In the middle 1980’s, I was living in Ashland, Massachusetts, on Land’s End Way. In consecutive Decembers, I picked up really horrid sinus infections, complete with rivers of vividly-colored mucus, chills and fever, and the accompanying derangement.
During the first of these, sleeping in a recliner to preserve my very life, I watched the movie “Angel Heart” in bits and pieces in the wee hours of consecutive nights, while fading in and out of consciousness. After three or four nights, I had assembled that movie into something really cosmic and fascinating in my mind. When I finally saw it from start to finish, I realized that my version was nothing like the original. I don’t dislike the movie, but it’s The Hobbit to my Lord of the Rings in literary merit. If I could remember my version, that is.
The more important encounter came the next winter, when I had a slightly less threatening infection. I felt awful, my mental processes were just as disjointed, but I could breathe a little better, so instead of watching TV in the recliner, I was listening to NPR on my Walkman while lying on the couch. On came the overnight “interesting music” program, with a long narration about an Irish harper who blended baroque influences with traditional Irish airs. The music was like coming home, like something I had been looking for forever. The composer’s name was mentioned frequently, and every time I heard it, I made a mental note “Must remember that name,” and then fell asleep when the music resumed.
Just as one might expect, I woke up that morning with a head full of haunting music, and a pretty good idea that the name I needed to look for was T– O’—. This was quite frustrating, but I was driven. I had to hear that music again, that intricate yet robust music that resonated so perfectly with 1/4 of my DNA.
A couple of days later, I had a chance to hit my local New Age store (a few miles away in Medway). I just went to the ample Celtic section and flipped tapes until I hit “Patrick Ball plays the music of Turlough O’Carolan.” There was my mystery harper! So I brought the tape home and played it. Played it a lot.
Come 1991, my Mother was dead, and I would go visit my Dad up in Tennessee to help out with business and make sure he was doing well. When he complained of having trouble sleeping, we bought him a cheap tape player and I loaned him my O’Carolan tape. I didn’t know about melatonin yet.
Forward to 1993, Dad is gone, and I’m packing up their house. I find the tape player with the O’Carolan tape in it: he had played it until the tape broke.