Last night, driving to dinner at a restaurant with golden lamplight on dark tables, wrinkled linens, and homemade pasta, we were listening to David Bowie’s fourth album, Hunky Dory, first unleashed on the world at the end of 1971. “Life On Mars” started to play and the tears pressing against the corners of my eyes bridged the dam. Those chords. That harmony. I’d forgotten I knew every word. His voice, his music washed through the car, out the window, licked the blood dripping from my heart.
Yesterday was a bad day. Yesterday was the day I gave up one of my outdoor cats, a cat I tried to bring indoors to control his diet, but his addition pushed one of the existing cat boys into stressful shock. My attempt to do-good resulted in two male cats with urinary blockage. I took the interloper to the vet and signed away my rights. The vet is a cat fanatic. She will fix his teeth and his flagging urethra. I will donate what I can for his care. We will both work to find him the right forever home.
Giving him up was the hardest cat thing I’ve ever had to do. Harder than calling the vet with the magic needle to come to the house. Harder than digging the illegal holes in my garden, lining them with roses, putting the still-warm bodies in the earth, and covering them with soil. Assigning this aggressively loving cat to a cage was harder than any natural passage.
Hearing “Life on Mars” made the tears flow. It’s one of those songs that stirs something below the lyrics, which for “Life on Mars” are deemed to be nonsensical. And yet, it always — always — makes me cry.
“Could it be Magic” by Barry Manilow was the same kind of song as a pre-teen; but I was reacting to Manilow’s incorporation of the arc of progressions of chords and harmonies from Chopin’s Prelude in C Minor. The vibrations picked the tears from the knot of romantic longing in my imagination. I played “Could it be Magic” over and over. Spirit moved me.
A psychic once told me there are certain musical progressions that cut across the boundaries of time and space. She contended that “Battle Hymn of the Republic” was one such song. “Just hum a few bars,” she told me, “and your angels will be able to talk to you.” Glory, glory hallelujah.
On the brink of another birthday, given these suggestions, I’m going with “Life on Mars” as my recommendation if you care to listen for an understanding. Of the versions on the Internet, I suggest the 1971 original, although the 1999 Net Aid version is stunning.
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“Take a look at the law man, beating up the wrong guy! Oh man, wonder if they’ll ever know?” Oh, oh, oh, some deaths are harder.
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Was Barry really writing to a Mel instead of a Melissa? So sad he couldn’t celebrate, if that was the case, at the time.