The following is my chapter from Moving Forward anthology published by the immigrant writers association. It’s the association’s third anthology and the second one when I contribute a chapter. You can read the first one called Shall I Trust Others? here and purchase the book in print or pdf from Amazon. Now, read on – it’s up to you if you decide to listen to the songs while reading, before or after.
There’s a soundtrack for each moment of my life.
Sometimes, I wish there was an option to attach a song or a playlist to an article or email I’m writing. I know that’s possible by inserting a link. Still, it would be a benefit if this function could be embedded somehow; it doesn’t have the same impact when I tell you, for example, to access a link to listen to a tune while you’re reading this chapter.
Also, in some cases, the person reading the text/email is expected to know the song as opposed to me introducing her to a new cool song.
In the previous anthology, one of the chapters mentioned Boléro (by Ravel), and I silently concluded that it could be this pandemic’s soundtrack.
An Indian proverb says something like: “If you don’t have what you like, you better like what you have.”
I am grateful in so many ways—for my health because I know so many people have suffered all this time and for my work and a career that I love and enjoy. I know that not many are as lucky as I am.
When I say I’m enjoying it, I don’t mean it’s easy. I say this all the time: hard is not bad. Life’s not supposed to be easy. But it doesn’t have to be bad at all.
I’m among those who changed jobs during the pandemic. I’m a digital marketer, and I wanted to focus more on the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) part of “digital marketing.” Although I had been thinking about it, I never actually acted until one Monday morning when I clicked a LinkedIn ad that had been following me for the past couple of days.
I applied. I got the call in the evening to set up an interview for the next day. Wednesday, I got another call around noon, offering me the position. It was just before Christmas (December 22nd, 2020, if I remember correctly). Just like that, in the span of three days, I was about to leave what had been my second family for the past three-and-a-half years.
A few days before leaving Romania permanently in late 2016, while I was packing my stuff and making arrangements for my departure (it does feel the way it sounds—creepy), I got to ask myself all the right questions while I had a song stuck in my head.
Marta’s Song by Deep Forest
This world music band from the so-called golden era (the ‘90s) had some tv and radio airplay. It wasn’t a typical hit song, but some can remember hearing it. I only know that the lyrics are in Hungarian. It’s easy to figure out by yourself what the song is about by Googling the lyrics, but I like the feeling of not knowing for sure. I also like what I think it says.
Music is divine; it’s almost like a feeling by itself. You can say you feel music, but I’ll argue it’s more. It’s something that I might not be able to express in words (and I won’t attempt to do it anymore). You’ll know what I mean when you feel it—or you may have felt it already.
Musica è by Eros Ramazzotti.
I think he says it best. Especially during the Eros Roma Live 2004 version—I got the DVD back in the day, and it’s one of the best live shows/performances that I’ve seen.
I would also argue that I love songs in languages I don’t understand (I was blessed that English wasn’t my first language so I did not understand when I was a kid, how stupid some lyrics were). Because music communicates at a deeper level (the soul), you can easily transcend to a divine state.That song from Deep Forest is quite emotional (it also has the percussion orchestrated in the ’90s, so you can say it has the
rhythm of my heart). It felt like a farewell song, particularly because it starts with the chorus in dialecto*—a universal language that we use from childhood to accompany all songs:
La la la …
*Also, listen to the above-mentioned song by Eros to figure out why I used dialecto.
All the emotions, memories, and feelings from my 30 years of living in Romania were compressed and exploded into that song (Marta’s Song).
Major Lazer & Ellie Goulding feat. Tarrus Riley comes to mind when I say powerful.
Similar to that scene (spoiler alert) in Ratatouille, the cartoon movie, when the most powerful food critic, the one everyone feared, is served a dish that took him back to his childhood. Arguably, one of the best scenes in cinema.
The scene is adapted from the memoirs of a French philosopher whose name I can’t remember.
I came to Canada and life continued. Honestly, I forgot about Marta’s Song.
But as soon as I realized I had to give my notice to my soon-to-be former employers, the first 10 seconds of that song came to my mind, and I immediately experienced the same emotions: I was about to leave my family again.
It was right before Christmas, not quite the best time to give bad news. The new job was starting on January 18th, so theoretically, there was enough legal time to give notice before the new year.
I had written my letter that night but decided to wait until early in the morning to send it. I found a couple of tears dripping on my cheek while writing it and reliving all the moments from my days there.
Because, again, I was leaving my family.
And that’s normal.
They appreciated me letting them know as soon as I found out I had a new job. We still keep in touch regularly, as I consider them my mentors and close friends. I care too much about the things that I do (hopefully, the important ones), so I never really felt I had a job—I always identify myself with my work.
In coming to Canada, I did the right thing.
Before coming here, I wasn’t doing badly, but I wanted a different perspective.
You kind of know when it’s time to move on.
