When I was eighteen, I had an opportunity to visit Japan. The daughter of my host family and her boyfriend took me on a day trip to visit Mount Fuji. At the top, it was stark, remarkably cold, and crowded with other tourists. As we drove back down the long winding road through the beautiful mountain foliage, we were blissfully quiet after hours of making strained small talk. About halfway down, the boyfriend turned up the stereo. A jazzy-pop song filled the interior of the small car and suddenly the whole world was in perfect harmony: my experience of being in a foreign country became vivid, intense, and alive.
When the song ended, I leaned forward and asked for the title. It took a while to make myself understood, but I persisted. Finally, the boyfriend nodded with comprehension. He popped the cassette out of the stereo and handed it to me. The album was Nightfly by Donald Fagen and the song was entitled, fittingly, “New Frontier.”
“Good?” asked the driver.
“Very good,” I agreed.
Charlie, the main character in the young adult novel Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chobosky, describes the perfect moment enhanced by the perfect song as creating a sensation of feeling “infinite.” I felt infinite while listening to Donald Fagan during our descent from Mount Fuji. Of my two weeks in Japan, that moment has stayed with me all these years.
While reading Chobosky’s book and recalling more infinite music memories, I wondered if others had had similar experiences. I sent an email to a friend from college and to my sister-in-law, both of whom appreciate music. I asked them if they could recall a perfect moment when music and life collided in a way that made them feel infinite.
Seth, who is now a pastor, sent me back a lengthy email that began with the statement, “That moment the author speaks of is incredibly powerful, and if I had to list three reasons why I am back in the Christian faith and have something to do with church, music would be on that list.” I had trouble reconciling this Seth with the Seth of my freshman year of college who spent hours trying to convince me of the brilliance of pre-Purple Rain Prince albums.
But while Seth wrote of being moved deeply listening to Handel’s Messiah at the King’s College sanctuary in Cambridge, he also mentioned a title by the band Pink Floyd. He says that when he was a teenager he was “consumed by loneliness and the terror of growing up.” But when he heard “Comfortably Numb,” a song about considering suicide, it saved his life. He writes, “I thought, ‘If David Gilmour can write a song like that and wake to another day, I can too.’”
My sister-in-law also responded with great enthusiasm. She reached way back to the summer before seventh grade and remembered being at a friend’s house and hearing “Jack and Diane”by John Cougar Mellencamp for the first time. Her friend’s older sister was upstairs listening to the radio as well. “She began flipping through the dials and we heard it again and again and again on different stations. I swear, we heard that song at least a dozen times that afternoon. By the fifth or sixth time, we were singing along and dancing around the room.”
The thing about these moments is that even though they can be remembered, hearing the song again rarely reproduces the experience. Chobosky’s protagonist simply states, “It’s not the same.”
I’ve found this to be true. I bought a copy of Nightfly as soon as I got home from Japan, and although I listened to it over and over again, I could never capture the same experience I had on that road leading down Mount Fuji.
Still, these perfect moments of life and music have a way of reverberating long past when they are initially experienced. On one of my early dates with my husband, several years after my visit to Japan, he perused my music collection. He silently flipped through my cassettes of women’s folk music, before plucking one tape from the assortment.
“This is a great album,” he said, holding up Nightfly.
Turned out my husband was a huge fan of the band Steely Dan who’s lead singer was Donald Fagen. My husband popped the cassette into my stereo. I think that tape was one of the early threads that tied us together. My infinite moment helped create our infinite moment.
Encouraged by Seth and Jenny’s emails, I’ve begun asking people about their infinite music moments. At first, most reply that they don’t really have one, but then their faces soften and they recall a song that framed an experience perfectly. I have discovered that there is great pleasure in remembering these moments and the sense of being infinite–a sensation that renews our connection to everything and reminds us of all the possibilities within the unknown.
What is your infinite music moment? Feel free to share your experience in the comments section below.