Let the Music Play

“Without music, life would be a mistake.”~Friedrich Nietzsche

Roger Waters, June 10, 2012, Louisville, Kentucky

I cannot read music or play a musical instrument, and my singing is only passable after a carefully administered dose of liquid courage, but I come by this lack of talent naturally, as the rest of my immediate family also lacks any musical inclination or talent.  That said, music was a mainstay in our home growing up, and because of my parents’ divergent tastes in music, we heard a variety of artists.  My Dad introduced us to Pink Floyd, The Who, Bob Dylan, Boston, Joe Cocker just to name a few, and my Mom gave us Neil Diamond, John Denver, Anne Murray, Peter, Paul, and Mary, etc.  I remember hearing Journey, the Babys, and Styx coming from my oldest sister’s 8-track player.  Side note: If you have no idea what an 8-track player is, you are far too young to be reading my blog, but I digress.  My middle sister’s room was next to mine, and I was treated to the sounds of Andy Gibb, the Bee Gees, and Queen.  On my own, I discovered KISS, Billy Joel, The Kinks, Duran Duran, U2, and countless other musical gems I treasured during my childhood.  As a teen, I became fond of Depeche Mode, the Smiths, the Psychedelic Furs, Madonna, 10,000 Maniacs, Prince, the B-52s, and some older fare, such as Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughn, Lena Horne, and the music of Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, etc. 

Music remains a constant in my life and has helped me celebrate the best moments of my life and survive the most painful times, and a song can take me back to a moment in time almost instantly.  The soundtrack of my life is as diverse as my experiences and the people who are a part of my life, and every song has a story.  I still enjoy all types of music, and honestly, I don’t trust people who dismiss an entire genre of music.  If you cannot find one song, one melody, or even one lyric in a particular genre that evokes some type of positive or meaningful response, then, perhaps, you need to open your heart, along with your ears, and listen more intently.  There are certain memories connected with music that always bring a smile to my face, tears to my eyes, or a delicate blend of both, and the following memories are among my favorites.

In addition to being  a staple on our record player (see above side note, if you are wondering what a record player is), John Denver also has the distinction of being the first concert I attended.  I think I was 6 years old, and our entire family attended the show.  I remember thinking how cool it was to see the same person on the album cover perform the songs I knew by heart live, and the crowd just added to the excitement.  I also remember that it was one of the band member’s birthdays, and the audience sang along to “Happy Birthday”.  It is so funny what the mind will hold onto so many years later.  My love of live performances was born then, even though I didn’t attend another concert until I was a freshman in high school and saw the Kinks, and it only has been in recent years that I have allowed myself to indulge in attending concerts on a fairly regular basis.  John Denver “Country Roads” http://youtu.be/ukUL_I14GPw

Another album that was on heavy rotation thanks to my Dad was The Who’s “Tommy”, and I heard it enough times that to this day, I know all of the lyrics to every song on the album.  My girls were treated to “Pinball Wizard” during a ride in my car yesterday, as I turned that song into a blistering duet with Roger Daltry.  They think I sing well, so, they didn’t object, which leads me to believe that they are hopelessly tone-deaf.  “Tommy” made such an impact on me that unbeknownst to my parents, I took it to music day when I was in the second grade and was taken aback when my teacher would not play it for the class.  It wasn’t until much later in life before I realized that Cousin Kevin and Uncle Ernie were not kind and loving relatives and that the Acid Queen was not part of a fairy tale with a happy ending.  I just liked the music and wanted to share it with my classmates.  Did I mention that this was also a Catholic grade school?  It wasn’t the first time my music choices were questioned or dismissed, but it did not deter me and still doesn’t.  The Who’s “Pinball Wizard” http://youtu.be/aOUqRZkR8dE

Some of my favorite memories from grade school are those with my friends when we huddled around the radio waiting to tape a favorite song off of the radio using a cassette player and blank tape (again, I refer you to the side note, if you have no idea what a cassette player is).  This was the old school version of illegal downloading of music, and I still have the evidence tucked away somewhere waiting to be rediscovered and enjoyed. I also remember that the very first album I purchased with my babysitting money was the Kinks’ “One For The Road”, which was their double live album, and it remains a prized possession, even though I have it downloaded on my iPods and iPad.  While I love being able to download music instantaneously, I confess to missing the thrill of browsing record bins and buying that flat, square-shaped slice of heaven and rushing home to drop the needle on the vinyl and letting it spin. 

