I first heard Let It Be when I was 8 or 9 years old. It was on the 1967 – 1970 album, on vinyl, that I got for Christmas. I cherished that record and listened to it over and over again reading the included lyric sheets. I can remember listening to it with headphones in our living room in New Jersey. This song reaches every place that is broken inside of me. There is no listening to Let It Be without thinking about who I might have been. And remembering the 9 year old me and how much of me was bursting to be heard, to create something. Let It Be was like magic. How can I reach people like this song has reached me?
And somewhere in that time is a memory of listening to this song with my brother John. And I don’t remember anything about it except that it was significant enough to remember. And that every time I hear this song, John is not too far from my thoughts. And I think about where all the time goes. Now I have children and I am four times older than when I first heard this song. And there was so much significant in having brothers when I was 9. And now we see each other two or three times a year.
There is a foggy memory somewhere in my teen years in the 80’s. I was sure I was dying. I was sweating profusely and lying in a bed in a friend’s house. It was dark and I was staring at the ceiling trying to resolve Steppenwolf music with how I was feeling. I had consumed something I wasn’t sure my spirit could kill. And sometimes in those moments, it’s only a miracle that survives. Because the accounts of an individual’s survival sound contrived. And every version of that story sounds like evangelizing. And drug survival stories always sound unnecessary when compared with the great compilation of human suffering. But I remember the door opening frequently as my friends in the next room came in to check on me. And I specifically remember the music pouring through the door. Steppenwolf, Black Sabbath, Aerosmith… “How are you?” A question I couldn’t answer. I was dry. I had nothing inside of me but dust. The door opened again and Let It Be came pouring in on a pool of light.
“There is still a light that shines on me
Shine until tomorrow
Let it be…”
Then years later I was in treatment. There was a room with a stereo that few people ever went to. It was small and stuffy. And of course the smoking. That’s mostly what I remember doing in treatment. Smoking. It was rare that I went to this room, but sometimes it was nice to be alone in there. And there was a stereo.
I always find myself in situations where years have passed and I have forgotten all about music. It’s always on my mind. But music is what makes me tick. Even writing like this. I forget what I want to say unless I am listening to some music that opens me up. The keys to my essence are in the hands of music. All of my creativity and inner dialogue is born in music. At certain points in my life, I have claimed writer’s block, and I would have to say that those were parts of my life that I wasn’t listening to music. And even my silence in the last year on this blog has been about not listening to music. My daughter’s ear for music is opening up right now at one year old. So I like to play songs and watch her dance while she sits on the floor. Each time I play her a song, I feel a tug to this blog, to writing more music, to a book idea, video projects, to the parts of me that are permanent. Last night I was going through a bunch of Beatles songs…
So I was sitting by myself in this music room in a psychiatric facility. Smoking cigarettes. And I was broken. The previous 17 years had broken me, but the treatment for this condition definitely made sure there was nothing left. Maybe that’s the aim of this kind of treatment. It’s torture, but there is no way you come out unchanged. For better or worse. I usually didn’t even turn the music on in this room. Just sitting by myself for a while was nice. Four months of being observed every minute of every day sucks. Sometimes I wonder where the chart is. Maybe one day I can read about my heart rate and blood pressure for each day of five months in 1987.
Music can sometimes wake a memory. Certain smells can do this as well. It starts as an emotion and then I am completely transported to another time. I can feel and see everything. I remember the exact shade of white paint on the wall. The feel of the used upholstered chair, the wooden arms. I can feel the exact dimensions of the room and how those dimensions affected the music coming from the stereo. I turned the music up fairly loud. The door opened and Aaron walked in. Aaron looked like Forrest Whitaker. It was a striking similarity. Aaron had other problems on top of substance abuse but those problems weren’t pronounced enough to be noted clinically. You just knew that Aaron was struggling with something else in there. He was kind of scary in probably the same ways that I was scary. This was Aaron’s second or third attempt at treatment.
“When the broken hearted people
living in the world agree
there will be an answer”
As the door swung slowly closed, Let It Be came on the radio. Aaron looked down at me as if he were going to say something. Then I could see the music got him and he closed his mouth and looked around. He crumpled into a seat in the corner. And I could feel everything that was broken inside of him. I don’t know anything about Aaron’s life. We weren’t in any of the same groups, so I never heard his story. And there were so many stories that I did hear. But so much of it seems like fiction in the face of this one moment I spent with Aaron in the music room listening to Let It Be. When the song was over, Aaron nodded at me and left.
Aaron and I were never close. This wasn’t the start of a long friendship. I don’t wonder where Aaron is now. We shared a moment of defeat in a song. Lost in our own private thoughts of who we might have been had things turned out just a little differently for us.
“Whisper words of wisdom…”
Years later, I ran into Aaron when I was hanging out with some friends that I didn’t see very often. At some point he introduced himself to me and I said, “Yeah Aaron, I already know you.”
He looked at me blankly.
“Bell Parke,” I said. “We listened to Let It Be in the music room.”
“Oh yeah man. Holy shit.”
I think those are the only words we’ve ever exchanged.
And somehow I find it appropriate that I would break my silence here with Let It Be. Because… well. Let it be. I don’t know what this blog is for anymore. But I think about it every day. Something about my particular brand of creativity evolved into what I do in this blog. And I wrote some pretty decent stuff. And I hope to write some more. But I certainly can’t do it every day. And all of the rules that I had before are gone. I’m pretty good at breaking rules anyway. So for what it’s worth…
“Let it be…”
And years later again. But this time it’s more like 20 years. I am sitting in our living room in Oklahoma City going through Beatles songs on my computer watching Lucy dance her little sitting Joe Cocker dance. She’s still too little to stand. And Let It Be comes floating into the room on a pool of light.
“Mother Mary comes to me.”
And I think about who she might be. And about all of the little things that will break her and how I won’t be able to do anything about that. And I think about how broken we all are. How tired we are of dictating to ourselves and being evangelized. And sometimes it’s okay just to do our own little Joe Cocker dance to a song because the song has moved something inside us. Maybe it doesn’t mean anything at all. Go Lucy!