Carmen Villain: "Borders"

"It was an unusually fine day for a New York September," John Atkinson began his important 2001 essay, "The Restorative Power of Music."

It was unusually fine. I, too, remember it clearly. As I walked east on 14th Street toward Fifth Avenue, I delighted in the cool blue sky, remembering the happiest days of my childhood, when the weather outside could heal anything that hurt me inside. The soft dream was interrupted when flashing lights and sirens cut through the surprisingly sweet morning air. As I lowered my gaze, I noticed that everyone around, everyone as far as I could see, had turned their attention south.

Fifth Avenue begins at beautiful Washington Square Park and is infused with the vibrant color, passion, and energy that throbs and throbs from nearby New York University and Greenwich Village. It continues through the heart of Manhattan, along the way collecting historic landmarks and dizzying dreams, traces the eastern edge of Central Park, courses through Harlem, and finally rests to ponder the Harlem River view from 142nd Street.

Up until that day, if you were standing at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 14th Street, as I was, you could see the Empire State Building to the north and the majestic Twin Towers of the World Trade Center to the south.

There are some things that stick to life like ash caught in your throat.

All these years later, it's hard to believe that they're gone, that we've forgotten. What have we learned? Why do we continue to hate? How is it possible that today a young man, fueled by the belief that he is white and therefore somehow superior, can drive a car through a crowd of people who have come together to promote equality, understanding, and love?

In "Borders," the new single released today from the upcoming album, Infinite Avenue, hypnotic percussion circles around a pulsing electronic beat as Carmen Villain, a US-born, Norwegian-Mexican singer-songwriter, remembers:

Mind made of glass ever since
That night on Canal Street border
No, not you, they said
To my brown friend from Belgrade, Serbia
And there I was privileged white with my police escort
Ever since that day
Birds fly high
When we all looked at the sky.

Villain is joined by the entrancing Jenny Hval:

And I was so afraid
I felt that I had died
That night on the border to Arizona
Where they put up border control
And you only got through if you're white
Like the starry sky
Only seen if you're white
Only seen if you're white

Borders come in so many forms. Perhaps the most devastating are those that remain invisible.

When confronted with such shameful, incomprehensible violence, it's easy to feel that our everyday pleasures are trivial, ineffectual, insignificant. "And when I got home," John Atkinson wrote, "for the first time in 33 years, I could not listen to music."

But it's important to remember that even the smallest acts, when made in love, are necessary and powerful blows against hatred, fear, and oppression.

JA continued:

I found my way back from depression with Brahms's Ein deutsches Requiem—in my case, the classic 1962 performance from Otto Klemperer, with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (EMI Classics CDC 7 47238 2). That journey—from the somber beginning, "Blessed are they that mourn," which ideally matched the despair from which I could not shake myself free, through the triumphant ending of the third movement, "But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there shall no torment touch them," the vocal lines intertwining over a held pedal, to the sweet setting of Psalm 74—finally succeeded in reconvincing me that music was not peripheral to life, to be discarded in the bad times, but that music was the key to life.

Music made in love is love.

Carmen Villain's sophomore full-length album, Infinite Avenue, is scheduled for release on September 8, from Smalltown Supersound. The album is available for pre-order at Bandcamp.

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