Tuesday, November 19, 2013


Last night I was filling out one of those "things you don't know about me" lists, and one of the things I wrote about was my relationship to music. No big surprise, I'm still thinking about it today - the way music has been my touchstone throughout my life. The way certain songs will take me back to a time and a place from my past with such crystal clarity, I can smell it.

Music awakens all my senses.

So I thought, why not see where a trip down memory lane takes me? I think this may become a post that continues to be edited as new memories crop up, but for now I'm going to start with my first musical memory and just see where it takes me.

The song: unknown, but likely total nonsense
I was five years old when I went into the hospital to have my tonsils out. Back then, you stayed overnight, and I stayed alone. I remember feeling scared, and apparently even at that age I turned to music to comfort me. Which was okay, I suppose, except I was singing in the middle of the night and keeping other patients awake. My nurse, Odessa, came in and sang quietly to and/or with me for a little while, coaxing me to sleep. It's not the most vivid memory, but it stuck with me. Bonus detail: I wore a plaid cotton dress to the hospital. It was bright blue, pink and yellow. When I got home, our neighbor Toots brought me a Flatsy doll and a rose.

The song: Michael Martin Murphy, "Wildfire"
The 1970s brought a treasure trove of teenage death songs, but this song holds the clearest memory for me. I remember hearing it on a transistor radio in the lifeguard's cabin at Pilgrim Park campground. Jane Murphy, one of the lifeguards, became a family friend, and one night I was allowed an overnight with her. It was a treat to spend time with a more grown-up girl who wasn't one of my sisters! Jane had the first curling iron I ever saw, and she used it to turn my stick-straight hair into something quite different. She treated me like a real person, not just somebody's kid sister. As we played Beauty Parlor, this song came on, and I remember the lyrics making me feel just so sad! Bonus detail: "Seasons in the Sun" runs a close second for the best worst awful teenage death song.

The song: Debbie Boone, "You Light Up My Life"
Don't judge! I was in the sixth grade the first time I sang in public, at least as far as I remember. I may have sung in church, but this was the first time I recall. My Girl Scout troop was given a time slot to provide entertainment at a local mall, and I was chosen to sing this song. I'm sure it was awful, but I remember my mother absolutely beaming with pride. Bonus detail: I wore navy blue corduroy gauchos with a matching vest, and a red long-sleeve, button-up shirt.

The song: Paul Young, "Love of the Common People" (and the entire No Parlez album)
I didn't drive at the normal age of 16; it took me three extra years to master an automobile. So during my teenage years, I was most often chauffeured around in Patrick's two-door maroon Escort. Because he drove, he also got to DJ, and this song was one we (me, Patrick, Kelly and any of the extended assortment of miscreants I still call friends today) sang along to a LOT. Bonus detail: Another song of this time period was James Taylor's "Only One." Singing backup on the song are none other than Joni Mitchell and Don Henley, but this song I shared with Ivan. Perfect opportunity to harmonize.

The song: Bruce Springsteen, "Born to Run"
This was my angry anthem when I was a teenager. The louder I cranked the volume, the more it soothed my teenaged rage. I have always been an emotional person, but as a teen I had not tools to cope with it. It all just spilled out into the world, and in a lot of ways I was destructive. (Not 100 percent of the time, but if memory serves ... I was a real pill more often than I care to admit.) When I discovered this song, it was an emotional release the likes of which I had previously never experienced. Letting the melody soar, it took (some of) my anger with it. I would rewind the cassette and listen to this song over and over, until I didn't need it any more. Bonus detail: This song is on every single running playlist I have ever used.

The song: Elton John, "Someone Saved My Life Tonight"
My cousin Theresa got married when I was around 15. Back then, I rarely if ever felt pretty. My awkward stage lasted until I was about 29 years old. Anyway, I remember feeling pretty this day. At the reception, this song came on, and a family friend asked me to dance. It was the first time I ever danced with a guy, and while there was nothing remotely romantic about it, the song transported me somewhere new. It remains one of my favorite songs, with more reasons over the years, as people have popped up on occasion to "save my life" as it were. But still, it always takes me back to that night, on that dance floor. Bonus detail: I wore my sister Pat's brown cowl-neck sweater, my sister Kathie's wool plaid bias-cut skirt, and my sister Pat's cowboy boots. Don't judge.

