En Media Res
Got up this AM and previewed an Eminem playlist. On iTunes they are called albums but albums, to my mind, are made from cardboard and they are bigger than a CD case, and they have both the information the artist decided to provide on the front and back covers, but much more importantly they have the wear marks of the listeners. The places where the cardboard has worn thin because of the hands that have held it. Where they held it. Are they album lovers who handle the cardboard cover with reverence and care? This would be indicted by only slight wear marks on the edges, depending upon the person, on the top and bottom or on the back and the closed side. Allowing the album, the disc, to slide out with as little contact with the cardboard as possible, protecting it from any residual dust or extraneous interaction with the outside world that might contaminate the world revealed once the disc meets the needle on the turn table.
I am not an album collector. I have saved albums that were meaningful to me at some point in my life that I have packed away and am always surprised to find after a move. I’m not sure they are in any condition to be played. But just touching the cardboard takes me back to the time in which I was in love with the music inside of it.
A quick note on Eminem, I do not listen to him regularly but I enjoy some of his music. I do not buy his music for the same reason I don’t buy any hip-hop or rap, Eminem, like many other artists, tend to intersperse songs that contain vitriolic disdain for women in general, or one woman in particular, with songs about other topics, so I never know when one of those songs that sounds like a few of the abusive men I have dated, lived with, and left behind will pop up and hit me like a sucker punch to the gut. I like hip-hop, rap, and slams, as a rule, I just won’t pay for the pain of listening to music that stirs up those memories. This last sentence is also an indicator that I spent some but not all of my son’s life as a single parent, more on that later.
The phrase I used for the title today, en media res, is a literary and theatrical term that means “in the middle of things.” When I used this phrase in an earlier post I meant that I would begin in the middle of my life somewhere and not at the very beginning moving chronologically toward the end. While listening to Eminem it occurred to me that what I was listening to Eminem ON was media. The same word. It means middle. There is something in the middle of Eminem and me. It is the mechanism by which I gain access to his music and he gains access to my money. In teaching English, we often use a variety of media; there are many High School and college level classes designed to teach people how to use and understand various media. The short list of media is: television, movies, radios, billboards, magazines, books, canvas, telephones, and all of the new media that is meant to complement the traditional media I just listed. The function of this media is to be in the middle effectively, which means invisibly. How often to you sit down to just look at your television without turning it on? How often do you notice what your television looks like or what is on top of or beside it while you are watching it? I use my laptop as a television and I only notice the machine itself when something has gone wrong with the connection and I can no longer see what I was watching “through” it. When I listen to music on it-like Eminem, or I just have to say, Red Hot Chili Peppers, I am only partially aware of the media I use to hear and/or see it. I am focused on the places it takes me.
CDs, MP3s, all the other technologically sophisticated delivery systems still serve as the medium between the creator of the content and that inner world that is unique unto each listener or reader. Meaning is made by the relationship between the words and sounds of the artist in concert with the technological media used to reproduce it; there is also the meaning, or modification of an old meaning, which occurs when I hear those words and thoughts through both the media and the lens of my own lived experiences.
In my experience, listening to music alone allows me to visit memories, which is valuable in and of itself. Listening to music with someone else is to open my innermost self to them. I think this is why some people are concertgoers and others are not. Some of us just do not want to share that experience with a room full of strangers.
When my son and I were young, sharing music was the only way I could share myself with him. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, “Our House” was the song we played when I was scared or lonely. At that time in my life I had to use media in order to communicate. I did not have the verbal or emotional skills to clearly and directly communicate with any other human. I lived in a primitive protective cocoon that allowed me to stay safely distant and alone, so very alone, with my fear and anxiety. My son and I would listen to that album over and over again on some days and only to that one song on other days. I wanted to tell him that we were safe, even though I did not believe it. I wanted him to know he was loved, even though I did not know how to show it. I wanted him to know he was protected, even though I was not strong enough to do it. I needed a medium to translate those positive thoughts into words but leave out the tone of uncertainty and fear that lived inside my head. I did not want him to hear that part. “Our House” was the message and the album was the medium through which I attempted to accomplish this.
I love the anger and passion in Eminem’s sound. The words are important. They tell his story, but the sound, the intonation in concert with the rhythm, the beat of the background sounds, that is what I hear. That is the something that touches my own life experience. The raw fear, exclusion, marginalization and in the case of the songs I heard this AM, the revenge, the self-righteous, “so there”, in your face, “f*** you” of one who has succeeded in gaining a form of success that is righteously foreign to him. He sounds like he understands the media that made him rich and famous. For me, this calls attention to the media he is using and allows me to think about the media I have used to be successful in my world. It reminds me of how often I had to achieve success, defined by someone else, through media defined by someone else. That kind of success does not satisfy me but it is Real success to so many people. In fact, listening to Eminem this AM I began to think that maybe I could use media to achieve success that is real and meaningful only to me. What would that look like? How would that feel? This blog is a small start and even though I am writing to and for myself most of the time-it feels good and right.
I did not have the words, in those early days, to understand that media is a medium that allows people to communicate with one another or that I could use it to meet my own needs. I had to use the medium of the record album to share the song of my heart using words that someone else wrote. Crosby Stills, Nash and Young, Willie Nelson, Alicia Keyes, the “Peppers” of course, and most recently The Black Keys will never know how successful they were in my life and how their words taught me how to speak to the only person in the world who, ultimately, defines my success, my son. He is my success, not my failure, as many media would have me believe. I have worked for decades to go heart to heart with my son and I believe we have been successful. Today we use media as shorthand. We say things like, “did you see that movie”, “please read this book” “I like this song”, “look at that stupid commercial”. I think it is understood that when we share those communications through media that we are doing so in the knowledge that we are sharing our hearts with one another. Now that I have just written this line, I want to be certain of it. I will ask him and get back to you with his response. Meanwhile, go ask your child(ren) or parent(s) how she, he, they use media to communicate their hearts to you. Once you know the answer, please share it.