Beta thanks to decarnin
Summary: In the beginning was the word. Then came the song.
Rating: All Audiences
Original story: How Long a Time by amonitrate
How long a time lies in one little word?
How long, how long
Has that evening train been gone
How long, how long, baby, how long
In the beginning was the word.
After the word, was the song.
Or maybe it was the other way around. Methos leans on one elbow and frowns at the open page of his journal, covered today with old words and older symbols. Which came first, language or music? A fine chicken-and-egg question no one could really answer -- not even him. Perhaps they developed together, like mother-baby talk, mouth music, scat singing, halfway between language and song, a diddling-o.
You can get by for a long time on a wop bop a lu-bop a-whack fol a-day. And sometimes mouth music is what you need.
But you need words to spin the hero-tales (even a low-down hoochy-coocher's). Words to speak the origins of your people, to praise God; words to beg for rain, curse your enemies, or entice a beloved. You need strong words for the psalms to your fathers and mothers. Silly words for lullabies.
Aíde, aíde, kimísou, kórí mou, K'eghó k'eghó ná soú kharíso tín, I'll give you the city of Alexandria in sugar, all of Cairo in rice.
The songs change, the song remains the same. He sings a small tune, and remembers. And if that mocking bird won't sing, mama's gonna buy you a diamond ring.
He fell in love with words early. The shape of them, written down in every human language he met. The sound of them, as he raised his voice in song. For all his days he has written out the long tale of his life (in secret) and the annals of the people he lived among (openly and sometimes to acclaim). He wrote, he sang, he scribed, he notated. I joined the brotherhood My books were all to me. I scribed the words of God, and much of history…
Scribbling, he smiles.
The songs have filled his life, driven his livelihood, divided his days, mourned his death, spoken his love, opened his mind, closed his heart, started and ended countless friendships. They have hidden and exposed him. Crushed his hope and lifted him from despair. He's used songs as delicately as a scalpel. He's used them to bludgeon, to terrorize, howling battle-songs that made his enemies cower. He has heard the songs that commemorated his deeds and his crimes.
Songs are a comfort, when nothing else is. The music moves him through his body; drumbeat in his heart and guts, flutes and saxophones in his lungs and cheeks, keening and crooning in his throat, patter in his lips. Music charging and lilting and modulating from inner ear to fingertips. O soul clap hands and sing! The words, new and old, move him through his understanding and his love of the story. His fingers trace the words on his page, knowing they're the only way he can leave something behind. A mark on the world. Even if his long story will probably be taken as fantasy, a legend, an epic too long to commit to memory and chant aloud.
Sing, O goddess, the anger of Achilles son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans.
He writes down a few lines of an old blues song. Mmm, mmm, black snake crawlin' in my room, Mmm, mmm, black snake crawlin' in my room. Some pretty mama better come and get this black snake soon. Then, for whimsy's sake, he notates them using a form centuries old. The words and the notation don't quite suit each other -- it's like translating the words of the Ramones into Middle English -- but this amuses him. It's been this way for as long as he can remember. Living a human span of years and moving on, his history and his songs are interrupted and fragmented as he leaves one life behind and fits himself into a new, strange place with different songs. He must fit this verse and that refrain together, match this melody to that rhythm, to hammer out a song from the whole of his life.
A priest, a fisherman, a teacher, a wanderer, a warrior and bringer of death -- even Death Himself -- where is the song to encompass such a life? Wherever he lives, and whoever he is there, he learns the songs. He adds to his repertoire. He fills his song-bag to bursting, empties it, and fills it again.
Chinese opera. John Coltrane. Laurie Anderson. Iranian folk tunes. Tom Waits. DJ Shadow. Loreena McKennitt. Gregorian chants or rock anthems, communal 49s or solitary arias, songs about love and death, buildings and food -- all recorded in the soundstage his heart. Playback is the bitch.
("Under My Thumb" still makes his chest seize, leaving him breathless and dizzy.)
The shapes of the songs drift and rearrange. Slip between languages, from tongue to tongue. Become lost to time (but not to him). Are translated and transcribed so poorly all he can do is laugh. Are stolen away by song-catchers, turned to dross by minstrels in blackface, co-opted into advertising jingles to sell fast food and faster cars. Sometimes the knowledge that he is the only one who still knows the words and can still hear the melody is a heavy burden. A burden that lightens when he remembers that some songs remain a mystery, even to him.
How long before words came the music? How long before music came the word? He'll never know. It doesn't matter. Music and words -- and word-music -- are intertwined, inseparable, and fundamental. He writes another few lines, and ends with a satisfied flourish. He leans back in his chair and closes the book, singing: O light the candle, John. The daylight has almost gone. The birds have sung their last. The bells call all to mass.
He's tried to go without, to live in silence, to cease his restless notations, to close his ears to the songs weaving between the lines and dancing along the margins. It never lasts long. He can't escape his love for them. For words.
For the songs.