Note to iSelf

By J.S. Breukelaar


Must update the nano. All my music’s on my classic, but you can’t run with a classic, so the nano has my running playlist on it. Also, it seems, last year’s Halloween Party list, and I’m sorry, but “Monster Mash” just won’t get me off today. Neither, for some reason will Pantera’s “Cowboys from hell.” Must be all the glittering water and sunlight. ‘High noon, your doom’ just doesn’t feel right.

It’s that time of the week, time for me and my beat-up ASICS to hit the road. Not the track or the treadmill, just some good old asphalt. The Sydney Bay run is a short, hard run and you don’t want to over-think it. The terrain is basically flat apart from a two-story flight of steps leading up to the nasty Iron Cove Bridge.

But see those turns and twists? They do your head in. Every time you think you’ve rounded the last bend, there’s one more to go.  It’s a continuous loop and there is no getting off. No short cuts. You have to be totally committed. Outwardly it looks beautiful—all that water and sky, but it packs a punch in the bendy bits.

Like lyrics. Like soul. Funky triplets are what gett me off when I’m running. Getting off makes me think about Prince and how good the Artistic One is to run to.

‘23 positions in a one-night stand.’ Who knew?

Thinking about funk makes me think how I must get some more Wonder in my life. I think about Stevie’s spoken line in “Living for the City”:  ‘Wow. New York, just like I pictured it’ and how twisted is that?  It’s the line that can lift you off your feet, which is what you need on a run like this. Stop you from thinking. Luckily I’ve got the Chili Peppers’ cover of “Higher Ground” still on this list, so that keeps me going for a while. All those triplets in 4/4 time. They just propel you along: 1-2-3, 1-2-3. It’s the lyric-music-beat combo that does it. Music is seeing, an inner vision that can get you around the next bend, that place you need to go, because just maybe, ‘all your chances were there.’

I think about how the word lyric, in ancient times referred to sung poetry accompanied on the lyre—a stringed instrument played by plucking and silencing the strings. Not much has changed. The Greek lyric poetry was short and sweet—literally. It was about emotions.

Lyrics got personal.

The Greeks left all that epic stuff to Homer. Later, lyric poems referred to any verse that could be set to music, the prime exponent of this being the sonnet, first the Italian version, then the English. Which makes me think of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 20, the one about the ‘master-mistress of his passion’ an attainable lover with the face of a woman, but who nature ‘pricked out for women’s pleasure.’

I think about Shakespeare in love with a man, and how well he covered his tracks, twisting Houdini style out of history’s tabloids, and how the best lyrics, like the best poetry are still the ones that undercut themselves at the turn—that point in the song where something changes—register, tone, key, time signature, whatever—and that something is precisely what can save you. Or as Jack White sees it, it’s that visceral twist that ‘grabs hold of the soul where the memory lingers.’  Grabs us and won’t let go.  And as any good rock ‘n’ roller knows, from Shakespeare on, the more stringent, the more tightly twisted that combination of rhyme and meter and melody that takes us into the turn, the greater the chances that we will all hear a different song. And that’s a good thing. I think Brian May would have come up with a good riff to Sonnet 20.

So whether it’s Patti Smith playing off heroine and heroin, or Thom Yorke mixing up black and blank shores in “Reckoner,” or Nick Cave singing about a non-believer’s self-contradictory prayer to an interventionist God to intervene by not touching a hair on the beloved’s head or Mr. Cobain’s Sartrean mind-games in “Heart Shaped Box,” or the Clash channeling Hamlet…(‘If I stay it will be double’)…or Titus Andronicus’s barbarously yawping, ‘You ain’t never been no virgin, kid, you were fucked from the start’ —or if there are ‘too many dicks on the dance floor’ and it’s all ‘rockin to the bang bang boogy say upchuck the boogy, to the rhythm of the boogity beat’—song is soul, and soul is memory.  Of last chances, lost change, broken shoes and fumbled lines—and that number you will never forget as long as you live, that number you dial in your dreams, and how now matter how hard it gets, how twisted, the end is just around the bend, and after all, how soon do you really want to get there?

Running is thinking.

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J.S. BREUKELAAR is the author of the novel, American Monster and the collection, Ink. You can find her work at Juked , Prick of the Spindle, Fantasy Magazine, Go(b)et Magazine, New Dead Famlies, Opium Magazine, and in anthologies such as Women Writing the Weird, among others. You can also find her at www.thelivingsuitcase.com

4 responses to “Note to iSelf”

  1. This is wonderful and does an amazing job of tracing thought patterns when set to music and motion. Though I’ve replaced fitness with things like washing dishes and folding socks, this came pretty close to a mind-read for me. And this line is beautiful “Of last chances, lost change, broken shoes and fumbled lines…”

  2. Music and motion—the perfect combo! Thank-you, Nathaniel.

  3. Matt Bialer says:

    Fantastic piece! Very interesting. I love that Titus Andronicus quote (from the band, not the play).

  4. JSBreukelaar says:

    That one was for you 😉

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