Written by Lorette C. Luzajic
...my requiem for Zoë Nickerson
Bruce Springsteen’s stories and sounds have a certain picturesque charm to them, a melancholy beauty reminiscent of trains and star-crossed lovers. I’d heard so many times the hype that this new release, Magic, was Nebraska-era power that I had to know. Sing your heart out, Mr. Springsteen- I’m bawling my eyes out right now and it sounds good to me. It’s filled with conversations it feels like I just had.
But then, I’m rather emotional right now: I just returned from a wake. Titles like Last to Die and I’ll Work For Your Love have so many meanings in this the week that our wild, vivid Zoë hung herself in her room.
Zoë was dying, and nobody knew. I’d felt her coming apart at the seams but didn’t recognize that it was something this grave. Upheaval and distress are normal parts of life, and some were wounds we shared: other injuries we listened through as best we could. Friends. If I had to lock up every friend who was prone to fear or sorrow or, well, emotions, they’d have to build a lot more wards.
For me, for everyone, now we sift back through the past years for signs and we can find them, sure. But what did they mean, and what am I now reading too much into? Like many of Zoë’s kindred, I love meaningful signs and portents, the magical undercurrents of ordinary life. Zoë and I were both mesmerized by beautiful, radical life.
Zoë loved skeletons. She said she thought our bones were beautiful. But reading into that would be ridiculous. Our bones, after all, have essentially nothing to do with death, any more than our skin or muscles. They, too, turn to ashes. It seems ominous that she had all those skull necklaces, but I’ve got a few myself tangled somewhere in a drawer.
Zoë read beautiful books about Buddhism and Jesus and mythology. We both loved the spiritual writings of Thomas Moore. Zoë’s favourite books Anna Karenina and The Blind Assassin both centre on suicide. It might be a clue for me to reread the latter: Atwood’s book a wedding gift from mine and Zoë’s special friend, the monk. I’ve never delved into the lengthy classic Anna, and I’m not sure I will. Will I find what I hope to there? Doubt it. And if I had noticed this dark literary bent before, would it mean that I and every library branch and every literati/glitterati need 24-hour surveillance? We all have a copy of Plath’s The Bell Jar.
Still, now the grief-stricken and confused are questioning every conversation. I guess it is the ultimate separation to not know what went through a loved one’s mind in the darkest hour. Would it bring peace if I knew, or cause more distress because I don’t like that reason? There’s a damn good chance I’ll like some reasons even less than others. Can I find peace? Is it best to be angry? Did you just want to be famous? Were you peaceful? What’s it like there? Are you with Marko? Do you still love me?
From my spot here sobbing on the ground, humbled by abject grief, this album feels wild. At the very least, it shows that our suffering is universal. Bruce just sang, “Now your death is upon us and we'll return your ashes to the earth, and I know you'll take comfort in knowing you've been roundly blessed and cursed.” This is for his friend Terry. Death- yuck, it’s so, umm, natural.
I don’t think Springsteen was on Zoë’s top ten list, but evidently she was on his. Seems this album was written for her, but that’s just in my head because the album features a song called Gypsy Biker and the whole thing is called Magic. On Sundays Zoë and I drank coffee and smoked pot and sang endlessly into hairbrushes in my room, always to alt-country goddess Lucinda Williams. Sometimes I thought Zoë looked a bit like Lucinda. I sure wish I could rock out with Zoë to this album. Those were beautiful days, mingled with other kinds of days, as always.
“The pages of Revelation lie open in your empty eyes of blue,” Bruce is saying.
Then I hear “Your head's spinnin' in diamonds and clouds, but pretty soon it turns out you'll be comin' down.” I just about lose it.
I could comment that the music on this album is made of that old-time heart rock, spun of layers of soul and effortless rhythms. It’s an event for music, after so many lacklustre offerings from all genres for years. Though some sparkling stars shone through- Arcade Fire, for example- rock was at an impasse and even our favourite giants like Bruce and U2 were teetering closely at the abyss of boring. Now it feels like early fall, the kind of autumns they had 15 years ago, when bittersweet flavours hung in the air: the days I worked at a gas station and was trying to learn guitar. The music brings my heart into this space of such deep longing and strangeness, but the lyrics are acutely contemporary. They all seem to say “Goodbye, Zoë.”
“On the road the sun is sinkin’ low, somebody’s hanging in the trees- this is what we’ll be,” Bruce sings in Magic. I understand that this might be the weirdest album review ever, but what is music if it doesn’t speak this deeply?
“The earth it gave away, the sea rose towards the sun, I opened up my heart to you, it got all damaged and undone.”
There’s not much more to say after that song: it’s called Living in the Future.
Baby, can you hear me?
“This is radio nowhere, is there anybody alive out there? This is radio nowhere, is there anybody alive out there?”
See, there are signs everywhere, but no answers.
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