I always hear music inside my head. I know that sounds strange, and I promise I don’t mean it in an uneasy, schizophrenic sort of way. Sometimes the music is mild, like I have a metronome inside my head and my footsteps are the beat, or my hands typing on the keyboard strings together a harmony with the sounds of chatter from bystanders.
Other times, it’s much more severe, as if there is literally a radio inside my head that refuses to turn off. I can sometimes feel distinct melodies floating throughout my mind. I also find that in times of crisis, when I’m most sad or even uncomfortable, the music is at its loudest, as if to tune out the real world around me. But I don’t discourage the music. In fact, I find that it’s the only thing keeping me sane in this garbage dump that my days have become.
The last time the music was at its loudest was on Friday. Before that, I can’t remember it ever being that loud. It completely consumed me.
Since starting graduate school, I’ve had to make sacrifices in order to balance the daunting task of working 40 hours a week in tandem with being a full-time student. For someone who used to go out every weekend, the adjustment has been surprisingly smooth. But I’d been feeling antsy for that entire week and needed a night on the town and to destroy a few brain cells to restore my sanity. So I decided to set time aside to hit the town. I had deserved it — but soon I found out that my mind disagreed.
My intended goal was to rage into the wee hours of the morning. My boyfriend Matt and I planned to meet friends at Eagle L.A. around 10 p.m. and go from there. We arrived to a small crowd that eventually tripled in less than an hour. Our friends met us one by one and everything started out pleasant. And overall, it was.
But that’s about as much information as I can relay, because I can’t recall a single thing about what happened at the bar or what I even talked about with my friends. I don’t know if I was just tired from the long work day or if subconsciously I was unhappy with the company, but I completely checked out mentally. As I watched new and old friends converse and laugh together, I stood against a wall, expressionless, living inside my internal dialogue. And for the entire hour and 45 minutes I was at the bar, I was in the world of Bernstein’s Candide.
Candide, which alongside West Side Story is known as one of Leonard Bernstein’s most popular work, is currently on-stage at L.A. Opera (which also troubles me, considering I work for the company and seem to be carrying the burden of my job at all times).
Though the opera’s acclaim has been mixed since its 1956 premiere, the slapstick farce that makes light of traumatic events seems to be a commercial success today, primarily — I believe — because of its music. And it’s that same music that served as my mind’s playlist on Friday night. I heard “Glitter and Be Gay,” the opera’s best-known aria, over and over and over again.
This fiery showstopper is not only a toe-tapper, but the lyrics are much grittier than what the light melody suggests. It is sung by the character Cunegonde, who has lived twice as many lives as the average person. As the daughter of a baron, she grew up insanely wealthy. Incidentally, being both rich and beautiful, no one ever expected much of her, other than to cater to the male gaze. After her life is turned upside down following the the eruption of war, she is raped repeatedly and sold to different men (did I mention that Candide is supposed to be a comic operetta?). She is eventually given an ample supply of jewels to appease her condition.
“Glitter and Be Gay” is an aria that I’ve known for years. I’ve heard it performed by a multitude of sopranos, both bad and good. However, it was only very recently that I watched the operetta in its entirety and listened to the aria in context of the show. And it’s really depressing.
I understand that in the 18th century, the standards women were held to are different than they are now (arguably, not by much, but there is still a difference). But to the men who bought Cunegonde for a small sum and then drowned her in rubies and sapphires: What difference would that have on her psyche? Cunegonde may be painted as unintelligent, but she’s much smarter than she lets on. She knows your tricks. Her complicity is a sham. She’s taking your jewels while plotting your demise.
These are the lighthearted thoughts that devoured my mind on Friday night.
My intended all-nighter of partying ended before midnight, because I simply couldn’t stand to be out-and-about any longer. Perhaps this is a sign that I’m beginning to favor my thoughts over physical company. Or maybe it was the three bowls I smoked before heading to the club.
You know what, now that I think about it, it definitely was. But for the sake of romanticizing my experience, let’s just assume there is a phantom reason to my mental coma. Maybe I’ve outgrown the bar scene. I’m too socially anxious for it, anyways. But at least I know that if I’m forced to go out again, I’ll have my mind as company.
Arya Roshanian is a graduate student studying library and information science. His column, “From The Top,” runs Tuesdays.