I was pumped from the gym. I’d done my whole workout while listening to a new album I’d just downloaded from iTunes: The Weeknd’s Beauty Behind the Madness. The Weeknd is Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, a Canadian-born singer-songwriter of Ethiopian background.
I had downloaded the album because I’d heard a few of the hits from it on hit radio stations, especially “The Hills” and “I Can’t Feel My Face.” Like millions, I’d been seduced by the sweet hypnotic power of Tesfaye’s voice and its juxtaposition with his crude language and stories of dysfunction and addiction.
But that morning while I worked out I listened to “Shameless” for the first time, then again…and again.
I walked out of the rec centre, across the empty soccer field, and down the path to the end of Burrard Inlet. Normally I never listen to music while I’m walking or running outside, preferring to hear the sounds of the natural world. But on this day I wore my iPod, and I started playing “Shameless” just as I reached the place where, usually, the view of the Inlet opens up before me.
That day, the Inlet was still shrouded in a heavy fog.
Instantly I was pierced with intense pleasure. It was the music combined with the eerie, sparse beauty of that foggy place. I was isolated in a surreal world where the music covered all the normal urban sounds, including the heavy traffic from the road nearby. Even the usual honking of geese was silenced. The fog obliterated all of the urban landscape—the nearby road, townhomes, and condo towers. I was alone in a stark gray world reduced to sky and water. Only close objects were visible: ducks and geese near the shore, the trees and bushes with their bare winter branches, and the path with its boardwalk and bridges.
I was elevated to another state of consciousness and suspended there while the song held me in its hypnotic, ecstatic grip.
I don’t wanna hurt you but you live for the pain
I’m not tryin’ to say it but it’s what you became
You want me to fix you but it’s never enough
That’s why you always call me cuz you’re scared to be loved…
I’ll always be there for you…I’ll always be there for you…I’ll always be there for you girl I have no shame…
My every sense awash in pleasure, my mind alert yet dreamlike free to wander wherever it would. My thoughts led by the song’s words but also by its hypnotic rhythm.
The pain of loving someone who hurts you.
The pain of loving someone who doesn’t love you back.
The pain of loving someone you’re not allowed to love.
You wanna be good but you couldn’t keep your composure
You wanna be good but you’re beggin’ me to come over…come over…
Oh, I was lost in the irresistible, dark beauty of minor keys. Minor keys—in music and people—a beauty that makes our most primitive strings vibrate.