Saturday, June 30, 2012

I've Got a Song

Earlier this month, my son, eight year-old Abraham asked me if I’d be upset were he to become a rapper. Now, I have not yet developed a taste for that genre, but I told him I’d be happy to support him, whatever he sang, as long as his music was positive.  Around the same time I attended a concert and, except for a few, young staff members, I’m pretty sure I was among the youngest in attendance. I recognized just one song in every six or seven but the folks on my right and left and all throughout the room knew far more; in most cases, every piece. These were folks in their early eighties through mid nineties and the songs we heard had been the music of their lives.

As I sat there in that assisted living facility, I wondered. Here were people who had at one time danced to these songs, made love to their melodies, cried with the vocalists. I mused about their sacred connection to what they were, once again, hearing and to what they so obviously were enjoying. Even the most bent over, sat upright and, as I looked around, all the faces seemed to soften, even with the tears. They were connecting to something other, something more. We’ve long known that each person has a unique soundtrack playing in their head, put there before birth, by choice as we age and myriad tunes smuggled in without our permission. It’s all there, this music, this lyrical life.

When does such a soundtrack of a life begin, and end? I have fifties and sixties music in me because that’s what my parents listened to on the car radio and what they collected for their record player at home.  I liked Motown and The Osmonds and decided early on that I would one day marry Marie.  I remember my mother and father slow dancing to a long Johnny Mathis album and later curling up on the living room couch, low lying clouds of cigarette smoke floating above their heads while The Righteous Brothers sang, “You never close your eyes anymore, when I kiss your lips…” their eyes betraying the song.

When I was 12, I heard what sounded like rain, or waves on the beach and thunder as I walked into my sister’s room to find her with friends in the midst of what smelled like tree leaves burning. They were giggling and invited me to stay and “hear this one song.” I didn’t like all that smoke but I sat down because her friends said I was cute and because they had noticeable breasts. “Girl ya gotta love your man, Girl ya gotta love your man, Take him by the hand, Make him understand…” and one of them took my hand and pulled me up and she swayed and they laughed and offered me what they were smoking but I refused.

Later, Kevin would introduce me to Cat Stevens and a few others and by myself, I would find Jim Croce and secretly enjoy David Gates and sing all their songs to my imaginary girlfriends in front of the mirror. Later, The Beatles would come and stay, and America and The Eagles. I hated Disco but endured it for the sake of one girlfriend who loved The Bee Gees and Abba. Until I was 19, the radio was always on and I drank deeply from the pop music of the seventies, loved the group, Boston and determined that I would one day live in the city they named their band after.  As the decade was ending, a girl from my childhood, now a young woman, invited me to stay the night and I wanted to, but I had seen her unable to fall asleep without drugs and without Led Zeppelin blaring on the eight-track, so I told her, as she sat on the bed waiting, that I "needed to go.”

Like most Americans my age, I made sense of the world by inhaling the music of the fifties, sixties, and seventies. When the eighties arrived, I pretty much turned off the radio, except for pre-70’s tunes. From then on, I would only buy Christian rock and roll, declaring that I would not be influenced by the messages “of the world” -as if I could divide my worlds.  However, I did continue to read Rolling Stone magazine in order to stay aware of what was influential in pop culture. A few songs would sneak by and find their way into my heart like Roy Orbison’s “Anything you Want”  which I would adopt as my anthem to my then, one year old daughter, Abby, singing it to her as we drove beside the beaches of the north shore in Massachusetts. 

In my early 40’s I realized my kids were growing up and I decided to start listening to what they found exciting. I also went back and selectively listened to all the music I had missed. I found a lot that was amazing, such as U2 and…U2… (Okay, there were other groups and songs and I even found a Madonna tune or two I learned to enjoy!) I liked Coldplay right away and am listening to them now as I write.

When I am ninety-five and the young band members stop by to entertain “the old folks” with “oldies” I will know everything they play and I will love the music, even Bee Gees songs which I will rise and attempt to dance to. When these musicians play what they have learned, I will hear what I have internalized, words and melodies that have made me who, and what I am. And I will be happy with that and when they play their calm version of Zeppelin’s, “Ramble On” I will look longingly toward the door as the past, present and future melt into one, my fingers forming guitar chords, my feet moving as my heart soars.  When they play Croce’s, “Time in a Bottle” or Cat Stevens’, “How Can I Tell You?” the young staff will whisper that those were such ‘nice songs so long ago’, but I will smile, gratefully, and think, “No, these are my songs, today.”

Then, maybe, maybe, they’ll play a few songs made famous by a now, middle-aged musician named Abraham Earl. That will be the highlight! And I will know all his songs by heart.

I've got a song, I've got a song
And I carry it with me and I sing it loud
If it gets me nowhere, I go there proud

~From Jim Croce's "I've Got a Name"


  1. Ahhh little brother such memories. Thank you.

    1. My Sister! You were the first one who introduced me to music and, formally, anyway, taught me to think about what I was hearing and to really care about it. Janis, The Doors, The Stones and all manner of hippie, folk and rock 'n roll music came to me through you. Well, actually, you opened that Pandora's Box of music itself. And with the Chaos, came the Hope. Much of what you were devoted to then, continues to feed my spirit today. Thank you sis, for that and for keeping me out of (most of) the deepest sh... stuff. Rock on! :)

  2. You've described the journey of many of us, Wayne, and beautifully, too. And while I cannot wrap my head or ears around some of what my son listens to (which to me sounds like chaotic dissonance), I did learn to like Muse. :) But when they play Roxy Music's "Avalon", I'll smile as I remember my courting days which led to Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed and Delivered, I'm Yours."

    1. I love Stevie! When I was a newlywed, I would phone Lori from work whenever his song, "I just called to say I Love You" was on the radio and we'd listen to it together. I am amazed that so little attention is given to the enormous impact music has on our lives, especially in adolescence. If we are what we eat, then we are what we listen to and therefore we need wisdom. I am grateful for the music, the "poetry of our times" and continue to be nourished by what I knew then and am coming to know, now. Now, back to the music...