The Enduring Mystery of the One-Boot Cowboy

Every so often we, as humans, come across places, ideas or thoughts that astound and upset what we think we know with regard to the ways of the world.  Questions that we wrestle with in the wee hours of wakefulness fueled by an inescapable uncertainty. We reach out in the dark, grasphing for answers to those things left unresolved in the light, replaying scenes and circumstances in our head like an animated gif on repeat. It might be an odd turn of phrase we heard a under a friend’s breath, a moral or ethical quandry we are facing at work, an inexplicable series of events that form a fateful chain of improbable outcomes, or more immediate and pressing, your inability to discern whether a slurring man on the street was asking for directions to the pawn shop or the porn shop.  They are the experiences and encounters where our monkey-brains come up short. Where we must take pause, consider and question what we may not know, or why the fuck are my keys mising so goddamned always.

Most of the time the answers to these questions are elusive or speculative; beyond the immediately knowable and entering into the academic realm of theory and probability.  We struggle as humans to ascribe our situation to our understanding, to massage our worldview into a shape that fits the wisdom of common-sense and the rigor of scientific method.    I mean, my keys can only be in a set number of places, right?  Do they only exist when I can physically see them? Are these Schrodinger’s keys? No.  NO.  We reject these mishapen mental obstacles as outliers in a predictable pattern.  These great mysteries of our time which scholars, amateurs and psychics make their money predicting, modeling and sleuthing have sent countless truthseekers down the proverbial dark rabbit hole, often with little explanation and/or no results.

Such is the hole I have occupied for many months now.  I have no answers.  There are no ships on the horizon of logic, delivering cargos of reason or purpose.  No smoking gun; just an endless landscape of grassy knolls.  As of late, I have a a standing reservation at the Mad Hatter’s tea party.

What’s worse is I stumbled into this black hole of doubt purely by accident.  Like a witness to a murder that goes to trial, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, with irrevocable consequences for my emotional and psychological well-being for years to come.  I might as well have been a bumbling janitor who walks into the wrong room at CIA headquarters during a Top Secret meeting discussing the communist infiltration of our water supply.  I’ve seen too much.  And now I’m not sure what to think anymore.

Now that you have a glimpse as to my state of mind, let me tell you how I got here. It’s a simple story:

My wife and I were attending a stadium concert many months ago.  About an hour and a half into the performance, just tip-toeing into purple-ish hours of the evening on an otherwise pleasant outdoor music experience, the two of us sat blissfully unaware of our impending doom.  Our seats were about two-thirds up from the first row of a large section of fixed stadium seating.  My eyes were on the stage slightly to my left, when out of that very corner came a man wading across a row further down in our section, going left to right.  He was passing through the complete row as if he had started down the wrong row and decided to just steam ahead to get to the other aisle to my right.  But as he finished his awkward amble across the row of upset concert-goers, I noticed something in his hand.  Something…large.

Was it beer?  No.  He was holding it much too casually for a beer that size and undoutable heft.  Maybe a souvenir or some swag? Again, no. And then an unmistakeable silhouette came into focus against the backdrop of a young twilight.

It was a fucking boot.

A solitary leather boot, embroidered and emblazoned with all the shit-kicker finery one would expect from a circa-1994 boot-scootin’, 2-steppin’ country western dance hall.  Just one boot, held in the palm of this mysterious man on a mission.

Descending into madness

He made his way across the entire section with the airs of a squire carrying a sword or lance to their knight in arms at a joust tourney, with a hurried pace in his steps and urgency in his stride.  Someone needed that boot and they needed it now. Or so it seemed.  But alas, as the bootman descended down the aisle and reached the end of the section, opening onto the field, he encountered resistance.

