October 28th, 1956. Elvis Presley, who, just a month earlier, had set the world record for most viewed telecast in TV history, takes the stage of the Ed Sullivan Show for the second time. He gyrates through “Don’t Be Cruel,” shakes out “Hound Dog” and finishes the night with a crooned rendition of the classic gospel song, “Peace in the Valley,” cementing himself in the collective memory of an entire generation one shake, rattle and roll at a time.
October 29th, 1956. L.A Times columnist Dick Williams writes, “Sexhibitionist Elvis Presley has come at last in person to a visibly palpitating, adolescent female Los Angeles to give all the little girls’ libidos the jolt of their lives.” And while Elvis’ three performances on Ed Sullivan are all well-situated in the pantheon of American music history, Williams thought little of it, concluding, “If any further proof were needed that what Elvis offers is not basically music but a sex show, it was provided last night.”
Presley, barely 22, sober and Christian, saw his act as art. To Williams — and prudes across America — it was pornography. Elvis was dancing to his own music, consumed with passion. Williams wasn’t even listening.
February 23rd, 2019. Four-on-the floor and all hands on deck, it’s disco night. I’m dancing — arms flailing, head bobbing and body in a total trance. I look stupid as hell, but I wouldn’t know it. My eyes are closed. When I dance — and I mean really dance — they always are. I knock into the wall, I lose my footing, I surrender myself to the music. Occasionally I’ll open my eyes and be met with the face of a giggling friend in pity-tinged awe. Out of sight, out of mind, out of step.
Being at Yale often feels like one big attempt to get in step. Slide to the left! (Go to a rally.) Reverse, reverse! (Delete any record of your attendance.) Slide to the right! (Land that Goldman Sachs internship.) How low can you go?
Really low, apparently. We twist and turn, contorting ourselves into resumes and cover letters that just exude our lifelong passions for finance. We stretch our limbs past the breaking point to have a hand in every cookie jar. We do the limbo and stoop to the approval of prefab social groups. We live precariously, and as we strain our necks left and right to find out what move comes next, we forget to listen to the music. We forget why we’re even dancing.
I believe that we all have a song, even when we can’t hear it. It can manifest in a dream career, a dream location, a dream state of being, or any and all of those things. Moreover, we’re both the composer and the listener, the performer and the audience. It is only audible to you, and it deserves — for your own sake — to be heard.
The fatal flaw in trying to keep in step is that no one is listening to the same song. Take the summer — the gaping void of opportunity between this semester and next — for instance. If you’re a creative type, you might not have even sent in your applications yet. If you’re in tech, it was last fall. If you’re in finance, you got your offer along with your acceptance letter to Yale. When those around you are riding the victory lap of their second or third chorus, you’re waiting for your cue. With the months ahead of you still undecided, it’s easy to feel as if you’ve done something wrong, as if you just haven’t been diligent enough or smart enough or hardworking enough to get it right. There are so many ways to “do” Yale. So many classes, so many clubs, so many memories to be made. The versions of Yale that reap the most salient and immediate rewards often present themselves as the universal experience, and everything else is just a deviation. But it’s critical to remember that there is no ideal or correct way to do this place. The “ideal” Yale experience is some congealed mass of individual experiences, each with their own melodies, harmonies and progressions. Attempting to contort yourself into some paper-thin rendition of “Bright College Years,” our school song, is denying yourself the nuance, beauty and substance of your own.
Your song is always changing as well. Over my lifetime, mine has gone from wanting to be a racecar driver to an aerospace engineer to a lawyer to an author to a musician to a rock star to a father to the president to a hobbit to being happy to wanting nothing really at all to wanting everything. I bet yours has too. In a year, in a day, in a moment, it can change. This tumultuousness can often feel torturous — melodies and rhythms and songs all clashing against one another in one great cacophony of want.
What is on one hand a cacophony can also feel like silence. Camus named it the absurd, “born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world.” As we try and parse the “true” song of our life from distractions, the unwillingness of the universe to throw us a bone is absolutely infuriating. We find the absurd in the everyday, in the routine. We find it in the disconnect between what we wanted yesterday, what we want today and what we will want tomorrow.
Rather than harboring anguish at the incongruence between yesterday and tomorrow and deeming your song cacophonous, find beauty in its variance. When you ultimately reach your outro, look back with humble affirmation of each individual, each lyric, each word, each beat — with each day a new verse, both a song in and of itself and part of the inharmonious, nonsensical, beautiful thing we call life. Go ahead, screw up, take risks, live your life. Make music and dance to it, too. Just remember to dance with your eyes closed. You’ll be surprised at what you might hear.
Eric Krebs is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College. His column runs every other Monday. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .