I feel exhausted after I finish an online midterm I’m positive I bombed. I walk out of my room and into the living room of my cottage; my parents’ eyes are glued to CNN, while my brother’s are glued to his phone. Big bold letters line the bottom of the screen: “White House task force could soon recommend Americans wear masks.

The same images of the president speaking come onscreen. It seems they are running out of new footage to use.

“Didn’t they say like a week ago that they weren’t necessary to prevent the spread?” My parents don’t even blink. In a shocking turn of events, my brother takes out his earbud to confirm my suspicion. I get frustrated. My parents get mad and tell me to go for a walk. I oblige. I put on my headphones and start listening to music, only to skip through several songs because none of them feel right. I don’t want to hear anyone’s voice right now. Finally, “Hatred of Music I” by Tim Hecker comes on. The irony is not lost on me. But, it fit. It worked.

A man is only as good as his word.

I’ve slowly grown to hate this phrase over the years. It’s increasingly apparent to me that words are by no means absolute. Words can be reshaped, misinterpreted, built into tools or weapons. The phrase should really be: A man is only as good as his wordplay. It’s so easy to lie without ever lying. The malleability of words is not a new concept, it just feels less like a fascinating consequence of language and more like a harsh reality nowadays. Information is more abundant and integral to our society than ever before. Sure, it means that I get to choose where I get my information, but it also means I’ll get a Facebook friend request from an account using my name whose profile is a picture of me that I never remembered posting.

Getting bored of admiring the scenery after a while, I start perusing through my phone. One of my friends has baked their eleventh loaf of bread this week. Focaccia? She’s really outdone herself this time. Another friend reposted an article about a man who died drinking koi pond cleaner, confusing it for the drug officials were saying could prevent coronavirus. The link below it was of a Florida administrator saying hair dryers could kill the virus. I put my phone away feeling disgusted. “A Drifting Up” by Jon Hopkins starts to play. I turn up the volume and keep walking.

I can tell this thinking has affected how I listen to music because I’ll regularly get asked by people whether I enjoy lyrics. I mean, if I had to choose between lyrics or the sound of the music, I would choose the latter every single time. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy lyrics. The problem is that I can’t always trust them. I can trust emotions, and the sound of the music is really good at conveying them. It’s way harder to fake emotions. It’s even harder to fake them within music. It’s not really possible to bury a lie inside a diminished chord. When a song really resonates with me, it’s because there was a certain passage that seemed to do everything right or a single note that pierced through the other sounds and provided some poignant clarity (etc…), not because the singer talked about the particularities of sci-fi art in the 60s and 70s. Lyrics have a place and purpose in music for me, it’s just as a secondary force. 

I arrive at a familiar set of stairs wrapping around a tall dune. Fuck it, I think and I make my way upwards. Sigur Rós comes on with “Untitled #2 (Frysta).” I remember hearing about the album this song is from. Apparently, the whole album is spoken in an entirely made up language. As I’m listening to the song, I feel like I know what the singer is expressing, even though I can’t understand a single word that is being said. The words seem to act as their own instrument, combining with the rest of the music to form an interweaving amalgam of sound. I get an intense feeling. My head’s tingling and the air around me starts to fizzle against my skin. An intense light in my eyes tears me from my reverie. I had emerged from under the trees in my ascent and reached the top of the dunes. I have a perfect view of Lake Michigan from here, and even though I’ve been to this spot many times before, I stop and revel in it anyway. The sun begins to dip below the last layer of clouds over the water. I guess this is my cue. I turn around and head back.

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