The song: Jackson Brown, "Tender is the Night"
In the video for this song, Brown walks through rainy streets, perfectly in time to the music. One day when I was a senior in high school, my sister Jenn was driving me to school and the song came on the radio ... and as we drove, we saw a person walking down the sidewalk, in the rain, to the beat - as if he could hear it. Absolutely cracked me up. Bonus detail: Jenn was simultaneously exactly who I wanted and didn't want driving me to school. She occasionally took me Hardee's to get biscuits for breakfast, but she also embarrassed the hell out of me on a number of occasions. Good times ...

The song: John Cougar, "Ain't Even Done with the Night"
I had this on a cassette and listened to it (and the album it was on, "Nothin' Matters and What if it Did?") nonstop one day back in the fabulous 80s, when my sister Jenn had surgery. I sat in the waiting room, flipping the tape every time it came to the end, but this song I rewound and replayed time and time again. Nervous about what was happening to my sister, and alone save for a few strangers, the song provided a needed distraction. The surgery took longer than expected, but Jenn came through find. Bonus detail: My Patrick didn't come out quite so unscathed. That same night at rehearsal, over-tired from a long day of waiting, I lashed out at him over a girl. I was so in love with him at the time, and jealous of pretty much everyone else in his life. I think this was the worst, biggest fight we ever had. (To make matters worse, he didn't even like girls. Man, was I dumb.) So this song is a double-whammy, taking me to two distinctly different memories.

The song: Billy Joel, "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant"
It was the late 80s, and we had no business being in a bar, except the food was good (and cheap or free) and the sodas bottomless. Bill's served food, so it wasn't against the law, and my friends and I would sit in the back depositing quarter after quarter into the jukebox, to hear our favorites over and over. There were a lot of songs, but this one was a recurring theme. I remember sitting around the table with Eric, Violet, Tony, sometimes Kathleen, and heaven knows who else from the cast of Riverfront characters, and wishing the night would never end. In some ways, these were the moments when I got to know the first best version of myself. Bonus detail: Springsteen's "Thunder Road" was also played. Over and over and over ...

The song: Ryan Cabrera, "I Will Remember You"
It opens with, "Eight years later, time goes by fast. Got my memories, and the will last. I try to keep it simple 'cause I hate goodbyes, I try to keep it simple by telling myself that I will remember you." It was used to promote the series finale of Will & Grace, after eight years on the air. Unfortunately for me, that happened at the eight-year mark of my relationship with my now ex-husband ... right at the time we were coming to an ending. Every Will & Grace promotion reminded me of failure, partings, and sorrow. The song ends by saying, "When we're not together, I will remember you." I remember him, sure, but not with the gut-wrenching sadness this song used to invoke. It was really just recently that I heard myself saying that I wish him ... and I meant it. Weird. Bonus detail: In many ways, Will & Grace mirrors Maggie & Patrick, but I didn't marry Harry Connick. Damn.

The song: Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers, "Green and Dumb"
This isn't one I hear unless I play it for myself, because my favorite band doesn't really get much in the way of radio play. It's a gorgeous ballad written about a man trying to get back into his lady's good graces, and it has so much sweetness to it. There was a night back in 2007 when my friend Brian and I went to see the band play live. It was a rather tumultuous time in my life, in the midst of being left by the ex and trying to figure out my life. Toward the end of the show, the opening strains of this song came on, and I started to cry. Subtly - I can be subtle sometimes - and as soundlessly as possible, the tears fell. Brian looked over at me, wrapped one arm around me, and we began to sway to the music. A stranger approached me from the other side, draped an arm around me, and swayed along. The next thing I knew, our little group grew and snaked through the bar, all swaying and dancing together in what will, for me, always feel like the greatest comfort in the world. The tears faded and I drank in the song, and parts of my soul that had felt dead for a long time sprang back to life. This is what music can do. Bonus detail: After the show, Brian let me drive his Jeep home. With the top down. This was the first and only time I was allowed to drive Zoe. 

And that's what we have, for now. I reserve the right to edit and repost as more memories bubble to the surface.

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