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Posts Tagged ‘Old Dominion’

Somewhere in one of the books on the shelf I will find the quote exactly, but for the moment you will have to take my word for it. Stuck in my memory are the words “We live our lives to the lyrics of popular songs.”  It is a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald, who knew what he was talking about.  He and his wife Zelda were the poster children for the “Roaring ‘20s,” reckless and beautiful and doomed.

I remember a summer night in south Florida driving north on the Palmetto Expressway that edges the city of Miami.  I was playing the radio, a rock and roll station called the Magic Bus, and when the music stopped the DJ reported the sad news that Tim Hardin had just died of a heroin overdose. I felt an unexpected sense of loss, a sudden emptiness, as though someone close to me had died, although I only knew him through a few songs he had written and other people had sung.

One of those songs was called “A Reason to Believe,” and we used to play it on the jukebox at the Duck Inn where there was sand on the floor and you could hear three songs for a quarter. This was the version sung by Rod Stewart back when he was a serious rocker, before he became a pop star. You can still hear it on the radio now and then, and it always gives me a tingle to hear that phrase, “Still, I look to find a reason to believe.”

I think for many of us our personal philosophy is made up of bits and pieces, sometimes as random seeming as the objects that the waves toss up on the shore. We walk through our life as though on a private beach, picking up a little knowledge here, some understanding there, and all along we search for things we can believe in. The end result, whether or not we think of it as such, is philosophy. Some of it we have even learned from the lyrics to popular songs.

Philosophy is how we explain our lives to ourselves.  It is not the thing taught in the classroom, anymore than a frog dissected on a lab table is the same as a living frog leaping a lily pad. Philosophy is what prompts us to get up in the morning, though we may call it duty or obligation or desire.

Some 1,500 years ago the Roman statesman/philosopher Boethius wrote a book called “On the Consolation of Philosophy” from his prison cell to ease his dying.  After the Bible, it was the most important book of the Middle Ages in Europe. To Socrates, philosophy seemed crucial enough to give his life for. Now, too often, it is a dry and dusty subject for dissertations.

Poetry and song lyrics both condense meaning into a small space, a brief phrase. If the particular phrase resonates for you, you may find yourself repeating it at certain turnings of your life, like a mantra or a koan. Once I was part of a group of students in a candlelight procession on the campus of Old Dominion University the night after the shootings at Kent State. I think that all of us that night were numb with disbelief, and the words that gave me comfort and that I repeated over and over as we carried our candles through the dark were from a song by Crosby, Stills and Nash called “Carry On.” The words, “Rejoice, rejoice, you have no choice,” helped me to carry on. It was the consolation of a philosophy embodied in a song.

I was saddened when Tim Hardin died because it seemed to me he had quit looking to find a reason to believe, and he had let the darkness overwhelm him. Yet he had left me with something to hold onto if I needed it at some dark turning of my life, a few words, the lyrics to a song. Sometimes that’s enough.

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