Archive for April, 2010

Musical Threads

April 11, 2010 2 comments

Do you have a song that makes you reflexively smile or feel like dancing?  I hope you do!  Or how about a song that brings you to tears?  It’s indisputable that music unites kindred spirits across the miles, as well as through time.

I can trace my history backward in many ways.  Food memories are especially strong ones, but that’s another post.  Music has been an important part of every phase of my life.  I have music memories going all the way back to the age of two, when some neighbor friends handed me a Fisher Price music box over the chain link gate to my backyard, interrupting my crying.  As a preschooler, I vividly recall listening to record albums, marching across my red and white linoleum tiled basement floor to Fuzzy Wuzzy Was a Bear and Teddy Bears Picnic, and jumping on the old couch singing to Trini Lopez’s  Blowing in the Wind and Lemon Tree.  A few years later, I was laying awake at night singing the songs I learned in school (I can still sing all the lyrics to Marching to Pretoria, Rattling Bog and Great Granddad, among others), as well as You Light Up My Life, and songs from  Annie.  I took organ lessons in junior high, and–hooray!–was the recipient of a huge set of sheet music which included show tunes from all my favorite musicals:  Fiddler on the Roof, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music  and more.  I spent many happy hours playing and singing these songs on the organ, and I still like them alot.  They bring back so many good memories and associations. 

Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 played every week on the radio in the upstairs bedroom I shared with my sisters when I was in 8th grade.  I remember us dancing to Men at Work’s Down Under, Duran Duran’s Hungry Like the Wolf, and Don Henley’s Dirty Laundry, literally tossing laundry around the room.  One of my foremost goals during my teen years was to compile all my favorite music onto cassette tapes.  So I would listen to the radio on my boom box with my finger poised above the record key, trying to catch some of my favorite songs by the Thompson Twins or the Police.  I would ask my friend Stacey for more music mix tapes of alternative songs–“New Music” as it was known then– by the Smiths, The Cure and Depeche Mode.  Now when I hear some of these songs, like the Cure’s In Between Days, I’m 17 again, an age when I was feeling my world expanding and life’s limitations falling away, while discovering who I was and trying to express that somehow through my clothes, hairstyle, and music.

At age 23, I was newly married and at home for a few glorious months while I searched for a job.  I took to listening to the local classical radio station, finding that classical music, introduced by the soft-toned, sincere voices of the WQRS disc jockeys, to be a comforting background to my adult life.  I have one really special memory of decorating my first Christmas Tree while listening to WQRS.  And I added new age to the mix:  Enya, Narada, and the Twin Peaks soundtrack.  Those songs and anything by Sarah McLachlan bring me back instantly to our 891 square-foot house in Dearborn that was perfect because it was our own.  But in the car by myself, I continued to prefer the alternative 1980s stuff.   Same thing after I quit working in my 30s to be home with my kids full-time.  While I enjoyed Raffi and Baby Songs with the kids–and I was really getting into Raffi for a while–I would slip my increasingly scratched and coffee stained New Order and Psychedelic Furs cds into the minivan cd player whenever I could steal away for a drive by myself.   I still have this dichotomy, though my kids have become increasingly familiar with my 80s music (now it’s called “Classic Alternative”).  Sometimes I wonder what it says about me.   Perhaps I’m trying to pick up where I left off when the responsibilities of adulthood consumed my life.

When I hear Yaz’s Only You I am transported back to an evening circa 1980 when I was a preteen randomly flipping through radio stations on the stereo in the family room, and I found this beautiful song, which was totally different from everything else I had ever heard.  It was early evening, and I can still see what the stereo front looked like with its green under light, as I sat there mesmerized.  The announcer identified the song and then I didn’t hear it again for 20 years.  I’ve got this one now in my ipod.  Often when I hear it, I tear up, but I can’t really tell you why.  I guess it’s just nostalgia.  In the last three years since I got my iPod its become a hobby of mine to find all the music that meant something to me and download it to my iTunes.  It feels kind of like the old days come full circle.  What I find so delightful is the quirky individuality these songs illustrate.  Like poetry, to me they communicate feelings that are true. 

Well, seems I picked another difficult topic.  How to express the inexpressible?  I think art attempts to get across that which we struggle to put into words.  This has been my dilemma in writing this blog entry– to try to describe that sublime feeling I get when listening to my favorite music.  Perhaps artists and poets and musicians through the ages have been motivated by that very desire.  In their isolation, they hope to touch someone’s heart and make them understand.   Art is communication; through their music, the artist has reached out to me and I feel as though there’s a connection.  Whether it’s real or not, no matter; my life has been enhanced.

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