And there’s a song for that: Move On by Slaughterhouse—a rap supergroup signed by Eminem, who, for who knows what reasons exactly, never really had the success everyone predicted. That said, Joe Budden is on my list of the top 3 rappers—controversial, I know, but I appreciate his honesty, especially in the song Slaughtermouse dedicated to Eminem (real stories and real feelings), and as I was myself a Hip Hop DJ who toured with a lot of great underground artists back home, I can feel the song and the gratitude expressed in it.
I can’t express it myself, but I compensate by playing this song.
I came to the conclusion that it would have been better if some bands would have released a single song for a specific performance—and then gone on do something else. I would advocate not even professionally recording that performance—that’s probably the case for The Cat Empire with their Lost Song live performance. The recorded song is not bad, and there are multiple live versions available, but there’s just one that I keep listening to, and I know which one it is from the first 10 seconds after I hit play. I know the crowd reaction I’m looking for.
Or, in the case of performances, I particularly remember Patrice in his Bucharest show in 2008 or 2009. He played some songs in a way never to be played again (that I know of).
I would mention The Eagles—one of the greatest bands. It was unfortunate that Hotel California got on the repertoire. It’s such a great song that it eclipses the band’s other (great) songs. I know there are diehard fans who know everything about the band, but honestly, you aren’t as many as you think.
A song can easily bring you back to an earlier state and feeling. Now that I think about it, this is probably more common than a situation reminding you of a song.
This happened to me when I met my wife a long time ago. I had a CD labelled Lounge Music (think back to 2002).
It was a Buddha-Bar collection, and the first song was A Valen‐tine to Rumi with Demi Moore reciting Rumi verses (originally intended for God) along with Deepak Chopra. I didn’t know that back then. I knew who Demi Moore was but not Deepak, and I certainly never heard of Rumi. I kept that song on repeat for a couple of days.
Later on, in 2012, I visited Turkey and Cappadocia for a study my university did on early Christianity (a young religion in the first century, whose followers were living in the catacombs of the Cappadocia region, fleeing the persecutions). We visited other regions and sites as well. One of them was the tomb of Mevlana Rumi, the Persian mystic, founder of Sufism, poet, philosopher, and much more.
Fast forward, the year I married my wife, I accidentally rediscovered the song via YouTube and connected the dots.
But from the first 5 seconds of the tune, I was there: a young adolescent again, in my cousin’s room, in a small town up in the mountains, in front of the stereo hitting the back button on the CD player (the replay function didn’t work), anxiously waiting to see my future wife again later that day.
It wouldn’t be fair not to mention some live performances.
I’ve recently seen The Weeknd’s 2021 Super Bowl show, and I realized how much I miss a live gig.
As I was in the industry for so long (I was a DJ, studio and record label founder, and manager for close to 10 years), live performances were not a thing for me anymore. I didn’t enjoy them as a civilian would (this is one of the reasons I’m no longer in the business—I’m now actually enjoying the music).
But man, do I miss going out. I miss a live performance: a DJ setting up his stuff, a guitar being tuned, a speaker being tested before the show.
And, of course, the performance.
Performing live shows gives you the opportunity to play different versions of the songs that didn’t end up in the final released version (see the above-mentioned Weeknd performance and Patrice’s Bucharest show—if you can). Sometimes, those versions are better than the original.
And I must admit, I’m kind of a hypocrite here: I don’t like filming/recording live shows (I never liked it when I was on stage), but I certainly enjoy watching live shows on YouTube because each performance is unique.
A recording is just capturing a performance; it’s the producer’s and the sound engineer’s job to ensure the artist performs at his/her best so that the performance can be captured on tape.
I’ve favoured some snippets from a live show by Ali Campbell (UB40) filmed with a cell phone (cell phone, not a smartphone).
And I couldn’t keep myself from sharing a one-minute snippet on Facebook from Petit Frère from IAM, a Hip-Hop supergroup from France, that performed in Toronto in 2018.
That’s one of my favourite songs, and I wanted to share my experience watching it live.
How can we be present at a show if not for the people who are recording it?
There’s a Bobby McFerrin video literally creating a song by manipulating a couple of thousand people in a stadium. No instruments (except Bobby), no lyrics. I don’t even think the song has a name.
There’s a particular feeling when I discover a great hidden gem from mainstream artists. Songs that were on the album but never got released as singles or not even within the same spectrum (genre) as the other songs. I would mention Kwabs’ Last Stand live rehearsal version (although that song was released as a single later on, I believe). Or Sam Smith’s Nirvana—his best song, in my opinion. And he has some massive hits.
And since we’re on the topic of live performances, if you don’t know how a couple can make love on the stage from a distance, well, see Ike and Tina Turner and how they did it. I’ve been loving you too long as a recording already has the erotic emotions tuned to the extreme, but somehow, they turned it up even higher with the performance I’m referring to.
