While I consider myself to be open and forthcoming with information, I tend to clam up when asked, What’s your favorite _____________ (fill in the blank)? It is a simple, straightforward question, but it tends to leave me without a definitive answer. It is not that I do not have personal preferences or strong feelings about some things, as I do indeed. Favorite ice cream? Chocolate chip mint. Favorite drummer? Neil Peart. Favorite color? Red.
It is when the question of favorites involves broader or more meaningful topics that I tend to struggle to find an adequate response. Such was the case when a recent Facebook challenge began to make the rounds:
For ten days, list your all time favorite albums, in no order. Albums that really made an impact and are still on your rotation list, even if only now and then. Post the cover, no need to explain, and nominate a person to do the same.
Music is one of my passions, so, I was both intrigued by, and anxious about, this challenge. It was fascinating to watch the albums that my friends were sharing, as music says a great deal about people. With each album cover shared, I wondered what drew that person to that particular album and wanted to know more, but there was that no need to explain clause that prevented anyone from sharing more than album covers.
As I watched the album covers dot my news feed, I began to think about what albums I would select, if chosen to participate, and that is the point that my anxiety began. To choose only ten favorite albums, without being able to provide any explanation, left my head spinning. It seemed like an impossible task, a musical Sophie’s Choice, so to speak. I remained a silent observer, until one of my friends nominated me to participate, and it was now my turn to share the music that impacted me.
While definitely not the most difficult challenge I have faced at all, it was a challenge nonetheless. Music is intensely personal and meaningful to me, so, I fretted about which albums to choose and almost quit before I began. Finally, I just went with the first ten that came to my mind, and for ten days in a row, I rolled them out to my family and friends on Facebook.
That challenge ended today, and now, I am breaking the no need to explain clause. I was not sure if I wanted to provide an explanation, for fear that I would not be able to adequately convey the back stories behind these ten albums. I feel like putting them on display without some sort of explanation is akin to abandoning them in a way, though. So, this is the first of ten blogs about the albums that have a special meaning to me for a variety of reasons.
Sometimes, I love music for the tunes and melodies. Sometimes, I am drawn to music for the lyrics. Other times, it is because the music is closely tied to a particular memory or associated with someone specific. Still other times, it is a combination of these elements that make music meaningful to me. These albums cover all of these bases and then some.
The first album I shared, Pearl Jam’s 1991 album Ten, came as no surprise to anyone who knows me, but the reason I picked their first album may not be as well-known as my love for this band. When the Seattle sound flooded the airwaves, it was like a whole new world had been discovered. Nirvana. Soundgarden. Alice in Chains. And, of course, Pearl Jam. These were some of the artists who personified the grunge era, and I took notice.
I was mesmerized by the raw and intense energy and unique sound of each band, as it was a far departure from the new wave music of the 1980s. Of all the bands, Nirvana and Pearl Jam were the two I gravitated toward the most, and at that time, it was their sound that drew me in. I was a casual fan, and over the years, their music was pushed further down my personal playlist. Then, my life imploded.
In the past seven years, Pearl Jam earned a spot in my top ten, thanks to the top five challenges I faced. Anxiety. Depression. Divorce. Loss of family and friends, due to death or estrangement. Breast Cancer. As I struggled, music became the one thing that tethered my fragile heart and mind to the shores of sanity. It became my constant companion, especially when trail running and during countless sleepless nights. It was during this period that I rediscovered Pearl Jam and their debut album.
As I listened to Ten, it was like visiting an old friend, yet something had changed. As I listened to each familiar track, I was struck by the lyrics. For the first time, I really listened to them, and I felt like I was hearing them for the first time. In my 40s, I was able to connect with their music in a way that I was unable to in my 20s, which is funny, considering that the band wrote these songs while in their 20s. This began my love affair with Pearl Jam.
From start to finish, Ten is a perfect ten in every sense of the word! From the breakout singles, Even Flow and Jeremy, to the lesser known gems, like Deep and Garden, there’s not a bad song among the bunch. I have had the pleasure of seeing 9 of the 11 songs performed in concert. Once and Oceans are two of my bucket list songs that I look forward to crossing off at future shows. There are two songs off of Ten that could elicit a bucketful of tears, Alive and Release, and they are two of the reasons that make this album one of my favorites.
I cannot tell you how many times I had listened to Alive before it brought tears to my eyes, but it did and still does. If you are familiar with the song, you may be wondering how this hard rocking song could possibly lead to tears, and here is where the explanation comes in, as I have one.
As I stood among 24,000+ fans at the 4-26-16 Pearl Jam show in Lexington, Kentucky, the band launched into Alive, which is one of their most well-known songs. Eddie Vedder’s vocals filled Rupp Arena, and the energy was palpable. I sang along with the rest of the crowd, and I felt the hair stand up on my arms and tears well up in my eyes when we all sang in unison:
Is something wrong?
Of course there is
You’re still alive
Oh do I deserve to be?
Is that the question?
And if so, if so
As we all answered with a resounding, I’m still alive, it hit me. During the most difficult period of my life, there were two occasions when I thought I would die. Once was when I contemplated taking my own life to end the pain that overwhelmed me. The other time was when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. So, to be able to stand there and sing along with that particular song gave it a whole new meaning, and I have never listened to it the same way since that moment.
Another song that I listened to with fresh ears and an open heart was Release. It is said that Eddie Vedder wrote this song about his biological father, whom Eddie was led to believe was a friend of the family. He did not discover the truth until years after his father had died, and he channeled his pain into quite possibly one of the most poignant songs ever.
Release feels like the musical expression of my thoughts and feelings over these past seven years. It signifies longing for someone who is no longer in your world, the pain of that loss, letting go, and the vulnerability to get through it all. During my darkest hours, it helped me to hang on until I could find my way back to the light. Once back in the light, it has served as a reminder that I came out on the other side of the pain.
When the opening notes of Release wafted throughout Fenway Park on 8-5-16 to open the show, I began to cry immediately. It was the first time hearing this sacred song performed in concert, and it was absolutely overwhelming.
In the middle of the song come the lyrics:
I’ll ride the wave where it takes me
I’ll hold the pain, release me
I used to sing these lyrics as a sort of prayer, pleading with God to stop the pain that engulfed me. I felt like this musical offering fell on deaf ears and feared that the waves of pain would finally drown me, but I hung on and was released eventually.
As the song comes to a close, Eddie sings these lyrics in a voice tinged with such powerful emotion:
I’ll wait up in the dark for you to speak to me
How I’ve opened up, release me
These lyrics resonate with me deeply, as I have waited, and still wait, for loved ones to speak to me. Over the past three years, I lost my paternal grandmother and two dear friends, and I miss them immensely. I still talk to them, especially when I am in need of their respective brands of advice, and I look to, and listen for, their responses.
This waiting and longing applies to relationships that are strained, as well. Silence can be more deafening than any sound, so, when someone I love cuts off contact with me, it leaves me reeling and waiting. Sometimes, the silence is broken, and other times, it never ends. Either way, Release is there, and so am I.
I cannot think of a better way to have started this Facebook challenge than with the album that began it all for Pearl Jam and my relationship with them. It is exceedingly difficult to put into words everything there is to love about this album and the nine albums to follow, but I know what they mean to me, and hopefully, you will get the gist, too.
That’s another story . . .
Categories: That's Another Story