Here’s a puzzle: from time to time I catch some unexpected piece of music on the radio and find myself flooded with joy; I then go out and buy the CD and play it at my leisure, but the the experience isn’t the same. Somehow it’s just less magical. It’s as if as soon as I have it at my command, its value diminishes. Is this yet another instance of that cruel rule that declares we only long for what is out of reach? Or is it more to do with coming upon the moment unprepared, unexpectant, innocent?
In our car we have a system that plays six pre-loaded CDs, which means if the radio music isn’t to my taste I can switch to music I’ve already selected and know I love. But I don’t do this. It seems I’d rather hang on grimly though some piece I don’t enjoy in the hope that I’ll be ambushed by the next piece, and the joy will return.
I remember when I was about 13 buying my first pop single, which was ‘Wonderful Land’ by the Shadows. I played it over and over, and at last tired of it. Then I turned it over, and found a curious number on the other side called ‘Stars fell on Stockton’. It was fresh, it was surprising, I found I liked it better than ‘Wonderful Land’. But of course I tired of that too.
As a result I’ve never built up much of a music library. I go through life waiting for the experience C.S.Lewis called being ‘surprised by joy’. It’s a good phrase, but unfortunately it’s been torpedoed for all of us who know that C.S.Lewis was indeed surprised by joy, in the form of Joy Gresham, the New Yorker who broke down his defences and married him. So I’m proposing ‘joy ambush’.