She appeared in “the box” as my friend and I call it almost a year ago. I didn’t listen for a full three or four days. I didn’t have time, so I said to myself, clicking repeat on The Civil Wars because I could finally let the words wash over me while I typed furious drafts of Maritain and Catholic Social Thought.
I’m not very good at finding this music, you know. I stick with old well-worn paths, music that’s carried me a long way down the dusty road. I want Winter Song 365 times in a week, a CD that I’ve memorized in three dimensions – where I listen to it, how, the taste and touch of the sounds. I’m safe there, with Alexi and Sara Lov, away from the edge and unknown, the unfamiliar echoes, the risk.
But my friend, she knows music. She breathes it. It’s her gift to the world, because not only does she make it like you or I make a sentence, not only do sounds immediately transform her, a full-bodied cello or a harsh dissonance or a quick, light storm on the piano, not only does she make some of the most wonderful music you’ve ever heard, she also teaches me to listen.
In the way of closest friends, she puts a hand at my back and firmly propels me towards the edge of myself.
So she put Emma in the box.
The song is “Jungle.”
I stop breathing. The insistence of the bottom beat. The ache you can actually hear swelling in the music – and that “hey” – that rise, and rises, and keeps on rising as she flings her voice into the chorus. My head is a jungle, a jungle, my head is a jungle, a jungle…
I don’t even pretend to know what it means. Do you have music like that? It’s so good, so overwhelming, that you spend most of the time trying to catch your heart back up to normal speed. Music, like poetry, like art, like the silence after a long and lovely speech, undoes me.
Emma Louise sings Jungle, Bon Iver sings Holocene, Laura Marling sings Rambling Man, Anaïs sings Hadestown. They coax me back to edge, that terrifying edge of myself where roots end and wings must begin.
This kind of earnest, insistent, terrified yet awed girl is no good at sarcasm. She misses ironic comments all the time, takes much at face value, walks around too easily moved and almost always too afraid to move herself.
But Emma Louise sings “hey.”
And I feel the wind whistle along the edge of my wings.