All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Classic Rock

Life's encyclopedia.

Life’s encyclopedia.

If you celebrate enough birthdays (even if you are “forever 39”), you learn a few things. But where did all this wisdom come from? Turns out there is a fourth R — Reading, wRiting, aRithmatic and Rock.

Turns out all I really need to know I learned from classic rock.

If you cling too tightly, you’re gonna lose control.
(Hold On Loosely, .38 Special)

Better recognize your brothers, everyone you meet.
(Instant Karma, John Lennon)

Hold on to 16 as long as you can. Changes come around real soon make us women and men.
(Jack and Diane, John Mellancamp)

The suburbs have no charms to soothe the restless dreams of youth.
(Subdivisions, Rush)

Maybe it’s not too late to learn how to love and forget how to hate.
(Crazy Train, Ozzy Osbourne)

The love you take is equal to the love you make.
(The End, The Beatles)

And it came to pass that rock-n-roll was born.
(Let There Be Rock, AC/DC)

Nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky.
(Dust In The Wind, Kansas)

Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.
(Big Yellow Taxi, Joni Mitchell)

Time waits for no one, and it won’t wait for me.
(Time Waits For No One, The Rolling Stones)

If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed, now. It’s just a spring clean for the May Queen.
(Stairway to Heaven, Led Zepplin)

War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin’.
(War, Edwin Star)

I hope the Russians love their children too.
(Russians, Sting)

It doesn’t really matter which side you’re on. You’re walking away, and they’re talking behind you.
(New Kid In Town, The Eagles)

The problem is all inside your head.
(50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, Paul Simon)

Traveling twice the speed of sound, it’s easy to get burned.
(Just A Song Before I Go, Crosby, Stills & Nash)

I’ll love you with all the madness in my soul.
(Born To Run, Bruce Springsteen)

Send it off in a letter to yourself.
(Rikky Don’t Lose That Number, Steely Dan)

There’s too many places I’ve got to see.
(Freebird, Lynyrd Skynyrd)

There ain’t no Coup de Ville hiding at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box.
(Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad, Meat Loaf)

So teach your children well, GenX, and keep that throwback rock station on the presets. It’s called classic for a reason.

 

Photo credit — http://www.freeimages.com/Andras Unger

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RIP, Glenn Frey

Life's wisdom on the dial.

Life’s wisdom on the dial.

The people of my generation were not just raised by our families and our communities. We were raised by the radio, the people who chose the songs and the artists who created them.

This past week has been a tough one for those of us who learned about the world through rock’s classic years, with the loss of Bowie last Monday and Glenn Frey today. Though I would say that I am more of a Bowie fan, it’s Frey’s passing that makes me uneasy.

Bowie was ethereal, singing about worlds that exist at the edges of our minds, giving us an escape from the everyday, even if it wasn’t always a pleasant journey. The Eagles taught me more about the world I was living in and would inhabit — the common experiences, the pain, the complexity that comes with just living a life.

A few years back at a party I was asked to advocate in favor of the Eagles during a marital disagreement about the band. My best argument was this — they are among rock’s greatest story-tellers.

And they are the writers behind one of my very favorite songs of all time. I am grateful that their music played a role in shaping my view of the world.

 

Photo credit — Adrian Keith/freeimages.com

Songs That Make Life Better

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Yes, I have a copy of the soundtrack to “Times Square” on vinyl!

There’s this great post over at 500 Reasons Why The 80s Didn’t Suck on 52 songs you could not live without. (Truthful blog title, by they way. Eighties music doesn’t suck, and I’m happy to debate the point with anyone.) This is great inspiration for Songs That Shaped A Life, because… how could I live without my songs?

I’m going to put a little twist on this. Thinking of 52 songs I can’t live without leaves 100s alone and unmentioned. So, this list is 25 songs that make my life better. Call it my birthday mix tape. It may not look the same next year, but for now, here goes…

“Maiden Chant,” Liz Story
“Maybe I’m Amazed,” Paul McCartney
“Don’t Tell Me You Love Me,” Night Ranger
“Shake the Disease,” Depeche Mode
“Panama,” Van Halen
“Supermassive Black Hole,” Muse
“I Will Possess Your Heart,” Death Cab for Cutie
“You Don’t Have To Cry,” Crosby, Stills & Nash
“Cowboys and Angels,” George Michael
“Song for the Dead,” Queens of the Stone Age
“New Kid In Town,” The Eagles
“Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want,” The Smiths
“Blue Monday,” New Order
“Green and Gray,” Nickel Creek
“Dream Brother,” Jeff Buckley
“Magic Man,” Heart
“To Live and Die in LA,” Wang Chung
“Love Is The Answer,” England Dan & John Ford Coley
“Here Comes The Rain Again,” Eurythmics
“Madonna of the Wasps,” Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians
“Eyes of the World,” The Grateful Dead
“You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me,” Gladys Night & The Pips
“The Killing Moon,” Echo & The Bunnymen
“Champagne Supernova,” Oasis
“Gymnopedies,” Erik Satie, composer