An enormous, round mass of unsculpted blob-muscle that could qualify as a dwarf planet spun off-axis into the aisleway, swinging the entiriety of its incredible gait outwards into the path.  The security guard, who I shall name henceforth Ham Planet, shot out a stiffarm and a furrowed, unfriendly brow towards our intrepid bootman before bellowing something to the effect of “who goes there?”  I know this because I could see his face as he questioned the man, facing the crowd and our seats further up in the stands, far enough away to read his expression, but not his lips.  And though I may never piece together what words were exchanged, these things I know:

  • The bootman pointed several times to the boot he was carrying, and then in the general direction of the field
  • The men discussed the situation at length – maybe a minute or longer
  • A second security guard, sporting ice-blue mirrored shades and whom I shall refer to as Iceman, entered the fray to provide assistance
  • Wild guestures were exchanged, but in an oddly respectful manner
  • Ham Planet stroked his wispy facial hair several times as if pondering the matter with prudence of King Solomon
  • Iceman pulled Ham Planet to the side for a brief tête-à-tête, after which the dramatic tension seemed to dissolve
  • At some length Ham Planet finally threw up his meaty arms into the air in a show of resignation, turning counter-axis away from the bootman and resuming his regular position drifting in orbit to the side of the aisleway as Iceman withdrew to the opposite side.

Channeling the spirit of Moses parting the Red Sea, the bootman sprang foward into the opening, clearly irritated by the delay imposed by cosmic forces working against him.  He bound up a few steps onto the field and immediately began casting his eyes towards the human horizon of concert-goers who had assembled onto the field.  He stood there perhaps taking in the enormity of the throng of people in front of him, scanning left to right and back slowly, with attention and scrutiny rivaling that of a T-800 Terminator looking for Sarah Connor.

Up until this point, I’ve been telling you what I saw with my own two eyes and from my point-of-view, and I wish I could spin the  narrative camera around for a reverse shot of my face throughout this whole episode.  About at the point our sole-full sojourner made it onto the field, I began noticing a dryness in my mouth.  It occurred to me then that my mouth had been hanging open for several minutes, agape in disbelief and befuddlement.  I blinked, almost audibly, for what may have been the first time in minutes and realized I probably was making a scene with my slack-jawed mouth- breathing. Without taking my eyes off of the bootman, I leaned in towards Nicole and asked “Are you seeing this? This guy with the boot?”  No answer.  I turned to look at her and saw her transfixed, blazing eyes were also riveted to something on the field.  I started to ask again when her hand flew up to quiet me, while she pointed with the other hand, finger outstretched  “Look!  He’s moving!”

Nearly snapping my neck back to the field and the spot where our hero once stood, I panicked, thinking I had lost track of him.  I frantically searched a visual radius of 50 some feet, darting my eyes over every boot-like feature and trying to mentally calculate the average footspeed of a boot-laden north-american male.  The bootman might as well have been wearing a red and white striped hat and wearing a camera and glasses; he somehow immediately blended into his surrounds more effectively than Trump at a White Nationalist weenie-roast.  I squinted, hard, in a dramatic attempt to screen out the inevitable concert haze of vape-clouds and people holding up their phones to record their shitty concert videos which no one will ever want to watch ever again please stop taking them and put your phone away.

And then, for a fleeting moment, the frenetic limb-flailing subsided, creating a small window to within the crowd where a boot suddenly emerged. I locked onto it with laser-beam focus and let out a quiet “I see you” under my breath.  First the bootsman’s arm, and then gradually the rest of his frame emerged from the mob as he made his way in and out of the crowd, wading in at times and then coming back out.  Clearly, he was looking for someone, searching through this haystack of sweaty young adults for his proverbial needle.  All the while he held that boot firmly, switching hands occasionally but never held above his beltline, always parallel to his body, and always in a casual fashion, as if a fucking boot was a standard concert accessory:  “Did you forget your boot, Mike?”  “Aw shit, man do you have an extra?” “What are you new here? Of course, I always keep an extra solitary boot around as a backup.  You never know when you might score some tickets to some fresh jam. What would I do with my hands if I didn’t have this boot around to carry?”

Gradually, the bootman wandered further afield then my eyes could follow, merging as one man with a boot into the pulsing mass of patrons, vanishing into the cosmic ether of uncertainty.  My eyes circled the last point of contact for a long time as night came to the stadium, desperately searching in vain for a glimmer of that boot.  But like a seaman tossed overboard admidst the endless, unknowable depths of Poseidon’s wrath, the bootsman would never return.  Wherever he was going, whoever he was carrying that boot for, whatever his intentions or his final destination – all of the answers had ambled away from where I sat there in the stands, a bewildering tumbleweed of disquiet.  Nicole and I had witnessed events so slight and temporal that they barely existed at all, and yet the enduring registry of questions haunted our thoughts for the rest of the evening and well beyond.