Over the years, there were so many songs and artists that kept me company, and it feels like a musical “Sophie’s Choice” trying to choose the best of these memories and stories to share here.  It also gives me pause to share these special songs with others, as music is that personal to me, so, I feel vulnerable in doing so.  However, music is to be experienced and shared, so, my hope is that you may be able to relate to not just my own words but those of the artists and songs mentioned in this post.  This subject means so much to me that I could write for days and only scratch the surface, so, I will share one more song here before putting this and myself to bed.

During my freshman year of college, I saw the film, “Platoon”, which became an instant personal favorite, and I loved it so much that I bought the soundtrack.  Among the Motown tracks was one of the most achingly beautiful pieces of music I ever have heard, and it became a highlight of the my own soundtrack later that year.  “Adagio for Strings” is quite simply sublime, as it is an instrumental piece that says more than the most lyrically dense song, and it touches my baby soul and takes my breath away every single time I hear it.  When I first began to succumb to the depression at age 18, I would listen to this song on repeat every night for weeks on end.  When I first began listening to it, I would sob until I fell asleep, and later when I was emotionally and physically numb, and the tears no longer would fall, it “cried” for me. 

When I entered the psychiatric hospital, I was so numb and frightened that I did what I do best, I hid behind my big smile and sense of humor, and I set about the business of being my floor’s unofficial mascot.  I spent the first few days getting to know everyone and listening to their stories, and I focused on them to avoid focusing on my own pain.  I was definitely a “fan favorite”, and I recall thinking that as long as I was well liked that this would heal me and make the darkness recede.  I wasn’t fooling anyone, though, and my psychiatrist called me out on it and tried to get me to open up about the issues that earned me a stay there.  For someone as talkative as I am, the words just would not come to me or out of my mouth, and the fear of being who I am choked back the truth and rendered me speechless.  Finally, he struck gold when he got me to talk about music, and I didn’t realize I was giving him the means to begin chipping away at my carefully constructed wall I built to protect myself from the rest of the world and myself. 

We were not allowed some of the comforts of the “real” world, which actually was far less real than the world within the confines of the walls of the psychiatric ward, but my psychiatrist had a cassette player brought in and allowed me access to my beloved music collection.  I promptly requested the “Platoon” soundtrack and U2’s “October”, which were my saving graces that summer.  I remember being in my room alone with my music, my thoughts, and a notebook, and upon hearing the first strains of “Adagio for Strings”, my resolve crumbled, as did I, literally.  I cried so intensely that I feared that the tears would never stop and that I would drown in them, and I couldn’t write fast enough to get my jumbled thoughts out of my head and down on the paper before me.  At one point, I felt like I wasn’t even the author, as the words seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere, and when I reviewed them with my doctor, I was stunned at what I wrote.  It was raw, unedited, harsh truth, my truth, and it was the first time I ever allowed my inner voice to be heard by those on the outside.  Unlike the movies, I didn’t have an instant restoration to happiness, rather now, I really was terrified and just wanted to shove the truth back inside and forget about it.  It was too late, though, and I later came to appreciate that moment of truth as a positive turning point in my life.  It was the very beginning of finding my way back out of the darkness and healing the invisible wounds I had nursed in silence.  That song was a catalyst in saving me, and that is a living testament to the power of music.  “Adagio for Strings” from “Platoon” http://youtu.be/ECQeLQURNuw

So, while that particular chapter in my life is long since over, the music still plays, and it entertains, soothes, cheers, heals, inspires, motivates, and/or helps me every single day.  In fact, while I wrote this blog, Morrissey, Ray LaMontagne, Neil Young, the Sundays, Vertical Horizon, Rush, and Pistol Annies played in the background.  Next month, I look forward to resuming my concert going ways after a 6 week hiatus with shows by Rufus Wainwright and then Mumford & Sons.  In October, I hope to see Rush once again, and I will be seeing my long-time favorite Morrissey for the first time with my pen pal.

That’s another story . . .

Categories: That's Another Story

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