Schadenfreude has never had any appeal to me. I’m convinced that taking “shameful joy” in another person’s failure is both pointless and petty, but there is one failure for which I will be forever thankful. Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull fame gave up learning to play the guitar when he became convinced that he’d never play as well as Eric Clapton and I applaud that set-back for two reasons:
- We’ve already got an Eric Clapton.
- Without Anderson’s skill with the flute we’d never have had “Reasons for Waiting”.
Room-mate Roulette is just one of the challenges a college freshman encounters, but it may be the most crucial. The stress involved in learning to mesh with a complete stranger can have a major effect on both your academic career not to mention your entire life so I’d assumed that careful thought and preparation went into room assignments…so please forgive me for being disturbed when I learned that the selection process was only slightly more sophisticated than a dart game.
Unfortunately I had to go throw the dart board twice. The first assignment worked out well : I drew an upperclassman whose part-time job and interest in the outdoors essentially gave me a private room. Unfortunately he dropped out mid-year and I had to go through the room assignment game a second time and ended up with Scott, a fellow freshman with a heavier footprint requiring more accommodation and coordination, especially in the following areas:
- Getting up in the morning
- Turning in at night
- Setting the thermostat
- Female visitors
- Post-fart courtesy
…and so on. Music was one of the hardest points to negotiate – Scott favored hard rock (Grand Funk Railroad/Quicksilver Messenger Service/ Led Zeppelin) while I preferred progressive rock and acoustic groups (Moody Blues/Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young/America) Playback volume was sticky issue until we agreed on a head-phone truce which unintentionally kept us from mixing our music and appreciating what the other guy listened to.
It took the simple act of Scott turning over in bed one February morning to change all that. The sun was just peeking over the Alaska Range to the south and was bathing the morning sky with orange, magenta and purple while a train crawled along the track on the other side of the parking lot, building up speed for the day-long run to Anchorage, the exhaust from its diesels adding to the wisps of ice-fog that had come up from the Chena River. As I was taking this all in I was mug-in-hand, leaning on our chest-high window sill with my toes tucked under the heat register when somehow in the process of waking up Scott pulled the headset cord out of his stereo and the first notes of possibly the most beautiful song in rock music poured out into our little basement dorm room.
The soft acoustic introduction of Jethro Tull’s Reasons For Waiting leads into a flute solo so beautiful that my eyes welled up — then Ian Anderson started to sing in his slightly wavering tenor:
What a sight for my eyes
To see you in sleep.
Could it stop the sun rise
Hearing you weep?
Writing under the pseudonym Stendhal, 19th Century French Novelist Marie-Henri Beyle observed that viewers can be overwhelmed by the sight of an art masterpiece and sent into a state of distress much like a panic attack. What I felt at this particular moment was probably a low-grade Stendhal incident: the music, the view, the warmth from the hot chocolate, being in love – I couldn’t catch my breath
Oh – I didn’t mention that I had recently fallen in love? My Best Friend and I had spent the first semester playing at being in love – making those first tentative moves: holding hands, sneaking a kiss, whispering endearments hardly understood, but it wasn’t until the separation at Christmas Break that the relationship really found its depth.
We were in capital “L” Love.
You’re not seen, you’re not heard
But I stand by my word.
Came a thousand miles
Just to catch you while you’re smiling.
Notes from the flute become frenzied and erratic but then acoustic guitar steps back in for just a moment to restore the orderly flow of musical notes.
What a day for laughter
And walking at night.
Me following after, your hand holding tight.
And the memory stays clear with the song that you hear.
If I can but make
The words awake the feeling.
Again the flute become frenzied but just at the point of discomfort, the song explodes into a cascade of violins with Anderson’s flute weaving a thread of notes in an around the strings as they underlie the final verse
What a reason for waiting
And dreaming of dreams.
So here’s hoping you’ve faith in impossible schemes,
That are born in the sigh of the wind blowing by
While the dimming light brings the end to a night of loving.
I’d spent most of the previous evening curled up on the couch with my Best Friend watching television, but by the middle of Night Gallery she’d fallen asleep tucked up against the left side of my chest. As the closing credits ran I looked over at her snuggled up against me and suddenly Stukas started to fly interdiction against my central pump. I’d never really looked at anyone sleeping much less a beautiful blonde and I just marveled at the soft, open look to her features.
Fast forward to the next morning: that memory from the night before combined with scenic beauty, the music – h*ll even the mug of hot chocolate – all combined to create one of the most heart-flutteringly joyful moments of my life, an instant of gestalt wherein the beauty of the moment outshined the factors creating it. I wanted to break the channel-selector off my life and stay in that moment forever. In my short eighteen years of life I had never felt anything like that particular four minutes and seven seconds.
…and forty-seven years later just thinking about that moment still makes me smile.