WTC on this evening, though, I realized that I needed something else. Maybe it’s because I had noticed the cover of the New Yorker on the way out, newly arrived on the entry table; it had an MLK theme, with a portrait of Dr. King, and it occurred to me that some of that word music was at least part of what I needed. Words. Meaningful words. Carefully chosen words.
You may be familiar with what’s often called the “Been to the Mountaintop” speech. I reckon most folks know only the very end of it, the tear-jerking, excruciatingly prescient assassination eve part. But the whole thing is worth digging, as is the introduction by Andrew Young.
Andrew Young provides background that adds to the pain of the recollection. Dr. King had been ill, and the original plan was for him to make a brief appearance and say just a few words, and for Ralph Abernathy to be the main speaker. Once Dr. King got started, though, he did not stop until the stem was fully wound.
What’s really striking when you listen to the whole speech is how practical it is. After an eloquent historical overview, designed fully to endorse the primacy of THE NOW, Dr King gets real, gets tough, outlines the way through to the Promised Land. Recognizing how central, how almighty, the money is in this American wilderness, he emphasizes the combined power that consumers can have if they take unified action, either for or against a particular business, or a policy, or a person.
In other words, he explains what is necessary. He emphasizes at all times, though, the importance of non-violence; while both he and Gandhi were idealistic, they also knew that the Powers that Be, right or wrong, pretty much always have superior firepower.
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, necessary has the Latin roots ne–not & cedere–withdraw, go away, yield. When we refuse to cede territory, like, I don’t know, the moral high ground, that’s enacting the word necessary.
A few days after that healing walk, I heard John Lewis tell his story to a group of young men in Florida. He told them that his parents, of course, were concerned about him as he became more active in the movement. They said, “don’t get in trouble.” But, he had become aware of what had to happen in order for things to change. And he admitted:
“I did get in trouble. Good trouble. Necessary trouble.”
On Black Friday, 20 January, 2017, it’s impossible to know what challenges we should expect to face over the next several years. There has never been a time that I can recall when the competing visions of our country have been so incompatible.
But holding in the mind the words of those who have had to fight for their lives helps to resolve that:
We will NOT back away.
We will NOT withdraw.
We will NOT yield.