Culture, Religion

“I’m Not Part of Me” is the Rock Song to Get You Through Yom Kippur

“It starts right now/There’s a way I was before/But I can’t recall how I was those days anymore/I’m learning how to be here and nowhere else/How to focus on what I can do myself.”

Yom Kippur is considered the most important day on the Jewish calendar, a holy and solemn and ultimately inspiring journey for your heart and soul. 

It is also, in all honesty, a pretty long and grueling 25-ish hours for your body. A lot of time in synagogue, much of it on your feet and in silence. No food or drink. This year, many of us will be outside, and it’s likely to be warm.  

That means, if you’re like me, it’s also a long day for the mind. It inevitably will wander. And so it’s helpful to have a musical place for your mind to go, lest you start thinking ahead to the work day or questioning the fashion choices of your fellow congregants. One that will give you energy but also keep you focused on the themes at hand. I mean, this is no time to start humming “Milkshake” or “Water Fountain.” 

So, enter “I’m Not Part of Me” by the Ohio indie rock veterans the Cloud Nothings, from their 2014 album, “Here and Nowhere Else.” It is, to me, as essential a Yom Kippur song as Avinu Malkeinu (and not the version by Phish). There are a few parts of the song that make it so.

First, the opening riff only begins after 4 distinct strums. That builds in a feeling of anticipation and uncertainty as the song begins. Where will those strums go, and what’s to come? Did the band make a mistake? For me, that encapsulates the feeling of Yom Kippur — anticipation and uncertainty. Do we know where life is going? Will we be inscribed in the Book of Life? Are we clear about where our hearts will be throughout the service, and then the year? It can be hard to be sure about any of it. These strums in your ears can remind you that you are not alone in this.

Second, the opening lyric–“It starts right now”–channels the opening and seminal prayer/act of Yom Kippur, the Kol Nidre, as directly as any rock song ever has. The prayer serves as a retraction of past deeds, a wiping of the slate. In it, we read the exchange between Moses and God, in which Moses asks for forgiveness of the people’s sins, and God obliges. 

In the song, singer Dylan Baldi is wrestling with who he is, what he believes, where he’s going. And to open, he channels the Kol Nidre — “it starts right now.” He’s telling himself, those in his life, and perhaps even God that the past is behind him, and he needs forgiveness for what came before in order to move ahead. And in so doing, Baldi is realizing that perhaps the hardest place to find that forgiveness is in himself.   

Third, Baldi is working hard to be present. He’s trying to push the past behind–“I can’t recall how I was those days anymore”–but realizing he needs to learn more about himself to fulfill the goal of being present. He’s learning how “to be here and nowhere else.” He’s trying to ensure he is true to his own being through his future actions.

This takes me right to the Haftorah, where Isaiah is imploring the Jewish people to move beyond ritual and ceremony to fulfill the true meaning of what God seeks. Isaiah demands the Jewish people be present in the fast not simply by denying themselves food, but by being holy and acting justly. Isaiah makes clear we cannot simply go through the motions of the day and know ourselves but must find ways to aid the poor, to offer compassion to those in need, to honor God in our hearts on holy days, fully and honestly. God wants us “here and nowhere else,” rather than continuing to be busy with our normal activities.   

Finally, back to the music. After the opening riff, the song has a drive that you simply need to get through the night and day. A driving drum beat, a pulsing riff, and choruses that repeat the same phrases dozens of times, almost mantra-like. The music will propel your body and energy, while the words can find another core around which your thoughts and emotions can circle. By mid-afternoon, that’s as much as you can ask for.  

May you be inscribed in the Book of Life, have an easy fast, and a healthy 5782. It starts right now.


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