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What Music Can Never Do

When Greta died, suddenly and violently, from an accident, at the age of 2, all music became hallucinatory, absurd, obscene, pointless. It would have angered me if I’d had the energy to muster anger for something so insignificant. The idea of recorded music irritated me most of all—why, exactly, did humans pipe dead sounds into our bodies, our ears plugged, more or less alone, instead of spending every possible second in each other’s corporeal presence? The activity of listening to music itself came to seem a little freakish to me, some kind of evolutionary hiccup that had somehow afflicted the entire race.

In the weeks after Greta’s death, I was in deep shock and acute trauma. My nerves were coruscated, my senses misfiring. I was unaccountably starving all the time, and my eyesight felt altogether too keen. While standing on the sidewalk I imagined I could see every vein in every leaf on the tops of trees. The world was too harsh, too vivid, and suddenly I felt a pressing need to examine it with an intensity that I’d never bothered with before.

Perhaps this instinct arose from the circumstances of her death—a plummeting piece of windowsill, breaking loose with no warning, from eight stories above her while she was visiting her grandmother. The incident felt so freakish as to seem a pointed message from the universe: My 2-year-old, the unknowing repository for all my hopes and dreams, and the container of what would have one day been her own, was simply dashed out of the world. I had a hard time not concluding that she had been specifically chosen and killed.

How could I, then, block out my environment with headphones? I needed to see and feel as much of it as I could, as if, by some confused formulation, my own

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