Who was the bootman?  Why was he in such a hurry to deliver (?) this boot to someone?  Was something in the boot?  Who was he looking for?  What did he say to Ham Planet and Iceman?  Why oh why did he happen to pass my way and drag me down in this downward spiral of endless questions.  I will never know – I …. I know that.  I do.  But alas I do not accept it.  I can’t.  Because Nicole and I are the sole custodians of this knowledge, the only witnesses to this glitch in the matrix.  We are the Zapruders of the Enduring Mystery of the One-Boot Cowboy.

I wish you, gentle reader, could have seen it with my eyes and formed with me a fraternity of mutual bafflement and discomfort, if only so I wouldn’t feel so alone in this world.  My hope in writing this is that, should you ever see a man carrying a single boot somewhere, you might follow that man and seek the truth that he holds.   You can set me free from this prison.  I’ll be here.  Waiting.  Searching.  Until the end of my days.

On the plus side, I did find my keys.



Ultimate Debeating Champtionship

Every election cycle just seems to get me more depressed.  It’s just more of the same every time.  It’s the same partisan issues, the same negativity and finger pointing, and  the same tired political melodrama regurgitated and propped up on the stage of our reality-show culture’s pathetic imitation of democracy.  When will congressmen and women begin to listen to their constituents; when will they give the people what they really want? I guess what I’m trying to say is once again, both party caucuses have rejected my suggestion to hold their debates in the format of a WWE ladder-match. I just really wanted to hear Bern-dog’s arena entrance music.


The Torch

I’ve written about my family more than once, but I rarely write about my mother for fear of not accurately illustrating the impact her life had on mine.  I hold her in reverence, as any child might to their creator and to their first and best love.  Writing anything about her seems like a futile exercise as words always seem a poor palette with which to paint anything resembling what I can remember of her life. But during a recent trip to Greece I experienced an unusal connection to the lands I was visiting.  Walking through hallowed, ancient ground reminded me of my mother, and of another Olympia on another continent. 

Once every couple of years I am able to fly back home to Olympia, Washington, where she resides.  I make the journey to converse, to regain some necessary perspective on how and why the events of my life have unfolded the way they have.  Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a one-sided conversation as these days visiting my mother entails a folding chair and an occasional umbrella as I sit straddling a tiny patch of earth with a fading brown marble headstone. As such I have not been afforded the luxury of having her around to serve as a sounding board since I was twelve years old. So I grapple at memories, at photos and heirlooms, at the stone memorial I stand over; anything I can use to remember the dream of Christine Fomin.  I try to imagine conversations I might have had and memories that might have been made, invoking what I can of her words and my own fading recollections of who she was.  And much like that small cemetary, as I strolled through the ancient Acropolis of Athens, around the Temple of Apollo at Delphi and reading other timeless words inscribed in everlasting stones, my thoughts sharpened into a focus on a resonant, lasting power that the past holds up to the present.

Obviously, her death had a played a big part on my developing sense of self and identity.  But far greater impact was what remained after that loss; a legacy. Looking down at that headstone are the words that I travel thousands of mile to see and see again, year after year.  To me, they are less words etched in marble, and more of an incantation that reawakens the ambitions of a slumbering heart; Eternal Love to all My Progeny, the Torch is passed.  These are the words that have ignited my heart in the past and are pushing the blood to my fingertips as I pound the keys on my keyboard to the rhythm of renewal.  Today, my keyboard is an anvil, and I’m hammering away at a refined edge with the white-hot blood of past purpose and future dreams. These words are the common, fiery-golden thread.  They carry a weight coming from my mother beyond the grave and into my living, breathing world. Not just because I loved my mother, as any child does, but because I know the heights to which she climbed in her own time were so great.  The Torch she carried now lies at the top of a formidable mountain of achievement she ascended during her career, waiting for her progeny to pick up from admidst ruins and carry on into the future.

