High on a hill stood a lonely goatherd

On February 2, 2011 by Eden M. Kennedy

In a startling shift of habit that was long overdue, I have stopped listening to music altogether. That’s right, you heard me. Stop before you waste a stamp sending me tickets to that GWAR reunion. I don’t care if Prince and Stevie Wonder are sitting on an overturned washtub in front of Starbucks singing the Jackson Five’s greatest hits and handing out purple jellybeans. I’ve listened until the meaning has been drained of every song I ever loved and now I’m not getting up off this couch.

I’ve spent the last three or four years in a state of low-level irritation trying to squeeze a song that matters out of my iPod, somehow always while I was driving. First of all, piloting several thousand pounds of machinery down the road while wearing reading glasses is against the law for a reason. People aren’t normally allowed to navigate our nation’s highways by feeling for oncoming traffic and stray pedestrians. Nor are we bats with fingers and car keys. No, we need to be watching the road, scanning ahead for brake lights and obstacles, not fiddling with our entire record collection while we slowly face the heartbreaking demise of both our hearing and our relevance.

Secondly . . . I don’t remember what my second point was. Which just proves my first point: KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE ROAD. Hands at ten and two. Face, shoulders, abdomen, legs, and feet relaxed.

Treasure the transition betwixt hither and yon in focused yet meditative silence.

No. I mean, yes, I could do that some of the time, drive in silence, but the impulse–and maybe it’s more than an impulse, maybe it’s a true need to fill the void between home and work with some reminder that the highway’s jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive, and that everybody’s out on the run tonight but there’s no place left to hide. But why not use every ten- and twenty-minute commute between nowhere and back to do more than live with the sadness, Wendy? Why not.

So I took it upon myself to use my drive-time for self improvement, which is how I discovered that the library is full of audio books about people murdering one another and pretending they didn’t. However, if you look hard enough there’s a little path to enlightenment winding right past the NPR Driveway Moments CDs.

NOW I remember what my second point was: the font size on my phone is so tiny! When did that happen, that I can’t read 7-pt. type with my bare naked eyes anymore? So that’s to explain why I was wearing reading glasses while I was driving. Trying to find Marvin Gaye on my phonepod.

The first improving CD I checked out from the library was called The End of Your World written/read by a man named Adyashanti. This man seems very nice. He speaks in a really friendly, accessible way about things that are laughably over my head. I almost believe him, that I could achieve full awakened enlightenment in this lifetime. It’s not that he’s so terribly charismatic and now my bedsheets are in the washer being dyed saffron with RIT, it’s that he’s like the best soft-sell salesman in the world. He’s the guy who says, “I don’t care if you buy this car. It’s a great car, and it will never need to be fixed or run out of gas, and the keys are sitting right there on the dash because you don’t even have to pay for it.” And at first you think, No! This is too good to be true! And then he says, “If you want this car, all you have to do is see things as they really are,” and you think, Wait, enlightenment is a rainbow-hued sedan with a permanently open sun roof and spinning rims? And then he chuckles at you (you are kind of funny) and offers you a kale smoothie.

After Adyashanti’s advanced course in managing the post-awakened ego, I felt like I needed to backtrack a little; before I melted down my psychic armor in the white-hot furnace of the bliss I needed to figure out how to get the damned stuff off. And who was coming ’round the mountain but Pema Chödrön. Pema is an American Buddhist nun and she is hard core about the Eightfold Path. She is committed to taking off her armor and she’ll show you how to open your heart if you’re ready. Yeah, it sounds pretty, but it’s hard work, and it can be scarier than any Stephen King hacks-her-body-up-and-hides-the-pieces-where-they-may-be-found doorstop.

I did give in and download some Cee-Lo the other day, because one of the joys of parenthood is introducing my son to lyrically inappropriate music. And it’s not quite right to say that music doesn’t matter to me anymore–it’s just that I don’t have the heart I once had to weed through so much bad music until I found the song that would make me drop my armor for two minutes and thirty-five seconds, or the album that would turn my life around.



31 Responses to “High on a hill stood a lonely goatherd”

  • Cee-Lo is pretty awesome. Have you heard any Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros?

    Enlightenment is cool too, I guess.

    • Not going to lie, this made me LOL. To be fair, I’ve seen Edward Sharpe and his Magnetic Zeroes live and they’re pretty enlightening. Also? Kinda high.

  • I cried listening to LCD Soundsystem recently. I was both horrified and gladdened that music can still do that to me at the wizened age of 42. However, I hear ya.

    • My 42-year old self also endorses LCD Soundsystem. But I learned of them while listening to NPR’s “Sound Opinions”, where someone else went to the trouble to weed through all the bad music.

  • Thelonious Monk. Or Bach.

  • You’re my hero. I’ve hardly listened to music for the last few years, with Nate sort of taking over the collection, and the car radio (when I’m alone) on permanent NPR these days. But I’m scared to tell anyone for fear they’ll back away slowly making the sign of the cross.

  • Aargh! Now I can’t get that song out of my head!

    I haven’t stopped listening to music, but I do it a lot less than I used to.

  • That paragraph with the Springsteen lyric cracked me up. Thanks for that.

