"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Monday, March 15, 2010

The song remembers when

When you have a child who is completely wrapped up in his/her passion, it's hard not to be dragged into it as well, which is why I'm so engulfed in music these days. Music has always been significant in my life - doesn't everyone have a favorite song or group? But now, thanks to Marcus, I notice the soundtrack to every movie and TV show, I listen to the complexity of the chords, and I try to catalogue the genre.

Before, I just gave it thumbs up, or thumbs down.

A couple of weeks ago, the VHS choir held "Cabaret Night" - an evening of songs in an intimate setting, with desserts and hot drinks at intermission. The students selected the theme, Music from the Soul, and contained songs that meant something to them.

Each song was introduced, by either the soloist or a member of the group, to explain to the audience why it was chosen. I was touched by the selections and their reasons. One girl chose a song because she had moved so much as a child that, once her family settled, she found she had to work at her friendships, to tear down the walls that protected her heart. One girl spoke of her pain when her parents divorced and sang a song about finding your love once in your life. And one boy described liking a girl and not knowing what to say to her.

I started thinking about all the songs that meant something to me in my life. There are a couple of categories of these. One kind is the songs that bring back specific memories. The ones that you always associate with a specific time and place, no matter how many times you hear them.

When I hear Love's Theme from Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra, I picture myself in an apartment in Decatur, Illinois, looking out the window at the snow on the ground, waiting for my first husband to come home from work. I can smell dinner cooking. It was a happy time in our marriage, before it all went sour.

The Who's Won't Get Fooled Again makes me visualize Route 48 between Oreana and Decatur; I'm driving to the county fair in my 1972 MG Midget. The top is down and I'm blasting the song on my little AM radio.

The other category of song is the one that gives you the grand Aha! moment. We get Ahas in lots of ways, but there's something about words put to music that pushes the message past your brain into your heart.

My first was when I was seventeen. It's not bragging for me to say that I had been a Good Little Girl growing up. Pleasing my parents meant the world to me, so I got good grades and I stayed out of trouble and I did everything I was asked to do, or at least 90 percent of the time. The problem was that my mother wanted to live vicariously through me, so it wasn't enough. I needed to dress the way she wanted and do the things she wanted and think the way she wanted. As I grew older, I was increasingly discontent, but didn't know why. I was everyone's dream - except mine.

One day I heard Sunshine, by Jonathan Edwards. Sounds like a happy song, but the words are:

Sunshine, go away today
I don't feel much like dancing
Some man's gone and tried to run my life
He don't know what he's asking.

To me, it was an upbeat tune about a guy who's discovered his anger and is excited to be finally standing up for himself. It took a lot of years for me to get where he was, but this song helped me put the finger on what wasn't working in my life.

Songs served me in that capacity for a long time. I didn't know how unhappy I was in my second marriage until I listened to Bruce Springsteen. It wasn't one song, although The River stands out, with its line, "is a dream a lie if it don't come true, or is it something worse?" His early albums touched a yearning for intimacy, for emotional stability, for things my relationship was missing. Until I listened to him, it's not that I was unhappy - it's that I didn't know I was unhappy. I thought I was an ungrateful wife who had everything a girl could want, except a husband with whom she could share herself.

In the past few years, one song reaches out and twists my heart into a knot. The Dixie Chicks' Godspeed is a simple lullaby to a little boy. "Sweet dreams little man," Natalie Maines croons. "Oh, my love will fly to you each night on angel's wings." Not only did I have my own little boy to think about when that song debuted, but my dear friends had just lost their 6-year old son to leukemia. The simple words about Superman in pajamas on the couch, blessing Mommy and Matchbox Cars, were so descriptive of being parent to a little boy - it broke my heart to think that my friends could no longer enjoy their kiddo. It's been six or seven years now, and I still weep when I hear it.

What about you? What songs take you someplace special? Which ones opened your eyes to your life? I'd love to hear your stories.

1 comment:

B. Miller said...

I'm a big fan of music as well. Some songs that've woken me up or changed my life:

"Wake Up" - Arcade Fire
"Revelry" - Kings of Leon
"Until Morale Improves, the Beatings Will Continue" - Murder By Death
"Can't Find My Way Home" - Blind Faith
"Jeremy" - Pearl Jam

So many more... now I want to go play with iTunes. Thanks, Gayle!!

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