I know I’m not alone being moved by or nostalgic about music. I sing along and turn up the volume when I’m alone in the car just like the rest of us. My heart swells upon hearing the theme to Star Wars. I tear up each year when the music to The Nutcracker fills the hall. And now that we’re watching episodes of Glee, I know that Karyn watches me out of the corner of her eye to see if my lips begin to quiver, if I start to make a move to sing along from the edge of my seat.
I remember one embarrassing moment a couple of years ago when I began to choke up when retelling the story of “Hooray for Tom” (Bruce Hornsby) which goes like so:
Hooray, hooray for Tom
Who won the spelling bee
Spelled the difficult words so right
And now he’s on T.V.
Oh hooray hooray for Tom
He’s up there for all to see
And I hope someday they say ‘hooray’ for me
When the words are written out, it doesn’t look like so much. In my mind, though, there’s the simple piano accompaniment, a subtle string arrangement gracing the background, and a melody that drifts up and down easily. Settling on the final line, if I’m singing it alone to myself, my voice will start to crack out of sympathy for Tom’s shadow, a character who’s made up, a setting I’ve only imagined. I know it’s the music that takes things to another level of emotion.
Some of the most classic song lines look so ridiculous when they’re typed out. Billy Joel is usually a good example: “They couldn’t go back to the Greasers / The best they could do was pick up the pieces…” for example. “Pieces” and “Greasers” isn’t an obvious rhyme, perhaps part of the charm. Shawn Colvin’s “Ricochet in Time” ties “sewer” on one line to “truer” on the next. In “Polaroids,” she strings together “therapy” with “care of me,” “wary then” with “American.” It’s something she can get away with, guitar strings and heart strings forgiving all clumsiness.
Years ago, back in college, when we wondered where and how the relationship would continue during Karyn’s year abroad, she asked how we knew the love would last. After long ramblings and awkward pauses I said that all I could assure her is that “I’ll love you tomorrow.” She hugged me and holds on still, day after day. Today I confess, after almost 15 years of marriage, that I was paraphrasing Peter Cetera’s croon, “Love Me Tomorrow,” from the 16th album from Chicago (aptly titled “Chicago 16”). What’s it called when some amount of time is passed, making prior missteps and misdeeds no longer prosecutable? I only assume it applies to this case. Our anniversary is two months away.
The point is just that I might be one standard deviation beyond “normal” when it comes to reactions to music. I don’t pretend to be special, but I also realize that others might not use “Eye of the Tiger” to get ready to give a scholarly presentation, or think it’s a good selection for his daughter’s violin repertoire, or imagine that someday, when his daughter is famous and playing fiddle on stage in the arena, that she might pull Daddy up on stage to play piano along with her.
Note to the reader: In public I’ll adamantly deny all of this.
This is all preface, or perhaps a disclaimer, to general reflection on music that moves me lately. There’s a continual quest to dig into new music, I guess as a way to dig out new inspirations. Sometimes we find hope and inspiration from a cup of coffee or on a mountain top, but the right soundtrack might be more reproducible, more repeatable. Lately I’ve been drifting towards the likes of Bob Schneider and Frank Turner, both unafraid to stress the steel strings of an acoustic guitar, both irreverent. My favorite from Bob lately has been this, where he tries to paint:
Well you’re the color of a burning brook,
you’re the color of a sideways look
from an undercover cop in a comic book;
you’re the color of a storm in June
you’re the color of the moon.
You’re the color of the night that’s right.
The color of a fight you move me.
You’re the color of the colored part of the Wizard of Oz movie.
That last line, my favorite, might seem like a 4-year-old’s notion of a favorite color, a rationale for why young children like rainbow sherbet. But when you hear these lines all strung together in rapid succession you realize that it isn’t just the words (or lack of) that he’s communicating, but the frantic progression of them all together, trying to communicate something impossible. Later, he resolves it with a solution:
Come out tonight come out with me baby,
we’ll throw the careful into the crazy.
Turn the sky black into a sky blue.
Turn a close shave into a hoo hoo!
What I say is true.
The “hoo hoo” is the best part. Not worthy of text, but worthy of song. Coming from the perspective of academic writing and a big project on my lap, I often wish I had the opportunity to throw in the “hoo hoo!” But this isn’t in any style guide, not APA, not even MLA.
Frank Turner is a former punk rocker who a few years ago turned folk but retaining the punk edge. The contradiction makes for adorable, if not inspirational video. In other pieces, there’s a not-subtle push on himself and on the listener to do something. This is the music I turn up in the car (by myself) or in my headphones as I’m trying to write something, or maybe as I’m just simply trying to finish a run.* In “I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous” (a clever title to make you look up T.S. Elliot) he documents a revelation and a revolution:
We planned a revolution
From a cheap Southampton bistro.
I don’t remember details
But there were English boys with banjos.
Note to self: Need to learn to play banjo.
The last few lines are playing inside my head, the music building, the singing urgent and intent:
And I know I’m not the one who is habitually optimistic,
But I’m the one who’s got the microphone here so just remember this:
Life is about love, last minutes and lost evenings,
About fire in our bellies and about furtive little feelings,
And the aching amplitudes that set our needles all a-flickering,
And they help us with remembering that the only thing that’s left to do is live.
Yeah the only thing that’s left to do is live.
The last few lines ring in my ears while I’m running, pounding down the pavement. Drops are starting to fall and the street lights are turning on while the sun disappears. And the only thing that’s left to do is live, I’m sprinting the last block and the rain is falling. I can’t explain it. I finish, catch my breath, wipe the tear, the furtive little feeling. It’s dark, but it’s the color of the colored part of the Wizard of Oz movie. That doesn’t really make sense in print on the page, but sung with a thumping bass line, or perhaps with a banjo, it might make more sense. Or maybe that’s just me.
*A potential new endeavor, worthy of another entry if I can sustain it.