Sunday, May 29, 2011

Music as a Way of Life

Who doesn’t like music? (Well, I guess some people don’t, but personally, I can’t imagine it.)

I have a wide variety of musical tastes. I like just about every genre of music, everything from folk to rock, with the exception of hard-core rap and heavy metal. This doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate either genre, however. Every genre exists for a reason, and just because it isn’t my taste, doesn’t mean it doesn’t hold value in the world.

My life has always consisted of music. Two of my earliest memories involve music. One: I am sitting at the bottom of the stairs in my former house (we lived in this house until I was 3, so you can see how young I was in this memory) and singing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” The other, in the same house, my sister and I are in the bedroom, swinging the curtains back and forth, singing “Rock-a-bye Baby” until the curtains fell down. No one else remembers either of these memories, but I have always had them buried in the back of my mind.

Growing up, my father would quiz me on all of his favorite music. He liked the “oldies,” from the 1950s and 1960s. We’d listen to the music and he’d drill me on who sang a particular song and tell me stories of when he was young and the songs that were top hits at the time. When I was in middle school, one of our favorite things to do was take a drive together, stop at a 7-Eleven to get coffee (him) and hot chocolate (me) and donuts, listening to The Very Best of the Drifters. It was always the Drifters. That’s one of my favorite memories of my dad and me. To this day, I still love those songs. They remind me of him. People who grew up in that time period are often surprised that I know as many songs from the era as I do. Not too many people my age know (or care) who sang “Venus” or the lyrics to “Sh-Boom.” Not too many people my age have seen Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons or Chuck Berry or Judy Collins in concert.

I started piano lessons at the age of nine. I stopped playing when I moved out of my parents’ home, mainly because I didn’t have a piano of my own. Someday I hope to get one and pick it up again. I was in chorus from seventh grade all the way through high school. I took a music theory class just because I wanted to. I would not say my voice it great by any means; it’s fair. But, modestly speaking, I have a pretty good feel for the dynamics of singing. That is, I know when to make my voice quiet or loud as needed, I can hit a range of notes fairly well, and I do a pretty good job of relaying emotion through singing.

One of my favorite places to listen to music is in the car. I can listen to what I want, however many times I want, at the volume I want. I can fill the car with music and sound until it reaches every fiber of my soul. It’s not just the lyrics that I need, though lyrics are important. It’s the notes themselves, the range they create, the feelings they provide, that make a song good and important. Whatever my mood, I can find something that soothes me or compliments my happiness or sadness. Music has gotten me through some tough times. Sometimes I can’t name a particular song I want or need to hear, but once I find the beat and rhythm I’m searching for, I know it—it just feels right.

When I’m home, I always have the radio on. The station may change as my mood does, but music constantly plays in my house, from the moment I wake up in the morning, until the time I go to sleep at night. In fact, I set my radio timer to play music for an hour while I’m falling asleep. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I can even listen to my favorite radio station even though it broadcasts from upstate New York (a few hours away from where I live).

My music collection ranges from oldies to folk to bluegrass to county to popular to alternative rock to classical to jazz to new age to reggae. I don’t know every artist or song in any of these genres, but I like all of these types of music and what they have to offer.

My two favorite genres are alternative rock and country, though I listen to country far more than anything else. If you’ve never really given country music a chance, I highly recommend that you do so. I understand that it’s not for everyone, but I hate that people write it off so quickly, referring to it as redneck or hillbilly music. And while some songs do refer to the stereotypical country music twang-y topics of farming and pickup trucks and dogs and broken hearts and beer, country music has a ton of soul, discussing a wide variety of issues that an array of people can relate to, from work to romantic love to mothers and daughters to friendships to pride of this great country.

Growing up on Long Island, country music is not the norm. In fact, from my experience, Long Island lacks musical variety. There are two main types of radio stations here—top 40 music in which the same 40 songs are played over and over and over until you want to scream because you can’t get them out of your head when you sleep at night, and “variety” radio stations where the same 50 popular songs from the 70s, 80s, 90s and “today” are played over and over and over until you can’t get them out of your head when you try and sleep at night. (Seriously, I understand that Hall & Oates once had their place on the radio station, but when was the last time I offered anything new?) You might find one or two “rock” stations in the mix, but they tend not to last that long and are somewhat off-beat artists and songs. Thankfully, we just got a new country station (which we’ve never had on Long Island—though we can pick up the Connecticut station), so I am a happy girl.

When I was in high school, people made fun of the fact that I liked country music. Whenever the topic came up they’d ask why I like it or acted as if I should be embarrassed at liking such a thing. I don’t necessarily listen to every type of music out there, but I would never make fun of something that someone else listens to. It has meaning for them, holds a special place in their heart, is a part of who they are. It would be like making fun of the person. But maybe the people I went to school with didn’t understand that.

I didn’t always like country music. Before I started listening to it, I was indifferent to it. It was my dad who got me started. Once, when traveling to visit family in Georgia, country was all he could get, so he listened. By the time he came back, he was hooked. “It grows on you like a fungus,” he said. He was right, at least for me.

The invention of the iPod has my musical life much better. Not only can I organize my music by genre, but I can also create playlists of different songs and listen to each collection as my mood warrants. Currently, I have the following playlists:

Dad – This is a list of songs that reminds me of him—songs he liked, songs we listened to together, songs that he would have liked if he had lived long enough to hear them.

Sampling:
My Girl” by The Temptations
You Don’t Mess Around with Jim” by Jim Croce
Happy Together” by The Turtles

Driving – A collection of fast and slow songs that I enjoy singing along with. Usually, this list will be played when I’m driving around town, running errands.

