By Anna Sóley Ásmundsdóttir
Thoughts flow through my mind one after another, and sometimes a few at a time, both intertwined and independent. They form a musical cacophony that one would think impossible, except if one complements the other. A melody complements a lyric, but only one of them carries a semantic meaning. I walk from the record shop to the train holding an old record that I’m all too familiar with, Blue, the title song stuck in my head. I think of the song as a chapter in a book, a poem that stands on its own but also forms a wider net in context with the other songs. The vocalisation of “blue” is so much more complicated than the visual representation of the four letter-word blue.
I turn the corner to my street feeling cold, open the front door half-relieved, half dreading the tingling when the hands get warmer. Why dress for weather when you can dress for mood? A seasonal blue mood. What is it about the colour blue? The pen tattoos the paper with blue ink, a few words on the note that goes with your gift. I think it’s dishonest to write the word blue without somehow capturing the waves of Joni Mitchell’s voice. It would perhaps be easier on note paper, but then again the dots that symbol pitches never include the phonetics of the words. They are kept separate, the notes on the note-lines and the words below.
I leave the LP in front of your door after knocking a couple of times. In some ways I’m relieved but also a little blue, already feeling as if I lost the momentum that could bring us closer together. At the same time I’m enjoying the distance to dream. Perhaps feeling a little blue thinking of the time when I first discovered the album but had no one to talk to about it. A friendship distanced by time.
I pick up my phone and see a text from you and a photo of the bookstore where you got me a copy of Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost. There is a passage that connects blue to distance, when it becomes the colour of distance:
The world is blue at its edges and in its depths. This blue is the light that got lost. Light at the blue end of the spectrum does not travel the whole distance from the sun to us. It disperses among the molecules of the air, it scatters in water. Water is colorless, shallow water appears to be the color of whatever lies underneath it, but deep water is full of this scattered light, the purer the water the deeper the blue. The sky is blue for the same reason, but the blue at the horizon, the blue of land that seems to be dissolving into the sky, is a deeper, dreamier, melancholy blue, the blue at the farthest reaches of the places where you see for miles, the blue of distance. This light that does not touch us, does not travel the whole distance, the light that gets lost, gives us the beauty of the world, so much of which is in the color blue. (Solnit 29)
The idea of this scattered light and the blue of distance is somehow tattooed in my brain since I read it first, like a song that is stuck. The book is about different ways of how to get lost and how to find something new in getting lost. The beauty of blue, the blue of distance is a way of seeing beauty in something that got lost.
Blue, songs are like tattoos
You know I’ve been to the sea before
Crown and anchor me
Or let me sail away
Blue, here is a song for you
Ink of a pin
Underneath the skin
An empty space to fill in
Well there’re so many sinking now
You’ve got to keep thinking
You can make it thru these waves
Acid, booze, and ass
Needles, guns, and grass
Lots of laughs, lots of laughs
Well everybody’s saying
that hell’s the hippest way to go
Well I don’t think so
But I’m gonna take a look around it though
Blue, I love you.
I look out the window and see a blue sky, a sea of blue sky. Somehow one is less aware how fast the train moves when looking at a blue sky. But as the gaze fixes on something else one comes back to the senses, although one could also look at it as one was lost in thought. The body keeps walking, but the mind is absent. I follow the mind, and when I finally wake up I don’t know where I am. Pinch myself to see if I’m dreaming. Sleepwalking through life unattached to a body. I don’t know how often you have grabbed my hand avoiding an accident. Sometimes leaving a blue mark behind, a little reminder that we are supposed to feel, use our senses to keep us safe, not only the intellect.
Why has our intellect somehow become detached from our bodies, our mind an invisible world-out of body experience, and our senses incomprehensible with a longing for understanding atmospheric qualities of, for example, the colour blue? Blue has a touch that seems to mirror the distances and look inwards. I feel like there is an inward forming of an ocean in my solar plexus, love and longing and a knuckle punching my stomach that forms a melancholy blue void within my body. It doesn’t fit into my body but I can still abstractly feel it. Perhaps there are few imaginations that fit into a body. Besides, most of us live partly in an online parallel universe, a sea of information anchored by algorithms.
The confessional aspect of “Blue” and the album Blue makes it very naked, somehow touched by the atmospheric qualities of the colour. In the song it seems as if Blue were a person and a void at the same time, as if she were addressing her creations, work of art through another work of art. Blue, I love you. Like a letter to someone called Blue, a song inspired by Blue, belonging to Blue but from Joni. A borrowed tune to give to someone. Are songs tattoos that sit in your mind that you try to paint away? Or are they tattoos that become attached to you later as you write them to become a reality or to accept a reality painted by a memory?
