The ancients often believed a celestial event like an eclipse to be a bad omen, that the sun or the moon vanishing from the sky was a harbinger of disaster, a sign of devastation or destruction to come.
We now know that’s not true: There’s no evidence that eclipses like the one that will cross the United States on Aug. 21 affect our behavior, our health or even the environment. But they still have the power to move us in ways that are unlike any other astronomical event.
Some eclipse chasers, including people who study these occurrences, say they are addicted to basking in the moon’s shadow, the feeling of simultaneously being engulfed and overwhelmed. We may have a tacit understanding of how our solar system works, but watching the sun disappear behind the moon reminds us of the vastness of space and the enduring mysteries of the universe we inhabit. They remind us that we are somehow both infinitesimal and infinite, that despite the confines and tedium of our daily lives, we live in an amazing reality, one that we lack the language to truly articulate.
That may be why most of us tend not to engage with those thoughts too much, until something like a solar eclipse happens, and we’re forced to reckon with the awesomeness of space.
Not everyone will be able to experience the eclipse next Monday — only those lucky enough to live in its path or travel to it. For those of us who won’t get to experience the absolution of celestial darkness, music can have a similar effect: It can completely consume and subsume and put us in touch with both our inner and outer selves. I’ve assembled a few songs that give me a feeling that I imagine is similar to that of totality.
These are all songs that help me both lose and find myself in their arrangements, and sound progressions that I’ve always found to invoke a sensation of belonging to something greater. Pink Floyd and Willow Smith ask existential questions about our time on this planet, while Sun Ra and the Flaming Lips swim laps in the absurdity of it all. The songs “Black Energy” and “No Longer” summon the subliminal terror inherent in an event like an eclipse, and “Transcendence” and “Pretty Little Birds” revive the joy of life and the pleasure of surviving to spend another day on Earth.
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