your brain on music


#1 : Daniel

Welcome to the VERY first story of Why We Listen, written by Naomi Thalenberg. I’ve always been fascinated by my memory. Mine’s not that great, and I’ve always envied my twin brother, David, for being able to recall details from our childhood that I couldn’t. But there’s something about music that always brings me back with such candid transition.

Let’s begin.

In 1973 Elton John released the famed song “Daniel” in his album Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player, but it entered my life my sophomore year of high school during a road trip with my dad and brother through a tribute album called Two Rooms: Celebrating the Songs of Elton John & Bernie Taupin, where Wilson Phillips sings “Daniel.” We must have listened to the album a million times throughout the trip. My father loving Eric Clapton’s rendition of “Border Song,” my brother indifferent to anything Elton John, and me asking to repeat the song “Daniel” as many times as they’d let me. For some reason it made me feel safe.

The year after I met this British boy, he must have been my age, around 16-ish, at one of those movies at a museum sort of thing. We sat next to each other and chatted. He told me his sister’s name was Naomi, and when we said goodbye after the movie I wished I had gotten to know this mysterious Daniel more. My naïve 16-year old self thought “what if my soul mate’s name is Daniel?” Yeah, I don’t believe in soul mates, but the thought stayed with me for a while.

So I went on with my life and kept listening to Elton John. When I told my mom how much I loved his song Daniel, she told me she used to listen to that song with her best girlfriend growing up. Apparently she was going to name my twin brother that, but then changed her mind.

Senior year of high school a good friend of mine, Danny (Daniel) passed away. It was so strange and he left us so unexpectedly. My friends and I all celebrated the joy he brought into our lives, and I wrote in a journal at his service Daniel’s lyrics “your eyes have died, but you see more than I.” There’s something about death that I’ve always thought of since I was a little girl — that those who pass away get this gift, this extra knowledge those of us don’t know of while we’re alive … they know what it’s like to be outside of this world, wherever that may be. And that’s their gift, and it’ll be ours someday too.

Anytime the song enters my life, I think back to all of this. This connectivity I cannot explain, but somehow makes me feel safe in this world. Thanks for reading.





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