Last winter, I received an email from Mike Goncalves. Mike wrote that he manages a British band called “Our Hollow, Our Home.” Their songwriter and vocalist Tobias Young had been moved by my TEDx talk after his father’s death. Could their band sample phrases from my talk for the lead cut on their upcoming album, “In Moment // In Memory?”
I remembered my skepticism about leading a grief ritual in a disco bar in San Francisco and how well that had worked.
A “metalcore” band? Why not? Everyone grieves.
The album came out in fall 2018. What teenage girl doesn’t want to be connected to a rock band? OK, heavy metal isn’t Motown or Dylan, the music of my youth. and I’m no teenager, but I was honored to inspire a group of dark-clad serious-eyed British musicians with important ideas, angular movements, and huge amplifiers.
In their album promotion, the songwriter Tobias wrote: “We wanted this album to be something our listeners could turn to in a time of need. Just as writing these songs helped me get through one of the most difficult periods of my life, …we hope this record will be a companion to anyone taking their own journey.”
In another article, Tobias wrote, “Elaine Mansfield was kind enough to let us sample her ‘Good Grief – What I Learned from Loss’ TEDs talk. …I wanted the listener to be immersed in the emotion of this album …and get a taste for the journey they are about to take ‘In Moment//In Memory.”
The first cut “Denial” includes my voice from the TEDx talk. A 30 second excerpt is available if you’d like to hear. I hope you’ll listen. It doesn’t matter if it’s not “your” music or “my” music. It’s the sound of a new generation facing grief.
Here’s are the words from my talk Tobias used as lyrics for his song:
“Love ends in loss for the ones left behind. And grief is a natural response to losing what we’ve cherished. But when I stood at the threshold of death, I felt something vast and unfathomable. So far beyond my ordinary sense of self. Opening to that mystery was humbling. It made me a little wiser and a little more realistic about our precarious human situation. When I pause to remember someone I’ve lost, grief is right there. But as the 13th century poet Rumi says, ‘The wound is the place where the light enters you.'”
Tobias wrote thanking me for permission: “You have helped me find peace within myself and learn to live with the loss of my father and to enjoy his memory rather than mourn his passing. I mention your TEDx talk in …interviews and to our fans and it’s always met with a fantastic response. I think it’s amazing our two very different worlds can be connected. Your words have helped me create an album that I hope in turn will help people going through grief, just like your words have helped me. For that I can’t thank you enough.”
My friend Mark Liebenow, author of Mountains of Light: Seasons of Reflection in Yosemite and other books, writes about grief and nature. Mark pointed out the importance of this collaboration in his compassionate Facebook comment: “Tobias, thank you for taking the leap. …I’m glad you found a way to blend Elaine’s thoughts with your own and express them through music. Young people (i.e. under 40) need to find places where their grief is understood and accepted, and you are helping with this. …The song sounds and feels so much like my first days of grief.”
I sent another message to Tobias: “It’s ironic I’ve lost so much hearing I can’t understand my own words, but my son Anthony Mansfield was a great help even though his music is very different from yours. He’s a DJ who plays house and dance music. He also runs a sound camp at Burning Man called Disco Knights. He listened to your music with a knowing ear and knowing heart because his dad died, too. I’m honored to have my world touch your world and your work.”
I didn’t add that Anthony was the one who organized the grief ritual in a disco bar.
The best response came from Anthony: “Not many people get to say ‘my mom got sampled by a metal band.'”
What unexpected connections surprised you? What brought you together? For another article about connecting worlds through grief ritual, see Disco Balls and Candles: Grief Ritual in Unusual Places. For another piece about music and grief, we’ll have to wait until after my cochlear implant, but many creative expressions help us work with grief. For a post about painting and grief, see Finding Balance during Grief: Healing Dreams and Creativity.