Why these? I recall that each of these had me within the first verse, sometimes just with the opening notes. There are plenty more, though, so I’m not sure why I am even attempting such a list.

Feel free to comment with any of your own. You’ll probably remind me of number 26, number 27…

What They Play When You’re Gone

It’s “Songs That Shaped a Life” week, that time of year when I get even more self-indulgent than just writing a blog and devote my posts to songs that were instrumental (get it? ha-ha!) in some aspect of my past.

Late in 2014 my Uncle Gary passed away less than a year after being diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma. Instead of a formal funeral, we held a memorial service that my parents, aunts and uncles planned. My mother asked me to handle the music, including selecting songs to open and close the service.

This wasn’t an easy task. There are plenty of go-to choices for such an occasion. But this “last dance,” if you will — the final event where everyone gathers to wrap up your life and send your soul along to whatever is next — is one of those times where you don’t get to pick the music. You have to trust that whoever is handling it has the where-with-all to represent you.

Uncle Gary loved his music, and when we were kids, he shared mostly upbeat Motown songs. Those, along with several other of Gary’s favorites, were on a video that played during the visitation. For this, we needed something more reflective, something that honored the sadness we all felt without crushing us under it.

There were two things everyone knew about Uncle Gary. One was that he was a walking Academy Awards encyclopedia all the way back to the Hollywood Golden Age he so loved. The other was that he was one of the best teachers you’d ever meet. His commitment to his students was so strong that you probably don’t even need all ten fingers to count the number of people who match it.

The closing song had to be “Over the Rainbow,” his preferred version from Judy Garland. It was one of his favorite songs and conveyed the right mood for that ceremonial first step of moving on.

About a dozen songs came to mind for the opener, like Warren Zevon’s “Keep My In Your Heart,” Evanescence’s “My Immortal,” The Alarm’s “Walk Forever By My Side,” Elton John’s “Empty Garden.” These were all fitting, but none of them had a particular connection to who my Uncle Gary was.

I don’t know how the opening song came to me, but it was like a muse dropped it onto my head as I was sitting in my office. It represented his love of childhood and mirrored the closer — “Rainbow Connection.” Many of the versions I first found featured odd vocals in the spirit of its most famous performer, Kermit the Frog. After digging, I discovered this one by Peter Cincotti. I knew the moment I heard it that he would be happy with me for choosing it.

 

 

A Black Celebration for Valentine’s Day

Flaming HeartsA couple decades or so back in time, my friends and I celebrated Valentine’s Day in a way that was freeing in both its interpretation of the holiday and its obligations. We organized a Black Valentine’s Day party and invited everyone we knew to attend (not a big crowd, as we were on an overseas study program). The only requirement was that one dress in black and not hijack the event with their own romantic notions.

This kind of celebration was a relief to most of us, including me. After graduating from valentine collection boxes wrapped in red and pink construction paper, I spent Valentine’s Day in some interesting ways, including almost getting hit by a car on an icy highway, receiving flowers from a boyfriend a few days after we broke up (he had already ordered them), and receiving flowers from a stranger who had the same name as another “friend,” who awkwardly confessed to me that he didn’t send them when I called to thank him. (Months later I found out that the sender was some random guy from a party I attended who sent them on a whim.)

Armed with our party parameters, a boom box, and some lager, wine and junk food, we took over a big common room and threw one of the best Valentine’s Day parties we’d ever attended since the days of drinking Hawaiian Punch from Dixie Cups in grade school. I have a few incriminating photos of people breaking the “no romance” rule, but that was after a beverage or two, so it was possible that it had little to do with Cupid.

I would bet just about any amount of money that our playlist for that evening included New Order, Depeche Mode, U2 and Terence Trent D’Arby, among others. We popped cassettes in and out of the boom box all night long, yelling, “Wait a second,” while we fast-forwarded and rewound to our selections, the gap between songs filled by the clinking of bottles and glasses and the chatter of 30 or so people who were united by a common goal — to leave Valentine’s Day with a lighter heart.

