Maintaining Practicing

The Healing Power of Time… and Music


I popped the cassette into the player as I drove into the bank parking lot and steered toward the drive-thru. There was a bit of a line but luckily my transaction was quick. I was overcome with emotion and knew I couldn’t get back into traffic. I pulled into a spot at the back of the parking lot and kept listening. I sat there weeping, clutching a wad of wet tissues, for about ten minutes.

A month past the turn of the century, it was one of those sunny, early February days when you can sense a change in the lighting and the faintest hint of spring. A recent New England snowstorm made the day especially shiny, a sharp contrast to my dull spirits.

I had recently made the decision to end my twenty-one-year marriage and was planning to tell my family in June. The months from here to there would be a corridor, with my new life on the other side. But there were many things to take care of and many decisions and lists to make as I moved through that corridor. I had to stay focused.

Now that the Big Decision had been made, I tried to envision my new life and my new home. I knew it was going to be a difficult time and that I’d need my music. I would have some audio equipment but wasn’t planning on a turntable. My soon-to-be-ex and I had purchased many of the classic albums of our youth on CD, but there were a few special albums of mine that I still had only on vinyl. I’d get those CDs eventually, but in the meantime, I made cassettes so I’d have them to comfort me as I found my way through the corridor to the unknown future at the other end.

The song that overwhelmed me in the bank parking lot was “Ferris Wheel,” the fourth track on Donovan’s 1966 masterpiece Sunshine Superman. The title track, a psychedelic pop love song, was a major hit back in the day. But the deep cuts are an underappreciated wonderland, blending sitar-infused psychedelia with not only pop, but also jazz, blues, and folk. I was eleven when I encountered the allegorical “Ferris Wheel,” and was immediately drawn to the gentle soundscape and landscape it created. I listened to it less frequently over the years; then decades went by. Some songs I haven’t heard for a long time, even those I used to love, don’t do much for me anymore. Then there’s “Ferris Wheel.”

Sitar and tabla build on the simple acoustic guitar intro, and Donovan paints a picture of a girl walking along the seashore at twilight, towards carnival lights up ahead. She is advised to “take time and tie her pretty hair” because the Ferris wheel driver doesn’t care if it gets caught in the wheel. In other words, life may treat you unkindly; be aware. Alas, she didn’t listen.

In the second verse, the shorn girl rides a silver bicycle along the beach. She “bathes her mind in the quiet tide,” mourning the loss of her hair, i.e., hope, courage, optimism, agency, power. But she’s offered encouragement and reassurance: “Far off as it seems, your hair will mend.” Time brings growth, and she can “begin again” with a “Samson’s strength.”

After a brilliant raga pop interlude, the third verse offers “the moral” of the story: Persevere, even when things seem bleak; “follow through your dreams to the end.” And know that the same Ferris wheel that seized your strength provides a place for the seagull to build a nest, perhaps using your hair. Everything is connected. There will be another turn of the wheel, more ups and downs, nothing is permanent.

I had been visited by an old friend who comforted me with sounds and words I needed to hear on that sad, shiny day. Fortified and composed, I pulled out of the parking lot and back into the flow of traffic and life, ready to resume the work of getting through the corridor and beginning again.

The cassette, the car I was driving that day, and my marriage are all in the distant past. But this song, this constant in my life, is still a haven made of sound, reminding me of the regenerative power of time and music.

-Candy Leonard

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Candy Leonard is a sociologist whose background includes college teaching, qualitative research for the healthcare industry, and hosting public affairs radio and TV programs. She’s the author of Beatleness: How the Beatles and Their Fans Remade the World, and has written for the Huffington Post and Next Avenue Current interests include boomers and the new old age, the impact of technology on human relations, and preserving democracy. Twitter @CandySez

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