I was in a bad head space last night. There's been no time for thinking, no time for writing, no time for decompressing and I wish there were. I want to write something, but am sad that I haven't carved out the time wherein I can carve out a song. So I was doing the dishes and thinking about songs. The soundtrack to my life and stuff. That always cheers me up. I hope it cheers you up too to think about those songs that are irrevocably attached to a moment and memory. We've all got 'em. Here's a sampling. These memories and songs get me every time.
"Old Rugged Cross" by Mahalia Jackson. My dad loves Mahalia Jackson. He had a cassette of a live show by Mahalia Jackson that we all listened to over and over again. Mahalia Jackson had phrasing we only wish we could do. She took a line and pulled it out like taffy and we hung on every sound in between the silence and her backing band just let me lead the way. Amazing. The cassette is gone. I've looked and looked for that recording, but I can't find it because I don't ever remember knowing exactly what it was. If I find it I will sing along with the whole darn thing and I will cry while I'm doing it.
"Sound of Silence" by Simon and Garfunkel. Live in Central Park was my introduction to their music. My best friend, Greg, and I sang this song for a Pops Concert at our high school freshman year. We sang it over and over again and we killed it. It felt so good to hear our voices blend like that. I hear that song and smile.
"O Mio Bambino Caro" sung by Kiri Te kanawa. There was a time when I was studying classical voice in high school and college. I discovered the most romantic movie ever in the whole world, "A Room with a View". I bought the soundtrack and listened to this song over and over again. Holy Buckets. Her voice was so flippin' amazing and I tried singing along with her and did it poorly.
"One Tree Hill" by U2. In 1993 I went to Paraguay as an AFS exchange student. I brought my Sony Walkman and a few tapes with me. Joshua Tree was one of them. I remember putting on those headphones and walking around my village of Villarrica.That whole album reminds me of Paraguay 1993. It felt so surreal to be in a place so different from the one I called home. I fell in love with it. Ever since then I've always found that it's so much easier not fitting in when it's so clear that you don't fit in. That's why living abroad feels good. You never even consider fitting is as a possibility.
"Linger" by The Cranberries. And then I came home and it was a brand new kind of foreign feeling trying to get back into my old life with my new self. Greg picked me up in his car (everybody had their licenses when I got back) and I remember driving around with the windows down listening to The Cranberries. That afternoon, listening to that song, it felt like I could figure out how to exist again because my friends were there to welcome me back home.
"A Case of You" by Joni Mitchell. My first day of college I met girls who would become my best friends for my whole life. Up until then I was kind of a lazy music listener. I never went looking for anything, but I would cling to what I had found in the passing sounds. Then I met Amy who brought with her an amazing collection of music that she shared with me. "Blue" was one she leant me. What a gift. I had never heard anything like it. I heard things from her collection that I never would've found on my own and I am so thankful. I finally learned how to play this one a few years back. It was like unlocking a treasure chest.
"Ojala" by Silvio Rodriguez. There's life before hearing this song and life after hearing this song. I was studying in Granada, Spain and I had a friend, Alex, who played guitar, was super funny and had already been everywhere. He played me this song and it was so haunting and so beautiful. He was like a Paul Simon in Spanish with Leonard Cohen mixed in. Alex played it on his guitar and I remember it being the first time I actually wanted to play the guitar at all. Just to learn this song. A few years later someone gave me a mix tape and it had Silvio's "Nuestro Tema" on it. I couldn't believe that his music had magically appeared to me again. Then, years and years later, I was at Song School and there was this guy named Richard Shindell. I had never heard of him. He taught a class. I took the class. I thought he was cool. He played the main stage at Folks Fest and I loved his set so much I went to the merch tent and bought every album he had. Listening one day, I hear him sing "Que hago ahora contigo?." I immediately loved it. The song was written by Silvio Rodriguez. And there he was again like a unicorn sighting. He comes from a different world than I do, he's doing work I can't possibly achieve, but hearing him feels like home to me. Thank God for unicorn sightings. You never know when they'll show up.
Songs are important. That's why I love them. That's why I spend so much time on them. Start writing down your memories and songs. But don't worry if you don't. One day, you'll hear a song and immediately you'll be back at your 13th birthday party at the Skating Rink for backwards skate. You can't help it. The songs hold all of it for you until you hear it again.