img_20181107_093530 (1)
The Temple of Apollo at Delphi

It’s plain to see that I hold my mother in high esteem, but what is not so readily seen are those lives changed in her wake, or the light she brought to those around her. She attended the University of Washington in her undergrad, in the process meeting my father, a german-born russian immigrant.  They got married, much to the chagrin of her more conservative family, when she was 21. She punched a police officer once during a planned protest. She went to some length to befriend members of the Black Panthers in a largely homogenous and white Washington state. These of course are just stories, but the facts remain that by 1982, she was 31 years old and had earned an MBA, Juris Doctorate, and given birth to two boys. She died a little over 25 years ago and even now people come to me with stories about how she made an impact on their lives. She was the first female graduate of her MBA program. She started an independent attorney practice and represented local firemen. She worked in service of others, and the Torch she carried was bright and filled rooms full of people with a quiet optimism.  So perhaps you can see now anyone growing up in the shadow of that metaphorical mountain might be more than a little humbled to hazard a trek up the slopes. At best, I could hope to gain some elevation by fumbling in her footsteps. At worst, I could live in a shadow.

My career, in constrast to hers, has been a story of safe choices and risky ventures with a recent skew towards taking ever-increasing leaps into the unknown, hoping to grab onto a higher perch.  But my attempt to clamber up the rocky path has been clumsy and haphazard. My college education was as one professor put it “as if [I was] simply grazing through courses like cattle eating grass. You can do better.  I know you can, and so do you.” And to be honest at the time it was true. I was shot into the college campus environment with the force of an emotional cannonball after my mother imparted that her last wish was for her boys to go to college.  My time there was spent less in service of my education and more to my identity formation as a survivor. I never asked any tough questions of myself, what I wanted to do with my life or what my mother’s final epitaph really meant. I simply endeavored every day to exist.  To abide the inevitable and proverbial next shoe being dropped into my life after the searing memory of how your life can be crushed in a few agonizing moments. For years, it was easier to persist under an overcast sky and pass along a forgiving flat plain, rather than look up to the peaks of achievements occupied by others.  Let alone to that Torch set on high. For a long time, it was even easier to believe that perhaps those places where simply out of my reach.

img_1019-2 (1)
The Acropolis of Athens

Since scraping by on credits to graduate, it’s probably no accident that I’ve worked at three institutions of higher education; a relatively small regional public college, a major flagship research institution, and a burgeoning urban university with a surging national profile.  In retrospect my undergraduate induction into the higher education community, although unexceptional (and towards the end abysmal), had a profound impact on the trajectory of my career long after I received my diploma. By working side by side with people who held purposeful goals, I became infected with some of that quiet optimism my mother had shown so many others years earlier.  It’s even easy to think of our universities and colleges as the modern day stand in for the ancient Acropolis, populated with great thinkers and people seeking knowledge in their propspective passions. It’s only natural while sharing the same ground with so many motivated people I would begin to reflect on that idea of personal growth, of striving towards bettering oneself. That is when I started seeing the Torch for what it really was. It was knowledge of self. It was improving life for yourself, your community and your world. It was Knowledge with a capital ‘K’ that you could spread like a sticky Greek Fire, from person to person.  It was human achievement, not just for the individual, but for the public. For everyone. My mother’s flame was a light to show others the way through darkness. A personal Prometheus I could summon at will from memory. The flame wasn’t on a mountaintop. It was in me.

Every job I’ve held has been in service of other people, although it’s only recently that I’ve realized that the people I work for have been giving back to me in ways I hadn’t noticed.  They have given me their stories to listen to, their personalities to work with, their skills and talents to emulate and observe, and their ambitions for making this world a little better for everyone.  I have tried to do my part in every conscious aspect of my work to bring these ideals to light and to work in service of others by making more efficient systems, more effective policies and procedures, and always assuming that everything can always be better.  Now, at the age of 38, I’m reawakening to that call from my mother once more, by continuing my education and finally getting a Masters degree.  It’s high time I tried to climb further up the mountain.  It’s time I held the Torch a little higher and walk a little further up the path. Maybe one day my fire will help you on yours.

Keep climbing.

