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Randi Kreiss

Sometimes the right notes unlock the heart

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Just take those old records off the shelf.

I’ll sit and listen to ’em by myself.

I simply short-circuited. After weeks of relative isolation, and being bombarded by constant sad news, I kind of numbed out. I was concerned when the pandemic hit, then I was actively worried, then I was frantic, and then I was numb. Numb is the worst.

We all know the fight-or-flight response. Anxiety just takes over, and ratchets your brain and heart into overdrive, even when you have nothing more stressful to do than prepare a meal or go to sleep. Sleeping is tough. That’s when the unbidden thoughts take over and the what-ifs rule.

For me, anxiety is a buffet: Shall I pick the what-if-I-never-get-to-see-my-kids-again, or perhaps a tasty what-if-Trump-gets-re-elected — or maybe today I’ll chew on what-if-this-kids’-inflammatory-syndrome-explodes-across-the-country, or what-if-what’s-left-after-this-administration-trashes-the-health-care-system-the-economy-the-environment-and-our-democracy-doesn’t-resemble-America-anymore.

These mean thoughts float around me, and it requires a concentrated effort to acknowledge the threats and then create a decent hour or a good day or a peaceful night. What I’ve discovered is that music is often the magic that breaks through the numbness and actually brings joy into the moment, or allows a few cathartic tears.

For us Boomers, rock ’n’ roll is still the bomb. It zooms us directly back to memories of being young and fearless and in the thick of it. Of not being trapped in a pandemic. So many of the lyrics were dopey but they’re attached to the one great philosophical question in life: Why must I be a teenager in love???

Last week, someone sent me a video montage of New York City with Frank Sinatra singing “New York, New York.” It didn’t feature a deserted Times Square or an empty subway car; it showed the pre-pandemic frenzy and fun, the tumult of the crowds and the street vendors and the joggers.

Sinatra went deep into These little town blues/Are melting away/I’ll make a brand new start of it/In old New York/If I can make it there/I’ll make it anywhere/It’s up to you/New York, New York.

Corny as hell, but it did what no amount of thinking things through could do: It made me feel. It brought tears.

Maybe music will help you get through. I’ve heard that several area hospitals pipe “Here Comes the Sun” over the P.A. system every time they discharge a Covid-19 patient. Nice.

I took myself for a walk a few days ago, and was listening to a bunch of music I had downloaded. Up came “We Shall Overcome,” sung by Peter, Paul and Mary.

Deep in my heart/I do believe/We shall overcome, some day. So, yes, I was that woman walking and belting out the great civil rights anthem.

Opera houses and entertainment halls, ballet companies and theaters are all offering online performances, many for free. If you can settle your mind into it, you can catch “La Traviata” in the privacy of your home, or stream anything from rock to metal to show tunes. Bach or Beyoncé, it’s all good medicine.

Other lyrics weave different spells. When I was a kid, the Jerry Lewis Telethon was a really big deal over Labor Day Weekend.  We went to my Aunt Zelda’s house, where our whole melodramatic family watched Jerry singing and crying his eyes out. We loved every minute of the cheesy sentimentality.

We all waited for it: At the very end, Jerry would sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” by Rodgers and Hammerstein, and audiences across the country would weep and the money would pour in. It was a thorough cleansing of the soul and the tear ducts.

Two Sundays ago, with Jerry dead now for years and telethons not so popular anymore, I saw a full-page ad in The New York Times, a tribute to Columbia University’s graduating class of 2020. It mentioned that Hammerstein had graduated from Columbia in 1916. Rodgers, it said, graduated in 1923. It shared the lyrics that the iconic team had written in 1945:

Walk on through the wind,

Walk on through the rain,

Though your dreams be

tossed and blown.

Walk on, walk on,

with hope in your heart,

And you’ll never walk alone!

You’ll never walk alone.

“We walk on, together,” the ad said.

Copyright 2019 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at randik3@aol.com.