Does Music Soothe A Savage Beast?


Curious to this often misquoted text, which actually is written as follows “Musick has Charms to sooth a savage BREAST” I wonder if William Congreve mis-spelled the words. Because, I do believe that music does indeed tame or soothe the savage BEAST.

And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took a harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him. – 1Samuel 16:23

With this thought, I am reminded of one of my not so better moments in life. A bus ride to Sybil Brand Institute for Women back in 1990.  Having not paid a fine, I was sentenced to 10 days at this facility. Oh joy. How I have managed to chose the hard lessons in life.

This was to be quite a long day, being booked in the Van Nuys, CA courthouse then off to holding for several hours with a diverse group of women who had a lot to talk about, shout about and fight about. Now I am known to have a mouth of a sailor but even I could not compete with the vicious expletives being tossed around. Everyone was smoking, cursing, yelling, spitting and just being genuinely obnoxious.

We all had our own histories of traumas, drug use and such. I don’t believe I was better or worse than any other woman there. I was just…well a little bit quieter. That says a lot about where I was at the time. Because quiet is not a word often used to describe Elysia. But on this day, I was observing.

The young girl, who could not have been much older than 18 told us about how she was ready to give up her child to the system for good, though she was pretty sure that  she was done with drugs for good this time. When we got to SIW, she would find out they were kicking her loose and made sure to let us all know she would be thinking of us while she “sparked up that first rock”.

There was the woman who was arrested for child endangerment because of the amount of guns her husband had in the home. She was informed by another woman of the inevitability of getting jumped and then put into protective custody.

Oh and this one homeless girl who had been busted for using and was wearing an upside-down sweatshirt for pants. She was a bit off in her humor I might add, using her attire as part of her jokes…

The girl I was to be handcuffed to on the bus was a heroin addict and in the beginning stages of “kicking”. She would soon be sick and get an uncontrollable bloody nose. The girl sitting behind us would soon get a bloody nose as well, but not from that kind of kicking. She would be getting her ass kicked by a couple of guards due to her belligerent manner.

Even during all this, I held no judgment for any of these women. I understood the reality of their lives – our lives. If only they could be, well a little bit quieter…

Finally the moment arrived for us to get on the bus. I thought it was nice that the driver had KOST 103.5 playing on the radio. Though it was difficult to hear the music behind all the loud voices of my co-passengers. “Biiiitch! I been looking for you!” and “That’s the hoe that has my old man’s kid”!

Then it happened. Daryl Hall and John Oat’s “One on One” began to play. A collective sigh moved amongst us. And everyone knew the lyrics! A beautifully soft chorus sang out. It was truly sweet indeed!

I’m tired of playing on the team
Ooh-It seems I don’t get time out anymore – Whoa-oh-oh (yes they sang that part too)
What a change if we set the pace face to face
No one even trying to score – Whoa-oh-oh (yes they sang that part too)
Oh oh I can feel the magic of your touch
And when you move in close a little bit means so much
Ooh yeah, you’ve got to understand baby
Time out is what I’m here for 

One on one I wanna play that game tonight
One on one I know I wanna play that
One on one I wanna play that game tonight
One on one so slow”

I laughed a little, definitely smiled…as I sang alongside these savage beasts who were women just like me. We were making poor choices with our lives. Some choices because we didn’t know any better and some because well, we didn’t care enough about ourselves to do otherwise.

My life is much different these days. I am happy to say that was the last bus ride to jail I have ever taken. Though, I will always smile when that song is played on the radio. Reflecting on a moment that was instantly changed from humiliating to soothing. Music indeed had tamed our savageness, for at least a few minutes.

Enjoy the music and stay blissful my friends! – E

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