Review: Chick-fil-A Hapeville Dwarf House – Hapeville, GA

We ventured into this, the very first Chick-fil-A, while trying to kill some time before our flight at Jackson-Hartsfield International.  Imagine something between a Chik Fil-A and a Denny’s with weird dwarf theming. If you can set your expectations to that level you’ll do fine. The budget-minded gourmand might indulge in the “Hot Brown,” a breakfast food item you can eat. I ordered a plate with two sides that came in plastic containers fresh from the microwave. Now thems good eats. Still, if you’re inmeshed in Chik Fil-A lore you know the significance of this holy site, and will rebuff any criticisms of the quality of the food or its presentation to the consumer. There is nothing I can do to stop you, is there?


The business of breaking hearts.

Recently I found out a friend of mine was likely going through a divorce, and when I heard the news, I had to pause for a moment to manage what felt like heartburn of the soul.  It’s sad of course to hear of any couple deciding to part ways, amicably or otherwise.  But this was the first time in recent memory someone around my age had started going through the process, and it caused a flare-up of dormant feelings I haven’t examined in years.  Prior to hearing this news I hadn’t experienced a bad acid-reflux flashback  since I went through a divorce myself.  It’s the kind of heartache that no one ever asks for, but is often given and taken in flurried exchanges of passion, ambivalence or scornful retribution. I’m talking, of course, about having your heart ripped out of your chest and drop-kicked into the rubbish bin.

Alright, so perhaps that’s a bit dramatic.  But you know what I’m talking about.  The feeling of being betrayed, of being on the receiving end of deceit and lies. Or worse, having someone fall out of love with you.  The feeling when someone ends a relationship with you suddenly, with injury or simply without care.  A million cliches from scorned lovers in centuries of literature and film immediately spring to mind: “How could you do this to me?  Why? What did I do wrong? Don’t you love me anymore?” All of these questions of hobbled fidelity and faith; of furrowed-brows in disbelief at these cruelest of cuts from those we loved which all seek the same answer;  How could you betray my trust? You of all people, amongst all those we expect to inflict wounds to our ego at work or at home? You, the person I was closest to? Or to be more facetious: Et tu, Boo-tay? You too?

We can relate to Ceasar’s incredulity even if we haven’t been stabbed to death by a pack of angry gay dudes wearing bed linens, because we understand the value of trust.  Whether you are the dumpee or the dumper, it’s a dirty business when someone gets the proverbial rug of trust pulled out from under them in a relationship.  It’s almost transactional; as if your partner is saying I don’t believe this institution is viable any longer and I wish to withrdaw my investment.  Or more to the point: I don’t believe in you, or us, any longer.  One person’s worth has been substantially devalued by their biggest investor and advocate, and it hurts because that investment was based on an intimate understanding. If someone who knows so much about us – someone who knows our accomplishments, idiosyncracies, and peccadillos, can think so poorly of us seemingly overnight, what does that say about our true value as a person?  Its easy to see from that point how people might go into a complete emotional tailspin and never regain the altitutde they once enjoyed.

But relationships take nosedives like this every day, often to people around us that otherwise seemed fine.  And as good as things may be today, tomorrow may look very different when staring across the table at your partner, spouse or significant other.  So what can we do to avoid these violences of the heart?  How can we avoid pushing each other off of psychologically steady ground and over the edge of devastating uncertainty? The answer is not obvious of course, because humans are bizarre, complicated primates with growing, changing feelings and interests.  The circumstances of every breakup is slightly unique because the history and the personalities involved are in and of themselves so varied.


Many of us feel an upcoming fork in the road and realize we’d rather go where the other person simply can’t follow.  Maybe we were “tempted by the fruit of another.” For whatever reason, you can see a point in time or opportunity approaching where you wish to make a change, and even arriving at that conclusion can fill one with the dread and anxiety of not knowing how to handle it.  Honestly I think that is why so many relationships end with what looks like carelessness: people just not knowing how to process those feelings or how to act on them and then getting flustered or upset when having to deal with the situation when that fork finally arrives.   Now imagine the person on the receiving end of this change, watching the person you love veer off in another direction while you go speeding off of a cliff.  Not only is someone breaking up with you, but they are handling it with all the maturity and care of a Fox News host interviewing someone from the NAACP.  Or so it would seem.