Many songs accompany you throughout your life. Every time I hear Joan Baez’s Diamonds and Rust, I re-experience a breakup.
Music is also a subject of conversation as it introduces us to people and cultures we wouldn’t otherwise have explored. This is how I learned so much about the culture from the Caucasus mountains (Ingushetia, Chechnya, etc.) by listening to Lezginka music. I discovered this while researching something I read in a book—that the Romanian culture is very close to the Chechen culture, closer than to other, more “European” ones.
Music doesn’t always bring us together. I’ve seen so many fights at parties where music was used as a pretext. And it’s still happening.
Back in the CD era, there used to be these big baskets filled with discounted discs at the big stores. I once purchased The Golden Voice of Ireland by Michael O’Duffy. Something different, for sure, and when I met someone from Ireland and mentioned it to him, he was amazed I even heard the name (it happened before the internet was that popular).
I’ve recently started day trading (playing around, to be honest), and during the technical analysis, you’re looking for lower highs, higher lows, higher highs and lower lows.
I found myself mumbling Hunting Highs and Lows by A-Ha.
I still have some dilemmas around certain songs. For example, why wasn’t Who Is It a hit until Michael died? Or why did I not discover until three years ago that the song has a video?
Or what really happened to Savage Garden, and most importantly, why To the moon and back has three different videos (I kind of know why, because it was released in Australia, the US, and Europe with different labels, but I didn’t see the official explanation anywhere). And speaking of Savage Garden, To the moon and back, and live performances, the best one is by Darren Hayes, soon after he left Savage Garden, live at an Australian (probably morning) TV show.
Lately, I’ve been paying attention to some Greek songs performed live for a weekly show addressed to Greeks in the diaspora. I sent that video to my Greek friend in the UK to ask him what the song is about, and after 2 minutes, he sent me a picture of him opening a bottle of wine, saying something like: “Don’t do that anymore.” “Do what?” I replied. “Send me Greek party music when I’m working; now I need to party.”
I sent the same clip to another friend asking him if I’m the only one who feels that song is like a football ultras chant. His reply was: “All Greek songs are like that.”
Now, there are two versions of the song I like the most. One is from the 1h video, and one has just that video captured from the same show. However, I tend to go to the 1h one, because it feels different.
There’s a theory saying that the best songs have already been written.
Someone must have blessed us when they gave us those songs.
That might be true, but there are so many great ones that you could easily live without any new ones.
I quite enjoyed writing this and re-engaging in some of the associated emotions. I haven’t even mentioned my favourite all-time artists at all (well, only Michael). Or how music is also an experience when purchasing it (something that’s not happening anymore, only for those who collect vinyl, which is an increasing category, as commercial artists are releasing vinyl versions as well lately).
And speaking of Michael and vinyl, I had the Billie Jean instrumental on vinyl, and whenever I had a show, that’s the song I used to play to set up my gear.
Until Animals by Martin Garrix was released—that song covers the entire spectrum of frequencies you need to ensure they are rendered by the sound system in order for you to have a great live performance.
There’s a party by DJ Bobo has a special place in my heart, as the cassette tape with that song on it was purchased by my uncle. We were coming back home from the hospital, after one of his cancer treatment sessions, and we were waiting for my dad who had to make a stop near a popular square where they used to sell cassette tapes (context: in the 90s music used to be sold on the street pretty much everywhere in East Europe—I thought that was a localized phenomenon but I’ve seen it happening in North America as well).
While waiting, that song came and the 10-year old me said—“Wow I love this song, buy that for me, uncle”. He looked at me, counted the money and said—“Ok, but I only have the money I am supposed to give to the doctor tomorrow (I won’t even go into details of what that means) but what the hell … don’t tell your dad”. Now, I remember him every time that song comes on—and I play it when I remember him.
I didn’t mention the disappointment I had when I found out who Jessica Jay really is. Or the regret that I can’t find a bedroom recording of a Los Caños Ella Es cover that I didn’t save from YouTube because, while at first it was accessible, soon there was a message this is not available in your country (don’t you love it when this happens?).
Then the recording was no longer available at all.
I could go on like this for days. Music has always been part of my life, probably more than for others. Being involved in the music industry made me somehow not enjoy music the way I do now.
Recently, I heard about DMX passing away, and the first song that came to mind was I don’t want to die. DMX is a guest featured with Mark Morrison, a controversial artist whose first hit single was Return of the Mack.
He has disappeared from the mainstream.
But it’s time to move on.
This pandemic has affected all of us. Music kept me sane. It’s with us at work or when we’re alone, when we’re with our loved ones, or when we miss them.
No More Boléros (this is an actual song by Gerard Joling)!
All the songs mentioned in this chapter can be heard here: https://emanuelp.com/go/move-on