Not something that happens
But the way something happens
-- Charles Ives,
Essays Before a Sonata

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Íngrid Betancourt on hearing Led Zeppelin in her captivity

Íngrid Betancourt, a presidential candidate in Colombia in 2002, was kidnapped by the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and held captive until her rescue by the Colombian army in the summer of 2008. In her recent book Even Silence Has an End, she describes how a battery-operated radio was her lifeline to the world. What she heard might surprise you:

It was December 8, the feast of the Virgin, and an urgent need to listen to music from the outside world grabbed me. I had a thirst for life again. By chance I heard a countdown of Led Zeppelin's best songs, and I wept in gratitude. "Stairway to Heaven" was my hymn to life. Hearing it reminded me that I was born for happiness. I had collected all their records, and they were my treasure back in the days when music came only on vinyl records.

I knew that among die-hard fans it was frowned upon to like "Stairway to Heaven." It had become too popular. Connoisseurs were not supposed to share the taste of the masses. But I never disowned my first loves. From the age of fourteen, I'd been convinced that the song was written for me. On hearing the song again in that impenetrable jungle, I wept at the promise of freedom made to me long ago, that I had never understood before: "And a new day will dawn for those who stand long, And the forests will echo with laughter."


Anonymous said...

Thank you for passing this along. I was reminded of a passage in Oliver Sachs's "Musicophilia" where he quotes from the autobiography of French musician Jacques Lusseyran, who was blind: "The first concert hall I ever entered, when I was eight years old, meant more to me in the space of a minute than all the fabled kingdoms... Going into the hall was the first step in a love story. The tuning of the instruments was my engagement... I wept with gratitude every time the orchestra began to sing. A world of sounds for a blind man, what sudden grace!...For a blind person music is nourishment.... He needs to receive it, to have it administered at intervals like food....Music was made for blind people." And for prisoners, to read the section you quoted.

Anonymous said...

I was engrossed in her book while on vacation, and was totally surprised by this passage. I thought, "How cool is that! This French-Colombian politician, presidential candidate, hostage survivor and mother, likes Led Zeppelin!!!" It is gratifying to know that certain human connections can transcend distance and culture.