I make playlists on my iPod and they’re often very theme-y because I am nothing if not a theme-y woman — I like to group and organise. I like to find patterns, or, in their absence, make them. Maybe that’s the curatorial urge. Or the librarian’s urge. Anyway, I have a playlist on my iPod called “river” and I listen to the songs on that playlist a lot, especially when I am despairing because those songs are very cathartic to hear and especially when I am all joyed-up because those songs are very cathartic to hear.
It’s a crazy powerful image, for me, the river. The thing about the river is that it can sweep you along on a beautiful ride or it can pick up you up and throw you down, break you against the rocks or hold your head underwater so that drawing breath is no longer an option. I don’t know how to explain how profoundly moved by and attracted to that kind of duality I am. Maybe it’s a function of my double-fish Piscean nature, but wherever that delight in dichotomy springs from, I do know a few things about the river. I know that sometimes you have to tense your muscles and make them strong and hard so you can paddle against, against the river, pull hard, hard, fight the current, deny it, so as to not to be towed under, but then sometimes you have to exhale and give yourself over to it, let it hold you and top you and show you the way. I’m moved by the river, the metaphor of it, because I have such shivery loves for the notion of fuckyou and also for the notion of acquiescence. And altho’ “fight” and “surrender” seem entirely opposite, they aren’t, in the end, in this instance, because the end, in this instance, is this: freedom. To fight the current’s violence and to win is to force a place of freedom for yourself but, equally, to give yourself over to it is to be taken to freedom. And who doesn’t long for freedom, whether made or found, whether fought for or given?
Bill Callahan, who I am madly mad for, says this about the river in “The River Guard”: “We are constantly on trial / and it’s a way to be free.” He’s right, too, that beautiful Bill.
The river. It can set you free.
The Black Cab Sessions, Chapter Eight: Bill Callahan