Galaxy of Emptiness

I’ve just discovered Beth Orton. I knew the name from music magazines in the ’90s but never actually heard her music. After stumbling onto her 2012 album, Sugaring Season, I dug back into her catalog. It’s really good stuff.

I’m partial to the song “Galaxy of Emptiness.” It’s pretty, and simple, alternating two chords back and forth like mid-ocean waves. I suppose it’s a comforting tune to some ears, but for me, it brings back echoes of old pain. I’m taken back to pre-Orton days, the very early ’90s, when my life was different and not always happy. I hadn’t found what I wanted to do, or even could do, with my life. Writing and music were there, but I hadn’t yet learned what I needed to get out of them. I was adrift, as everybody is at some point.

I could have stayed stranded in a dry Silicon Valley suburb, living out blank weekends of malls, shopping centers, and sports on TV. I could have wallowed in Berkeley, lingering long after my friends left, nibbling the edges of a university life I could never relive. I could have lost myself in the Central California quilts of farm and heat and fog, stifling in the city and suffocating in those gorgeous, wide open spaces.

Those long years helped mold who I became later — college radio DJ, journalist, music lover, father. Maybe that’s why every now and then, I indulge myself. Now I can play Orton’s song, and listen, and remember that emptiness, and feel grateful for what I have now.