UDLAP Note: In this reflection Gabrielle Macafee offers an emotional perspective about how she feels when she moves away from home. In her moments of sadness she relates and finds calmness in music. As a similar choice, everyone can relate to music in sadness and in other ways, in order to identify and get refuge. She also speaks about her protective childhood and how separating from home was very difficult. We find this to be a very insightful essay, and we are touched by Macafee’s story. Moving away from home when you are an adult is something that could be understandable, and it involves several reasons: work, education, family, etc. We used to think that people in the US see this process as normal, but we could identify that not all people feel good with it, we think it is difficult and requires a lot of maturity. One of us is a student who came from Mexico City and his experience was similar to Macafee’s. He was sad to leave everything behind to pursue his career–his family, friends, home and city. When he first came to UDLAP, his entire family came with him. They wanted to know where he would live and say goodbye to him. The first months were the most difficult for him because he had to adapt to a new environment, even though he knew he would return eventually.
My first introduction to the music of Joni Mitchell left me floored. “Big Yellow Taxi” came on the radio as my family and I were driving through the mountains. I don’t remember where we were going, but I remember pushing my forehead against the cold window. It was fall, and the trees were shaking their leaves off with a dazzling finale of deep red and ochre. We whizzed by the forest, and my vision blurred into a mess of gold as Mitchell’s bright acoustic guitar filled the airwaves. Mom told me to listen, and I did so intently.
I listened to my mother when I was young, I still do. She was fiercely protective of me as a teenager, and told me about the horrors of the world explicitly. When I was about twelve years old, I was not allowed to go outside without an adult present. One hot summer morning, when the air was stagnant and warm from the sun, my mother dropped me off at a friend’s house down the street. After an imaginative morning filled with dolls and stuffed animals, my friend and her brother wanted to play outside. I refused to leave the doorway, terrified of being kidnapped, and told my friends that they too were going to be kidnapped. The girl’s mother appeared behind me, and told me it was time to go home.
Throughout the years, Joni Mitchell has become a source of peace and reassurance. She acknowledges the world’s flaws but finds beauty in it anyway. Her choices in tuning are bizarre, but somehow harmonize beautifully. Her songs solidified that other people feel as much as I do, and can articulate those feelings with grace and self-awareness. Although Mitchell is now regarded as one of the most influential songwriters of the 20th century, it is thought that gender bias prevented her from being thought of as a great troubadour at the time, such as Bob Dylan. (Whitesell).
The first boy I loved gave me Mitchell’s album Blue on vinyl. I spent much of that summer laying on the floor of my bedroom, letting the album spin and crackle on my record player. I almost moved to New York City at the end of that summer, but I put it off till January so I could steep in the comfort of my mother’s love as I sought healing from a life-altering accident. Blue stayed with me though, through my move to The City, the end of that first relationship, my leaving The City, healing in a year by the beach, a summer back in The City, till now. I am about to live in a new place for a while, to work on my own Blue; my own personal exploration of tragedy and healing, of lost things, and the biting love I recently left.
This summer came and went, and I am left with a montage of days spent stomping around the Village, tearing through books and swimming through the thick hot city air. The days melting into long nights, lit by tea lights, fueled by wine and interesting strangers. The setting for this lucid dream of a summer was downtown Manhattan, where I became familiar with Bob Dylan’s favorite haunts. One night I decided to walk through Washington Square Park, and as I walked by couples on benches, groups of NYU students, and a lone trumpeter, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” filled my head with dark green, promise of newness. I stopped to let it play over me, and watched the skateboarders dance around light posts, their cheering breaking through Dylan’s harsh vocals. “I gave her my heart, but she wanted my soul” he complains, I sigh with understanding.
People want too much, lovers want more, New York wants it all.
The first time I left New York, I knew I’d return within a year. That didn’t stop me from mourning my loss the morning I left. I ran to the corner store early that unusually chilly late April morning for a cup of coffee, as my coffee maker was carelessly packed away in a cardboard box. I climbed the spiral staircase to the roof, carrying my coffee and my leather-bound notebook. The City was covered in a low fog that morning, making my world darker than it already was. I watched Manhattan flicker to life that morning, the lights glowing through the mist. This was just a break from New York, for my own good too, but I felt a hopeless sadness regardless that I would not understand until a few months later.
I was crying so hard that I had to pull over. The Florida rain was not helping either, coming down so hard that I could barely see the brake lights ahead of me. So there I sat, in my father’s borrowed pick-up truck, in the parking lot of a closed hardware store weeping. I wept until my face was beet red, sticky from the tears. I was lonely, and it was hitting me hard. Growing up without siblings, I was no stranger to loneliness. I’d embraced it so well before. I was a bit of an odd child, and found enjoyment in making up stories and performance. I’d found my people in New York, and had pushed down that loneliness and social anxiety. But I was in a new city in Florida with no friends and an overwhelming sense of displacement. I guess the rain and some added frustrations had resulted in me sobbing uncontrollably at the wheel, which I had coaxed down to a dull whimper.
Some playlist was running through the car’s stereo, and I heard it. That signature bass line. “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen. His voice is so dark, but is tinged with an innate holiness which carries the questions of humanity with reverence. But the chorus, that glorious chorus is lilted up toward heaven, “hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah.” That struck me right in the gut, and I understood where I was. Through it all, the high and the fall, a single “hallelujah” can ring out if you let it. I let it ring, ushering it in through the music that I truly love.
Cohen, Leonard. “Hallelujah” Various Positions, 1984.
Dylan, Bob. “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, 1963.
Whitesell, Lloyd. “Harmonic Palette in Early Joni Mitchell.” Popular Music, vol. 21, no. 2, 2002, pp. 173–193. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/853681.