Sound and Color

The C major 7 chord is purple. The F chord is orange. The D minor chord is blue. And the G chord is yellow.

This is a short story about Lance. And synesthesia.

Well, this is my short story. I am Lance. I sometimes refer to myself in the third person. I’m strange. And I always have been. Or perhaps I wasn’t as a baby. Or maybe all babies are strange. So I was normal in my strangeness. But I’ve been strange since I was eight. That’s when I realized that not everyone sees sound and color as I do.

My strangeness came to light when my mother was driving me back from soccer practice. On the radio, George Harrison and the rest of The Beetles were singing “Here Comes The Sun.” But what I saw coming out of the automotive head unit was bright orange. I asked my mom if she also saw orange with this song. This caused her to miss a stop sign so that the car at our left shouted black at us. I told my mom the car was shouting black at us. It made her cry. So I stopped talking about sound and color after that.

Nevertheless, I spent my childhood engrossed in a world of sound. And every artist I listened to had their own color. Led Zeppelin was burgundy. Snoop Dog was earthy green. Bob Dylan was juniper. Eta James was regal purple. Guns N’ Roses was black. A Tribe Called Quest was slate gray. Earth Wind and Fire was amber. Naughty by Nature was cobalt blue. Nina Simone was indigo. Whitney Houston- a childhood crush- was rose gold. Peggy Lee was scarlet. Janis Joplin was all pumpkin and spice. Dr. Dre was platinum. Freddie Mercury was rainbow colored. And so was Jimi Hendrix.

But hearing and seeing the music of others wasn’t enough. I wanted to make colors of my own. So, at sixteen, I began working as a cashier at the local grocery store. After six months of saved wages, I made a trip to Guitar Center with my mother’s hot dog of a station wagon. I walked to the glass chamber of a room, pulled open the heavy door, and stepped into the humidified air. I tried out the expensive Martins and Taylors. I tried out the Fenders, Epiphones, and Breedloves. I tried out the Ibanezes and Takamines. But I ended up with a cheap Yamaha. The checkout guy gave my purchase a condescending look and then persuaded me to buy a starter pack: strings, a cleaning cloth, picks, a tuner, some sort of wire cutter with a revolving circle to rapidly move the pegs. I bought the bundle and left humming the color of sunshine.

I began playing my colors as soon as I got home. When I came down the stairs after a lengthy practice session, my mother glared at me from her perch at the kitchen table. Although she disapproved of my passion for sound and color, she was a proud libertarian and respected the idea of personal freedom.

She also wasn’t mean spirited. She was just wary of anything different. She didn’t like abstraction. She didn’t like innovation. She didn’t like creative hobbies. She didn’t like big-picture ideas. She didn’t like flexible ideology. She didn’t like interpretive reasoning. She didn’t like divergent attitudes. She didn’t like deviant behavior. She didn’t like gradients beyond black and white. And she didn’t like inscrutable personalities. Which meant she didn’t like me.

But she did love me. And I didn’t not love her. And- most importantly- she didn’t discourage me from playing my guitar. Moreover, her indifference was all that I needed. I had plenty of encouragement and support within myself. The sound and color pushed me forward.

I spent the last two years of high school playing music and working hard to increase my GPA. I wanted to get accepted into music school in New York City. Fortunately, my studies weren’t all that trying. I was able to get B+ to A grades while working part-time and practicing for three or four hours a day. Some girls in school even found my mysterious, enigmatic aura appealing, so I began dating. Never seriously, however. I just didn’t have the time. And the girls didn’t seem to mind that I often neglected their texts and was generally flighty with plans and communication. But at that time, my romantic skills and companionship weren’t much to lose.

I was rejected by Julliard, but accepted into the jazz program at NYU. I celebrated by practicing double that day and sharing three banana splits with my band mate, Jim. I would miss his intense devotion to the bass and our awkward teenage connection. But I was going somewhere, and he was staying in our small town with no plans for his future.

