My friend Pampi over at Third Eye Fell shared an NPR article entitled Tell Us The 6 Songs of Your Life. I thought it would be a great topic for a blog post but I realize now that it’s not such an easy assignment. The thing is, I like and have liked all kinds of music depending on my moods at various stages in my life jazz, classical, electronica, blues, trip hop, lounge, alternative, ambient, dark industrial, punk, indie, new wave, rock, Latin, southern rock, soul, folk, show tunes (actually, not so much anymore – but I heard a lot of Broadway musicals on LPs growing up). I’m pretty moody, I guess. I could make a list of literally thousands of songs that mean something to me. I once posted a list of the 21 records of my life, but I’ll not do a top 6 favorites, rather I’ll identify 6 songs that sort of defined me or described a state of mind at a particular stage in my life from childhood to midlife; I almost said from childhood to the Middle Ages. I’m old, but still alive. Yes, it’s all very self-indulgent, I know, but I can’t help myself. Enough with the introduction. Here’s the list:
As a Kid: Day by Day – from Godspell. It came out when I was about 10 or so. My neighbor whose father was a minister played the album for me one day when we were shooting pool. I think at the time, their church youth group was performing the musical. The version I link to above is not the original Broadway cast, but a modern one that I think is far superior. Although a religious song that appealed to youth in ways that hymns could not, I connected to it more as a pop tune with a catchy melody and easy sing along lyrics. As a kid, I pretty much lived day by day, not thinking too much about the past or future, especially during the summer.
Preteen: That’s the Way of the World – Earth Wind and Fire. The song came out when I was in 7th grade before I had developed much of a world view. Things were the way they were because that’s the way of the world. I didn’t have the tools to think critically about the world and my place in it. I wouldn’t develop those tools until after I finished my formal schooling many years later. As a 12 year old, I had very little agency but did have a vague notion of freedom that had to do with driving a tractor trailer for a living one day.
The Teen Years: River Man – Nick Drake. My dad turned me on to this obscure artist, obscure then, much better known posthumously. Drake’s music was dark, and full of raw emotion poetically crafted and delivered with total vulnerability. The tune really speaks more to my dad’s life than mine and in some ways feels like a portal to his soul, may god rest it. I’m linking also to a brilliant Brad Mehldau cover of the song.
College: Phase Dance – The Pat Metheny Group. I discovered Pat Metheny’s music looking through my sister’s boyfriend’s record collection. He’s been my favorite artist ever since, Pat Metheny, not my sister’s x boyfriend. I’ve had the good fortune of seeing Pat play live with his band and in other configurations many times. The first time I saw the group play was in 1984 at the Student Union at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. I was one of about 100 people sitting near the stage in a metal folding chair. I had a Minolta SLR and took flashless photos with a high speed Ilford black and white film. See shot below from the concert. The song was sort of a signature warm up tune they liked to play very early in a concert. Phase Dance doesn’t have any lyrics, but the song is full of idea exploration. Like the song, as a college student, I had begun exploring various ideas and perspectives and quite a few mysterious isms as I pondered the meaning of life.
Post College: Novo Amor (New Love) – Gal Costa. In 1990, I began dating a Chilean woman I would later marry. She spoke very little English, and I, very little Spanish. We somehow managed to communicate together through hand gestures, Spanglish and by exchanging notes on napkins. One of the things we had in common was a love for Brazilian music. We both had cassette tapes and albums by Gal Costa, Chico Buarque, Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso and others. At our wedding reception, we featured a Brazilian mix tape.
Mid Life. The Way Up – Pat Metheny Group. Pat Metheny is the only artist that I have seen live with each member of my immediate family separately. My wife and I saw The Way Up tour in 2004 as an anniversary present. It is a jazz record, but organized into four parts like a symphony. The work is a masterpiece drawing from many musical influences including the composer Steve Reich. As composers, the writing duo of Pat Metheny (guitar) and Lyle Mays (keyboards) are in the same league as Rogers and Hammerstein and Lennon and McCartney. And Metheny is a national treasure. The music from The Way Up suite awakens my creative impulses and helps keep my midlife out of crisis.
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