    I’ve mostly switched from music to thought provoking radio and podcasts, too. But with my 10 year old son now starting to pay attention to popular music, I’ve started listening to the radio station all the latest hits are on, so that I’ll know what he’s getting. It’s sort of interesting to listen to that way, sort of anthropologically (or however that’s spelled.)

  • My husband is a Pema devotee. I try to follow her words. So far, no go. Apparently, I don’t want to go to there quite hard enough. You’re right, it is a terrifying proposition. I’d rather hear the screen door slamming, and see Mary’s dress wave.

  • Music is a tough one to crack. For years I was a record store junkie. But the record stores almost all went away now. Nowadays I watch for what my friends mention in blogs, or even try to read music suggestions that are brief. The world needs many more things like 6 word music reviews by Paul Ford.

    I don’t have a lot of time, and stuff like that is awesome.

    It’s sad the radio in the car is so crappy, too. Mostly. Though you might like KCRW, though you may not get it up where you are.

  • Well, shoot. *crosses Mrs. Kennedy off the list of people I’d like to see a GWAR concert with*

    We do get KCRW, there’s a translator up in the hills somewhere.
    (K295AH 106.9 MHz)

  • There an album that could turn my life around?

  • There is an album that could turn my life around?

  • But with Cee Lo Green you get to hear your kid say, “Hey Mom, can we listen to the f-word song again?” Or you can just listen to Tom Petty and pretend you are a 14 year old boy in the 70s, which is more fun than it sounds.

  • I’m with you and it makes me sad. I think I have short attention span or something. Music used to be my life. I’ve switched to podcasts for the drive home. I do recommend trying either bifocal contacts or the monvision ones for that pesky problem of not being able to read up close.

  • Lately I’ve been listening to Japanese language cds that say, “listen and repeat” and then lots and lots of Japanese phrases without their translations. It’s like some strange zen chanting, and hearing my preschooler speaking Japanese without either of us knowing what he’s saying is too damn funny. We recently found out that what we’ve all been going around the house saying is, “This computer is easy to fix!”

  • Like what we watch on The Television, the child has control. I do however endorse songs that contain the “F” word as a major lyrical contribution. I like the Cee Lo as well.

    In the car we usually listen to the soundtrack from Phinneas and Ferb. Hi brow classics.

  • A clever and gravelly-sounding lady on BBC Radio 4 just now suggested that life was not about “the pursuit of happiness, but the happiness of pursuit.” I like that quote, a whole lot, and it made me think of you on your path to enlightenment.

    I’ve never understood why people need constant soundtracks to their lives, and I salute you.

    • Yeah. What Antonia said (with help from the gravelly-sounding lady). All of it.

  • Drat! Now I have to watch sound of music to get that song out of my head! :)

  • Thank you for relieving me of the guilt of being the only one exposing my child to Cee Lo. He thinks I’m an X-Box and less of an Atari.

  • Totally, totally with you on this one. The nice thing about not listening to music much is that when you DO find a great song (Holy crap, do I recommend Little Lion Man by Mumford and Sons) you can just have that one little song for a while to secretly carry around in your pocket like an injured sparrow you know you’re not supposed to handle.
    Yours forever in self improvement recordings and NPR junkihood…

  • or maybe this strikes your fancy:

  • This right here…“It’s not that he’s so terribly charismatic and now my bedsheets are in the washer being dyed saffron with RIT…” is why I wish I could be reduced to code so that I could live in your blog.

  • I had given up on music until Radiohead’s “In Rainbows” came out and reminded me how much I love them. Next thing you know I’m downloading Grizzly Bear and Iron and Wine and all this stuff that had appeared on the scene while I had my head in the sand. Ask Heather Armstrong for a few suggestions…she will send you on a never-ending spiral that will probably overwhelm you, but maybe you’ll pick up a few new musical gems.

  • my local npr station plays The Writers Almanac every morning. i time my drive to work around it. hearing GK’s sing-song odd timing is comforting.

  • Me, too! I’ve been hiding lack of enthusiasm for music for a couple of years, because SOMETHING MUST BE WRONG WITH ME. I really think that it’s just that so much music is so unnecessary. And pretty terrible.

    Also, my eyes are going, too. I just increased the fonts on all my blogs.

    Next, I think I’ll need to find someone to clip my toenails.

  • Fantastic.

  • I’ve logged absurd driving miles over the last couple decades due to what I call ‘familial penance’, i.e. trying to give equal time to everyone during visits in order to maintain some illusion of emotional uniformity. There was a stretch of years where this involved travelling through the midwest and constantly having to search the radio dial for the lesser of sucky options. Life was transformed when I found audiobooks and became even better with podcasts. When it comes to holding my attention and maintaining sanity during long stretches of time, spoken words far outweigh the ones that are sung.

  • Here’s the thing: I swing by to check if you’ve posted anything new. And every time, most of the soundtrack for Sound of Music gets stuck in my head. I am also reminded EVERY TIME that until this particular post, I thought the lyrics were “High on a hill stood a lonely goat, heard:”
    Do you think they’ll take away my theater degree for that?