“Thank you for allowing me to fly”: in which a fan finds new reason to live, and persist, and thrive, through the music of the Muse.
BY CORAL SCHNIPPERT
Ed. Note: While we’ve run a number of contests over the years at Blurt, giving away sundry swag to the lucky winners, our recent Tori Amos contest in which we offered Amos vinyl LPs along with an autographed Moleskine journal and signed print, turned out to be a remarkable experience for me as an editor and as a music lover. Many times, in reviews or features, I’ve had reason to comment on the healing properties of music and how it nourishes the spirit, but I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a story quite like the one you’re about to read. We asked people entering the contest to tell us your best Amos experience story — a concert, a personal encounter, or perhaps how her music affected you when you first heard it. We got a number of delightful submissions, including the one below which was unanimously judged by our editorial committee to be the first place winner. It was so moving, in fact, that I asked the writer’s permission to publish it on our site. She graciously said yes, so without further ado…
Hello, and thank you for this opportunity to enter this contest and share our stories. The following is one of my fondest memories of Tori’s music and how it has impacted my life.
For the last 16 years I’ve been battling a debilitating genetic illness that has put me in a wheelchair, made it difficult to sit up or function, and has made me feel like a prisoner in my own body. I am a firm believer that the difficulties we never would have imagined for ourselves are the very experiences which bring out the true fabric of what we’re made of. But there is a process to go through before the strength is felt, a shroud of darkness to move through that can be paralyzing and debilitating — far more than any physical malady. As I’ve traced the curvature of this challenge within my physical body, I’ve learned to develop a rhythm with my own limitations. I’ve befriended my illness, and through the years it has become a portal to a much deeper understanding of myself. I’ve come to learn that sorrow and hardship are universal, and mine simply happens to manifest in the shape of my physical form. Throughout this journey of finding harmony with my illness, I’ve been given peace from a place beyond all memory or sensibilities — I can only call it a spiritual life-raft. And I believe that is not my doing; it just that thing we call grace.
That all changed during the year of 2010, when my inner landscape drastically altered into a gnarled, chaotic version of what I used to know. Who and what I loved seemed to be withering away all at once — whether it be by the malignant cancer that was killing my sister and father at the same time, or the concurrent betrayal by a close friend — the spaces I used to crawl into to find healing drained away, colorless. Grief broke apart who I thought I was. Almost half of my family was dying, and I was helpless to stop it. When you have no place to cleanse the wounds in the corners of your psyche, they can bleed into your whole consciousness. In despair, I flew into the arms of music as I have always done ever since I was a child… but the moment silence diffused through the room, I would sink back into the darkness all over again. I started to wonder if everything that made me strong in years past was simply gone from me, and that I was far more brittle and breakable than I believed. Perhaps I had fooled myself into thinking I could survive, and I just didn’t know it.
In the thick of this, my best friend Lori suggested that we go to four shows during Tori Amos’ Night of Hunters tour in 2011, and I (lovingly) thought she was nuts. Not because it didn’t sound amazing, but because I essentially require a caretaker at all times, which makes such a trip very impractical. She also suffers from chronic illness, and has only a slightly easier time getting around than I do. Well, another dear friend I’ve known since high school (a lover of music) agreed to help tie all of this together and make it work. He agreed to help take care of both Lori and I, drive, do all the grunt work, everything. My parents gave me the finances for me to go as a Christmas gift so I could afford it. And it still didn’t hit me what in heck we were doing until I was actually sitting in row L in Seattle at my first show, looking at an obsidian piano glimmering under the stage lights before the show was about to start.
Music has been a safe haven for me since my earliest memories, my relationship with it intimate and consuming. It has been one my greatest creative inspirations and healers of my spirit. But hearing the songs live is entering a completely different dimension, the effects of which I couldn’t fully prepare myself for. The music from each live show was as a thread of light, gently, sweetly, rhythmically sewing and healing the deepest spaces in my being. The notes stretched across time and stitched together the ragged edges of the previous year, smoothing wounds and making me feel whole again. The sounds from the piano and quartet leapt into space as a three dimensional gale force, breathing wild and achingly alive.
Before my illness took hold 16 years ago, I had an immense love for dancing and was briefly part of a dance club in college that focused on ballroom and Latin dancing. Our teacher likened the act of dance to a work of art: the man was as the frame, guide and the structure, and the woman was as the painting, color and form. While I was sitting in those theaters for each show and as each song washed over the room, Tori’s hands moving deftly over the keys, the quartet in impossibly frenzied passion, an image surged into my mind: Tori was, in a sense, like the man in the dance — guiding and framing, pressing gentle force for each delicate turn or feverish spin, and the string quartet was as the woman — the curve of the flame bending, emanating upwards, the crackling crimson spilling in luminous ribbons of color. In these moments, my skin falls away and all its boundaries and limitations with it. I feel truly free, and movement is no longer tied to the external.
I have always loved music in all its many incarnations and genres, and each instrument for me is as speaking a different language, a different path to our hearts. But I am perhaps more deeply moved by piano and strings than anything else musically on this earth. Tori is my favorite artist (among many others that are not too far behind), and the piano is one of my favorite stand-alone instruments. I even own a piano despite the fact that I can rarely play due to my health, as I honestly feel less alone in its presence.
Since listening to Tori as a teenager, some of my favorite phrases in her songs were soaked with strings. They are melded in the songs so seamlessly as though they were born in the same breath. I have mused at times that if I were to choose my own reincarnation in a stronger vessel than my current physical body, I would want to fly forever into the notes of music. There are many pieces of music I have felt this about, spanning over the years and many different artists…and one particular progression of notes that holds me in its hands are the three chords in “Cloud on My Tongue” right before she sings “you’re already in there”. I was privileged to hear that song several times while on this tour. The new arrangements were unceasingly inventive and emotionally complex.
It was one of the most extraordinary acts of creativity I’ve been a witness to in a long time.
Going to those shows and listening to her music helped heal my grief and bring me back into alignment with myself. In a sense, the songs were reaching through the years and touching the hand of my 14 year-old self, the girl without illness that first fell in love with her music — the music that would later prove to affect me more than any other in my life.
And all I wish I would say to Tori and those who make her music possible is: thank you for allowing me to fly.