The point of all of my rambling is this: if you find yourself looking down the relationship path and not liking what you see, the onus is on you to take action.  If you see something, say something.  To use yet another ridiculous analogy, if you were the pilot of a small plane, you wouldn’t turn to your co-pilot and say “Listen, this has been great, but this plane is out of fuel and we’re about to crash. I’ve already prepared my parachute, so I think it would be best if I move on.  But you can keep trying to glide this thing down on your own or whatever.  You’re a great person, really.  You’ll be fine.”  All of this could have been really, super useful information for the co-pilot to have known at any point prior to you strapping on your helmet and jumping out of the fucking plane.  Can you imagine the co-pilots face at that moment?  A Ceasar-esque mix of confusion, desertion, hopelessness and what-the-fuckism. Sounds a lot like the Ceasar salad at the Olive Garden, actually.

As someone who has been both the pilot and co-pilot, the first person to spot a fork and the survivor of a few nasty falls off the cliff, I know it’s never easy to navigate your way through life.  But the worst injuries I’ve witnessed came when there was little or no communication between people.  It’s easy to say all of the responsibility should fall at the feet of the person who is wanting to leave, but we all know relationships are a two way street.  So while yes, it is extremely dickish to ditch your co-pilot with no fuel, if that co-pilot had up until that point been high on angel dust and clawing at the controls while dressed like an anime character, a lot of people wouldn’t find fault with your sudden departure. But let’s be honest – most of the time that’s not the case.  If anything, your relationship has been on auto-pilot as you’ve watched the fuel levels diminish and the red lights begin to flash.

So all that said, if you do need to bail, do it with the grace and respect you would afford somebody who has something you need.  Because guess what – they do.  They have all of the time of a newly released convict with the aim to seek retribution on those that have done them wrong.  They have all the dirt on you, and none of the socially constructed expectations for good grace or civility.  If the onus was on you to bring the relationship to an amicable close, your partner has the inaliable right to be pissed off.  More importantly though, your former partner will continue to hold-on to something you should value: your self respect.  Nobody wants to be thought of as the asshole in the relationship by their friends and family, but really you should be more concerned with how you think of yourself.  Were you crueler than you needed to be?  Did you allow your partner a modicum of dignity or a chance to save face?  If Mr. Rogers was watching the whole thing playout, would he think you are acting like the best person he knew you could be?

These are the questions you need to ask yourself when in the business of breaking hearts.  Ultimately, you are responsible only for yourself and your own well being.  But communicating and being open about your feelings in any relationship is just basic courtesy towards someone who has comprehensive knowledge of how weird you really are.   And if nothing else – maybe you can avoid causing lasting emotional and psychological damage to your fellow human beings.  That would be nice.  Wouldn’t it?

Well I think so, anyways.

Review: DoReMi Karaoke – Atlanta, GA

Fine karaoke rooms and good service, but you do sometimes need to track down the staff to get what you need. Be aware this is a Korean karaoke joint so almost all the the materials are in Korean, and their song library is 80% Korean songs. Still plenty to keep English speakers singing for hours; not really even an issue if your drunk enough that Korean starts to make sense.


The Sounds on Screen

If you are as old as me or relatively close, you were probably raised on a steady diet of movies and tv shows that you consumed with reverence whenever possible. Ideally at the movie theatre, but more realistically at home. Mine was the VCR generation and I grew up surrounded by VHS and betamax tapes; every inch of precious celluloid ribbon filled end to end with pirated movies our family taped whenever something good could be found on the old boob-tube. TV Guide was essential reading material. It was the only way you could know when to set the timer on your VCR to record a movie without missing anything. That’s assuming you could figure out how to set the time on your machine in the first place and get rid of that dreaded blinking “12:00 AM”. This was how I filled my days in between trips to the movie theatre; savoring every bit of saturday evening cinema I could stay awake long enough to take in.

If the movie theatre was my church, the VCR was my at-home bible study. I was hooked, and would watch and rewatch every tape ad nauseum. I knew the dialogue inside and out without knowing the real meaning or subtext. I would replay my favorite scenes over and over until the tracking on the tape became so bad I had to resort to playing it out in my head. I’m pretty sure over the broad term of my childhood I re-enacted every major lightsaber battle, every showdown or dogfight, every crack of Indy’s whip, every steely exchange with a villain and every quip from an unlikely hero. If there was any way to immerse myself deeper into these compelling worlds and stories, I found it. And long after all of those tapes faded into dust and static, I discovered my favorite way to revel in the resonance of all those fabulous adventures, something I hadn’t really noticed but was there all along.

