I lived in an Iowa trailer park.
Mom always called it a “mobile home,” and fondly remembers it as being “the nicest one in the neighborhood.”
I have no idea whether that’s true. Little kids don’t think about things like that.
I’d sit atop my favorite blanket spread out in the living room and play with my Star Wars and He-Man toys. I was 3 years old.
My mother sat on the bench in front of our upright piano—probably our finest possession—playing beautifully, despite the handicap of having small hands consistent with her short stature.
I’m sure my mother played many things on the piano.
But I only remember one: Ludwig van Beethoven’s Für Elise, a common choice of beginning pianists. I didn’t know the name of the piece until I was in my 20s. This version is gorgeous:
Near as I can tell, this is my oldest memory.
What are our lives, if not a collection of memories? And if this is my oldest one, what must it be worth?
Save the things we cherish today—right this second—what could be worth more?
I cried and begged my mom not to make me take naps, staring and poking at the bottom of the top bunk which no one ever slept in.
I sobbed when she threw away my blanket because the stitching had come undone on the binding.
I developed anger issues when my parents later divorced and mom moved us 500 miles to Ohio.
But there is no amount of sadness, anger or pain that can erase those moments with mom at the piano.
Everything was—really and truly—okay.
I didn’t worry about what people thought of me, or how to make more money, or whether I’ll ever meet a girl who will like me, and who I like back.
I was just there. Just being. Pure and innocent and totally content.
With my mom who would make it okay. With my dad who would come home from work later and play Star Wars with me.
And with this piece of music. Magic.
Just a footnote on the list of Beethoven’s best work. One he chose not to publish for the final 17 years of his life.
Maybe he thought it was shitty. Maybe he thought it would never matter to anyone.
I wonder what he’d think of that score being an endearing and enduring memory of some random stranger on the other side of the world more than 200 years after writing it.
He probably wouldn’t care.
But I’d like to believe the implications would make him feel good about his impact on the world.
Beethoven is famous for being deaf.
He wrote some of the world’s most influential musical pieces between age 30 and his death at 56, totally unable to hear any of it.
What’s the equivalent of that? A fragrance maker who can’t smell? A photographer who can’t see? A choreographer who can’t walk?
The story of Beethoven’s accomplishments in music following his hearing loss (which happened gradually—he wasn’t completely deaf until around age 30) is the ultimate retort for anyone offering excuses for why they can’t achieve success in their life pursuits.
He was shy. Socially awkward. Ill-tempered. And had, according to various biographies, an “unfortunate physical appearance.”
Women apparently didn’t want to have sex with, or marry, him.
The lonely genius.
So he poured himself into his art, producing many of the world’s most famous symphonies, which are still heard today—more than two centuries later.
A deaf man wrote music that people absolutely adore 200 years later. I don’t have an adjective for how astounding that is.
Even though Beethoven never married, he still had feelings. A love letter he never sent to a married woman named Antonie Brentano was found after his death.
Für Elise is linked to a couple different women, but there’s no direct evidence he was in love with them.
Beethoven’s loneliness is worth contemplating. Here’s a man so famous that every classically educated person on the planet has heard of him. He was admired and beloved while still alive despite being a prickly cock to most in his life.
We all know somebody like that. Except the one we know is a retired electrician or factory worker, and not very many people will remember them after they die because they didn’t leave behind anything of value.
They didn’t leave behind anything beautiful.
Not like this. This ode to Elise.
Beethoven was dead 40 years before ANOTHER guy named Ludwig found Für Elise and published it.
This musical composition is an afterthought.
If any hardcore classical music fans read this, they’ll probably think the score is low-level bullshit compared to Beethoven’s—and his genius German musical predecessors, Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart—most influential work.
You know how popular albums always have three or four songs everyone knows, surrounded by songs most people have never heard or care to?
It’s super-common for my favorite songs to be among those lesser-known titles. It’s either because I have amazing taste that most plebs could never understand, or because I’m the trailer-park rube who likes crappy things that will never be popular.
Both are possible.
I can listen to Für Elise on repeat for hours, as I have through this entire writing.
I don’t know how the world hears it. Maybe people think it’s silly that I don’t prefer Beethoven’s 5th or 9th symphonies.
Maybe dudes who lived in Iowa trailer parks can’t tell the difference between good and great.
I only know this:
My mother didn’t play Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 while He-Man was riding Battle Cat, or while Luke was lightsaber-fighting Vader back when the good guys always won.
She didn’t play Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 back then. Before the whole world changed, and everything went from safe and perfect to something else. To something unsteady.
But mom did play Für Elise 33 years ago, and it was beautiful. And even now, when it’s playing, it’s almost like nothing bad could ever happen.
It’s almost as if everything is going to be okay no matter what.
Maybe because it is.