I step out of the train and walk towards a bookstore in the city centre. The smell of new books. I look through the shelves and see a copy of Maggie Nelson’s Bluets. I pick it up and read the beginning to be reminded of a memory when I gave you a copy because you also love the colour blue.
- Suppose I were to begin by saying that I had fallen in love with a color. Suppose I were to speak this as though it were a confession; suppose I shredded my napkin as we spoke. It began slowly. An appreciation, an affinity. Then, one day, it became more serious. Then (looking into an empty teacup, its bottom stained with thin brown excrement coiled into the shape of a sea horse), it became somehow personal.
- And so I fell in love with a color–in this case, the color blue–as if falling under a spell, a spell I fought to stay under and get out from under, in turns. (Nelson 1)
“Perhaps my problem is that I don’t want to get out from under its spells, but I have to say you have been on my mind more than usual these past few days and that is my confession,” you said, laughing with a smile in your eyes, happily finding an understanding friend in a lyrical essay made up of 240 bluets. Or that’s how I remember it through the scattered light of a foggy memory.
Blue, here is a shell for you
Inside you’ll hear a sigh
A foggy lullaby
There is your song from me.
I’m back at my flat by early nightfall, sitting in a chair contemplating whether my childhood memories are true or, by remembering a memory over and over again, they have become foggy and delusional. In Bluets, number 111, the “I” talks about dreaming of a blue restaurant after working the whole day in an orange restaurant and references Goethe: “Every decided colour does a certain violence to the eye, and forces the organ to opposition” (Nelson 43). If our senses are so unreliable and words so loaded, just like the word blue, how can we ever be honest?
Aftershocks, a memoir by Nadia Owusu, uses a metaphor to describe trauma through a language used to describe earthquakes, aftershocks are smaller earthquakes that follow the main one. In Metaphors We Live By, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson introduce a theory of conceptual metaphors and that we use metaphors to explain concepts in everyday language: “Primarily on the basis of linguistic evidence, we have found that most of our ordinary conceptual system is metaphorical in nature” (Lakoff and Johnson 4). They give an example of this through various conceptual metaphors including time is money, that explains how we measure the concept time in terms of how we measure money, you waste, spend, gain time (7-9). Similarly, we also make sense of concepts through orientation: “These spatial orientations arise from the fact that we have bodies of the sort we have and that they function as they do in our physical environment” (14). When we are depressed we feel down, but we also speak of being blue. Mitchell’s vocalisation of blue leads down in pitch. Which is actually another metaphor, pitches are sound waves that move through air or water and the frequency of the wave is what controls the pitch.
The main character in Aftershocks finds a blue rocking chair on the street:
The first time I rocked in the blue chair, it felt familiar. It felt like the kind of peace you find when floating in shallow water. It felt almost like sitting on my father’s lap. It comforted me like all the rocking chairs that had come before it. I rocked and rocked for hours. As I rocked, everything else seemed farther away, almost inaccessible: my desert room, my roommate playing video games on the other side of the door, the street below. Nowhere except the blue chair mattered. I wanted to rock forever. (Owusu 65)
She spends a week rocking in this chair, depressed, going through memories. On day five she turns to her late father’s music, jazz. “In the dark of my room, Coltrane’s cacophonous soul spoke to mine. I wept. I wept myself dry, and when I could weep no more, I felt something like a happy rage” (Owusu 341). A foggy lullaby that lets the ocean of tears out.
I hear a knock on my door. When I open, I see you smiling, thanking me for the LP and shyly giving me a hug. I invite you inside and show you a song that I’m working on. We have this thing that we like to quote song lines whenever we can, so after playing a part of the tune, I look up with a coy smile and say: “There is your song from me”.
Anna Sóley Ásmundsdóttir is a Managing Editor of RevUU and a student of the M.A. Literature Today program at Utrecht University. Her former research focused on the relationship between poetry, song lyrics and music. A solo album with recordings of original compositions and lyrics will be released in August next year. Instagram: @annasoleyasmundsdottir
- Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson. Metaphors We Live By. 1980. The University of Chicago Press, 1981.
- Mitchell, Joni. LP cover. Blue. Reprise, 1971.
- Nelson, Maggie. Bluets. 2009. Jonathan Cape, 2017.
- Owusu, Nadia. Aftershocks. Simon & Schuster, 2021. EPUB.
- Solnit, Rebecca. A Field Guide to Getting Lost. 2005. Canongate, 2017.