If you were to put such a playlist together today, what would you include? Let me offer you some inspiration with something from that original Black Valentine’s Day celebration.

1984 Never Ends

1984It’s a sweltering August evening. I’m in the front passenger seat of a sleek black sports car listening to music at high volume in a parking lot somewhere in Northeast Indiana. It’s 1984.

Not the year 1984… rather, the CD my husband and I were cranking after coming from an anniversary dinner to the resort where we were married.

But it could easily have been 1984 in the same vicinity, in the same month, on a similar hot night, in a (much likely) less impressive car with the same CD playing. In fact, that anniversary evening, I had that sensation that is not quite deja vu and not quite flashback, a cocktail of past and present that reminds you that some moments line up on a parallel. There are things in your life that don’t just remain the same… they keep popping in at various points, layering on new meaning each time.

I remember the weeks before 1984 was released. There was all manner of speculation about what the album would be. It was a bold statement to name the album after the year, as if it would be the artistic statement that summed up the era. I would be surprised if that was the band’s intention. The real big news was that Eddie played keyboards on it.

When I first saw the video for “Jump” on MTV, it was actually kind of disappointing, because I listened (and still do) to Van Halen for a harder, more swinging sound. But as soon as I heard the rest of the album, I could overlook it. The one thing it did was open the band up to broader air play, which used to be a much more important thing for a fan than it is now.

There’s something about Van Halen, and especially 1984, that reminds me of being young, more than any other music from that time. In a way it enables me to experience that feeling even now. So, while listening to 1984 might not seem an obvious choice for celebrating a wedding anniversary, it was perfect for my husband and me.

Coincidentally, today is Eddie Van Halen’s birthday. It’s a fitting way to wrap up my week of birthday blog posts on songs that shaped my life.

Music as a Time Machine

One of my uncles with the next generation at Lake Michigan.

One of my uncles with the next generation at Lake Michigan.

I’ve heard that smell is the strongest sense for memory, but for me it’s hearing, specifically music. Songs are like snapshots, and there are certain ones that every time I hear them, it’s like a photo has slipped out of an album onto the floor, and when I pick it up, my mind is flushed with memory.

This is different from hearing a song that was played at your wedding or a favorite album from high school. These songs have meaning only so far as they remind me of an certain era of my life and are otherwise unrelated to what was happening at the time. Chicago’s “If You Leave Me Now,” is such a song.

When I was a child, my brothers, especially the older of the two, and I were the most spoiled niece and nephews on the planet. My mom was the oldest of six kids. She was from what I later understood to be a stereotypical big Irish family, all packed in a post-World-War-II tract house in Merrillville, Indiana — a place where the door was open to all manner of friends and future family and people parked their cars on the lawn, because there wasn’t enough room in the driveway. It was a working-class neighborhood where people didn’t care about the impropriety of such a thing.  There was lots of noise and teasing and competition and love.

The house was tiny. When we stayed overnight, people were either displaced to the living room couch and floor, or we ended up there, where we were woken at probably something like 1 a.m. by my just-over-legal-drinking-age uncles upon their return from The Chatterbox. They were funny guys with an affinity for the kind of humor that amused school-age kids, and we’d laugh so hard that we’d beg them to stop because our stomach muscles hurt.

Each summer we’d spend a week there, visiting the drive-in theater, McDonald’s, the Venture store for toys and the beaches at Indiana Dunes. One my uncles had an old blue car, the kind with bench seats, and whenever I hear “If You Leave Me Now,” I am back in that car again, on my way to Lake Michigan where my brother and I are going to be tossed into the water dozens of times and given the largest soft-serve ice cream cone we could imagine on the way home. I’m looking down at the floor mats, my hand on the back of the passenger side of the front seat, leaning forward in expectation. I’m barefoot, and there are grains of sand that roll around under my big toe because it’s August, and the car has already made the trip to the lake more than a few times that summer.

“If You Leave Me Now” was popular one particular summer (of many like this), but it wasn’t as if every time we turned on the radio we’d hear it. I knew it was meant to be sad, but it wasn’t to me. There were probably songs we heard more often, but it was that moment of awareness that pulled it all together like a finishing thread.

No one from my family lives in that house anymore. Everyone has moved on to places where parking on the front yard would elicit some very confused looks from neighbors and possibly even a visit from law enforcement (or the community’s security officer). I haven’t seen pictures from that time for a decade, at least. For now, I don’t need to. I have a song from the soundtrack.