Thursday, March 28, 2013
Track of the Week: Love, "You Set the Scene"
At this time two years ago, I was in perhaps the most desperate trough of my entire life. I was living 1500 miles away from my wife in a benighted East Texas town being bullied by my chair and some of my colleagues at a third-rate university. My sixth go round on the job market did not net me a single interview with another university in my futile attempt to jump to a place closer to my wife. This despite putting out another article and securing a book contract. If that wasn't bad enough, my father had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and there was a chance that it may have spread before it was detected. To top it all off, when I visited home over Easter, our beloved family cat of 20 years was horribly ill, and when I held him one last time before I left, I knew it would be the last.
At that wretched low point I did not know that I was soon about to get a fantastic job in New York City, that that my wife and I would be blessed with twin baby girls, and that my father would fully recover from cancer. In March and April of 2011, I just lived day to day, scared, depressed, and wondering whether my life had been a complete waste of time. As it has always been for me, music was an important coping mechanism. At the end of the day I spent many an evening with Fleetwood Mac's Tusk on the turntable, a glass of wine in my hand and my cat Stella by my side to calm my raging thoughts.
On my way to work, to steel myself for the possible indignities that might away, I often listened to "You Set the Scene" off of Love's magnum opus, Forever Changes. That album came out of Arthur Lee's own life crisis, and themes of death, mortality, and meaning thread their way across the songs. "You Set the Scene" is the wow finish, a cry to live a life that's worth living in the face of the inevitability of death. When I blasted the song in my car I would sing along, and practically yelled out the words that Lee sings so matter of factly, "This the only thing thar I am sure of/ And that's all that lives is gonna die." That's the tragic painful truth that we spend our lives trying to avoid, but it's impossible to live a life full of meaning without being aware of death.
People in passing cars might have thought I was nuts, but I didn't care. When we are conscious of our mortality, we are less willing to waste the little precious time we have on this earth with the usual bullshit. This song was my daily reminder that I was not going to die in Texas, and that I was not going to throw another year of my life into the gutter. I listened to it again today, and it immediately reminded me of the pain, but also the will to overcome that burned inside me two years ago. If you don't know this song (or the rest of the album, which is amazing), I hope it serves you well on your own path in life.