The last semester of my Senior year and the summer that ensued was the first- and perhaps only- time in my life I devoted to pure pleasure. I quit my job. I did the bare minimum with my school work. I skipped classes. I even skipped two consecutive days of music making. I had no external goal or aim to strive for. So I woke up every day with the purpose of enjoying life’s moments. I felt the steam of my morning coffee warm my face. I watched the happy colors that my Border Collie barked when we went for walks around the neighborhood. I read science-fiction novels wrapped in the cotton fibers of my blue bed sheets. I drove my newly acquired- but used- Ford Tempo two-door coupe around town. I spent a weekend with a summer crush at her parent’s vacant beach house on the coast of Virginia. I relished the pine smell of the woods behind my house. I felt the foam fibers of my mattress effortlessly lift me. I navigated the interwoven webs of my subconscious mind.

And just before September started, I drove my Ford Tempo up to New York City with my new- but also used- Gibson ES-175 and two suitcases full of clothes and bedding. I was housed in a small room overlooking a busy street. The sound and color of the city was my campus. My roommate, Trevor- who was all legs and bushy red hair- was a saxophone player. Together, we skipped most of the orientation ceremonies and explored the city. Originating from the Upper East Side, he knew which clubs would let underage kids in. So we bar hopped, venue hopped, and began networking with other jazz musicians. It was a joyous start to urban life.

But once the semester started, my days became less joyful. Before classes, I would busy myself in the rectangular practice rooms. In between classes, I would struggle with my music theory studies. My brain wasn’t wired for math and logic, and when the sounds were on paper the vibrant colors wouldn’t come to my aid. The afternoons I devoted to band practice, work study, a few night classes, and playing at certain venues in the city.

Trevor and I never bonded past that first week. I wasn’t much use to him after I sold my car. He spent most of his time with his new girlfriend, a vibrant cellist with a dark mass of curls to match his light ones. Most nights he spent at her single dorm room, so I used our space to practice until two or three. Only to wake up the next morning and keep at it, hand cramps and all.

My intense introversion made me a pariah, even at music school. And the musicians I played with outside of school weren’t keen to get to know me either. Solitude didn’t bug me though. I was always more in tune with sound and color than I was with human emotion and friendship.

However, during the first semester of my Sophomore year, I was playing with a band for the first time when the double bassist approached me and asked if I wanted a drink. I glanced into her eyes and felt something, so I agreed. I followed her to the bar and got drunk with her. She brought me to her dorm room at Julliard, we hooked up, and I left the next day feeling a connection I hadn’t felt before.

That evening, when I played that connection into my guitar, the color that came out was a satiny red. It was a color I wished to hold at my chest forever.

Fortunately, I was invited to play future gigs with the band. We ignored each other during the practice sessions. But after the next show, she tapped on my shoulder and asked me to get a drink with her, same as before. We got drunk, went back to her place, and hooked up. But instead of her asking me to leave in the morning, we stayed in bed laughing and sharing music through her Sony Walkman. The sound and color strengthened our bond further, so I made love to her with moans of satiny red.

Our relationship flowered that summer, with a few problems due to the inflexible schedule I imposed on myself. But she taught me how to keep my weekends free, how to enjoy altered states of consciousness, how to be successful without working twelve-hour days, and how to enjoy life’s small moments even when there are goals to reach and commitments to honor.

But our connection was meant to be short lived. On August 22, she would be returning to LA, where she was originally from. She was granted a position with the LA Symphony orchestra. I spent that last week with her in a sunny bliss of crimson. We played music together in Prospect Park, explored all five boroughs, and crashed a wedding party. We also rode the N to Coney Island where we ate fried dough and ice cream, walked the boardwalk, rode the Ferris wheel, and ran into the ocean fully clothed.

That was the day before she left.

The next morning, on the corner of Avenue B, I hauled her suitcase into the trunk of a taxi cab. As she kissed me goodbye, she said these words to me:

The C major 7 chord is purple. The F chord is orange. The D minor chord is blue. And the G chord is yellow.

2 thoughts on “Sound and Color

Add yours

  1. Very interesting n enlightening. I know that color n music are one for some. How lucky they are to have such a Gift. I loved how Sonia expresses that as I become totally absorbed in the story as if I am Lance.

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