It dawned on me one day when I was thirteen-ish, bumbling around a music store in the early days of CDs (MDs and Laserdiscs were also widely available). That day I found myself with money burning a hole in my pocket, anxious to find something to play in my new DISCMAN (I couldn’t afford the one with 5-second skip protection), with very little idea of what kind of music I actually liked. I floated around awkwardly, as any pimply, pudgy 13 year old you can imagine would, until I wound up in the ‘Soundtracks’ section. And lo, shining like the shimmery cheezball effects of so many B-movies, stood an obelisk of musical adventure. It was the original boxed anthology set of the original score recordings of the Star Wars Trilogy. I picked it up and took it home, where I listened to it well into the next day, trying to place each musical cue with where they belonged in the movies I remembered from my childhood. It was one of the first CDs I ever purchased and one of the few I still have lying around.


As an adult, I listen to a lot of different kinds of music. And as I thumb through genre after genre, popular and unpopular, decade after decade, I always find myself returning to movie scores. Perhaps it is because the music is so closely tied to a story and experience. It feels like an invocation of sorts. A call back to the stories that can spark moods or summon the characters that left indelible marks on my childhood. It’s a way to revisit and re-examine; to mine for undiscovered facets and new interpretations of the themes and mythos that I still think about to this day. In many ways I feel like that’s something that we are hurtling away from as a society – depth of understanding. And that’s not to say there are profound human truths to be found in your 87th viewing of Die Hard. But there is a profound loss of revelry in art of all forms. We’ve become a society of scrollers, grazing through content with a consumerist mentality of thrift and breadth; fearful of missing out on what’s new and cool by sifting endlessly through the noise. It’s all about ‘What’s next?’ instead of “Let’s play it again.” Next, instead of Rewind.

Movie scores are meant for “play[ing] it again, Sam,” and taking a deep dive into the real soul of a story, often to places you didn’t know you would be going. They’re about extracting an idea and playing with it in the abstract to find new meaning. They are written to enhance, accompany or challenge the visual story. Music adds depth and weight through the use of tone and rhythm, drawing another of your essential senses into the story. This make you feel more enveloped by the experience, sometimes in a sneaky way. Have you ever been in a horror movie and heard the unmistakable sound of a heartbeat, not realizing at first if it was from the movie’s soundtrack or from your own chest? Ever noticed the swells of music as a hero hastens to join the fight, summons their strength or finally turns the tide? Did you notice how a particular note or theme is tied to a character or idea?

Movie scores and soundtracks are often so finely ingrained and enmeshed with your favorite movies so as to make them inseparable. You cannot think of Star Wars without hearing the opening theme blasting in your head. Would Jaws even be the same movie without the menacing ‘daa – dum..daa -dum’ that *spoiler?* preceded every shark attack? Can you picture a dusty old western town without whistling from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly? A lot of these songs have taken on a life long outside of the movies that bore them into public consciousness. I mean honestly, how many people today have actually seen Jaws? How many more know the theme? These are the pop songs of movie soundtracks; memorable and exciting. But film scores are everywhere, and are as varied as movies themselves. Some are purely adrenaline-pumping soundscapes and others are at times rich, dense, light and whimsical works of art.

I guess at the end of the day I just wanted to write this to turn some of you on to movie scores so that I could share some of the joy I get out of them. One of the great things about scores is they capture such a broad spectrum of expression and mood. You can find a movie score to play in the background at work, while you are reading, in the car or just unwinding. Try a pulse-pounding score from Hans Zimmer for your work-out (Inception, Interstellar, The Dark Knight). Get your creative juices flowing with a Danny Elfman soundtrack (Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare before Christmas). Get lost in the adventures of James Horner (Braveheart, Aliens, Star Trek). Create a spotify playlist of John Williams – I guarantee you will recognize every single song, and listening to that music again will take you right back to that dark movie theatre. Or that pile of pillows on the floor in front of your family’s 20-inch cable-ready Magnavox on Saturday night. Or wherever you first got sucked into those great stories.

Happy listening.