I am taking the week off from politics. I need to protect myself from what Thom Hartmann, in his blog yesterday, describes as “a death cult, where Trump’s own supporters enthusiastically cheer his efforts to make America more brutal, crude, and deadly.” He goes on to say that the question most Americans want answered is, “What’s it going to take to wake up or defeat the members of Trump’s death cult?” I don’t know, but I do know that making myself ill from ingesting their fumes will not help.
The Mozart vaccine
by Ruth Neuwald Falcon, Seattle, Washington
When my mother was dying, I got her a boombox with a double cassette player. She wanted music and I wanted her to have the longest possible uninterrupted play times to fill the silences in her room. “What would you like to listen to?” I asked her as she lay in her bed, the morphine and Ativan (God’s gift to dying people) dripping into her chest.
“Mozart,” she replied. I went to Tower Records in Laguna Hills and got every Mozart cassette I could find. But some of them were raucous (for Mozart) and far too energetic for the situation. This was before anything and everything you could want to hear or read or see was a google away. Today, I search for “Mozart peaceful” and a practically endless list of options instantaneously pops onto my screen. But the internet was not a place we visited in 1989, there was no Amazon, and I felt too ignorant to know who and how to ask for exactly what I was looking for.
I felt bad about ending up with so few selections for her to listen to. “What about Haydn?” I asked her. “Or Beethoven?” She shook her head. “Bach? What about Bach? I would think all that mathematical precision would be soothing.”
She shook her head again. “Mozart,” she whispered.
In the last couple of weeks of her life, she was more unconscious than conscious, but she still wanted the music to keep her company. I could tell because her agitation increased when the room was completely quiet. But, even knowing she was only semi-conscious most of the time, I felt worse and worse about her limited music selection.
I went back to Tower Records. No new Mozart had come in, but the clerk recommended a couple of Haydn string quartets and some Bach. Haydn is the same period as Mozart, I thought. She won’t be able to tell the difference. She was certainly too far gone to complain, but the more I have learned about music over the past thirty years, the more I wish I hadn’t done it. Most of the learning is gut learning: the feeling I get in my body when I tune to a radio station and come upon a piano sonata or an oboe concerto that makes me relax muscles I hadn’t even known I was tightening and my spirit gratefully release some of the day’s tension. At the end of the piece, just before the announcer’s voice comes on to tell me the composer’s name, I hear my mother’s voice whispering, “Mozart.” She’s always right.
KUSC, out of Los Angeles, plays Mozart at 9 o’clock every weekday morning. That’s how I’m spending the first hour of each day this week, the week of the Republican National Convention. We don’t have a vaccine for COVID-19 yet, but I experience this as a kind of inoculation against the toxins that are spewing from the convention. I will need it to get me through the next 68 days. Mozart.