Sampling:
Empire State of Mind” by Alicia Keys
Here With Me” by Dido
Mercy” by Duffy
The Minnow and the Trout” by A Fine Frenzy
All I Have” by J-Lo and LL Cool J
Bulletproof” by La Roux
American Honey” by Lady Antebellum
Poker Face” by Lady Gaga
Stay” by Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories
Among so many others

Inspirational – A list of songs, not necessarily religious, that reminds me that everything will be okay. I created this list when I was down and out and it helped me through one of the toughest periods of my life. This list also appears as a written list in my Happiness Binder.

Sampling:
Place In This World” by Michael W. Smith
Lean Into It” by Little Big Town
If I Die Young” by The Band Perry
“A Hundred Thousand Angels” by Bliss
I’m Alive” by Kenny Chesney and Dave Matthews

Me – A collection of songs that I love for whatever reason.

Sampling:
It Is What It Is” by Lifehouse
Glasgow Love Theme” from Love Actually Soundtrack
Swimming Pool” by Freezepop

Town” – It’s actually listed as the name of the town where my parents grew up. The songs here remind me of my parents, my grandparents, and visiting this place which created most of the happiest memories of my life. Mainly, these are songs I remember hearing on my grandmother’s kitchen radio which was on all afternoon.

Sampling:
So Far Away” by Carole King
If You Leave Me Now” by Chicago
You Are the Sunshine of My Life” by Stevie Wonder

Relaxation – Songs that help me to relax.

Sampling:
Sunshine on My Shoulders” by John Denver
“A Time for Love” by Shirley Horn
Lazy Days” by Enya

Slow – All of the slow songs I have on my iPod.

Upbeat – All of the upbeat songs I have on my iPod, when only happy songs will do.

Sampling:
Dirty Little Secret” by All-American Rejects
Sweet Escape” by Gwen Stefani
“Barefoot Blue Jean Night” by Jake Owen

Vacation – A collection of songs that were popular while vacationing. (When we’re away somewhere, wherever that is, I keep a list of things that we do. But I also keep a list of the songs that made up our soundtrack while there.)

Yoga – Music that I can listen to while doing yoga.

The playlists don’t yet include all of the CDs that I own – I still need to get to them and put them on my iPod.

This is just a small sample of the music that I can’t live without. I couldn’t tell you what my favorite song is (there’s too many to pick just one) or which song best describes me (depends on my mood and where I am in life at any given moment). I can recall any particular period in my life just by listening to the music that meant something to me at the time. (When thinking about the summer before I entered high school, it was the soundtrack to Mermaids. One of my favorite songs in college was “Teenage Dirtbag” by Wheatus. When I was in fifth grade, it was all about Tiffany. I could go on…)

What’s on your list?

6 comments:

  1. We share a love of many of your songs. Have you listened to Adele? I liked her first album 18 but her latest 21 is excellent! I would definitely recommend her :-)

    Other favourites include coldplay and amy winehouse for me in addition to Uncle Bob marley (of course!), other reggae artistes, calypso, rap and hip hop. But like you said I listen to so much music I cannot pick and choose.

    including the biebs!......... ;-)

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  2. An interesting insight... I always say you can tell alot about a person by what music they listen to!

    I'm a big Steely Dan fan have been from since they began back in the 1970's.

    Likewise I love my iPod, I have one for in the car which I sync and update about once a week. It plays through the car stereo, so I can control it from the steering wheel controls, all the track info and play lists come up on the radio and on the dashboard display which is excellent.

    I have a radio streaming app on my iPod touch so I can continue to listen to Magic 105.4 from London here in France, it is a great station for my type of music.

    I have a Last FM account which logs what I'm listening to all the time. Take a look here:
    http://www.last.fm/user/Temps-Perdu

    I guess my favourite track of all time but I don't know why is Peg off the Aja album by Steely Dan

    You might be interested in the play list set up I use. It cycles my music around constantly. Details here:

    http://steve-morton.com/2010/08/29/itunes-smart-play-lists/

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  3. CP - I have listened to Adele, though oddly, I have nothing on my iPod by her. I haven't yet heard her new album; I'll have to look into that. Bob Marley is on my list of artists to add - just haven't gotten to him yet (shame!). I do not, however, have The Biebs. I must draw the line somewhere. ;) (I find a couple of his songs catchy but I don't like them enough to download them.)

    Steve - I have heard songs by Steely Dan, I'm sure, but nothing I can specifically name. My car has a plug for my iPod as well, which is great! I use it often, lately more than the CD player. What radio app do you have? Do you need Wifi to access the radio stations? I'm searching for a good radio app, but often when I want it is when I don't have wifi so that doesn't help exactly.

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  4. The Radio App I used is biased towards UK radio stations, and yes it does require a WiFi connection to work.

    http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/radio-player/id398484425?mt=8

    Otherwise I tend to download podcasts of radio shows and of course you can listen to these without a Wifi connection even on a basic iPod.

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  5. Who's Adele?
    This was a really touching post, I enjoyed reading about your memories; especially the ones about your dad. ,Music and smell have the wonderful capacity to transport you to wonderful moments (and some not so wonderful ones, too).

    All I listen to is country and a little bit of New Age, and classical once in a while. Not that I don't like other stuff, but my heart and soul are country. I love a lot of the moldy oldy stuff (especially the twangy stuff!), Marty Robbins was my all-time favorite.

    Totally enjoyed this!

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  6. Steve - ah well, I'll just have to keep looking for kind of app here in the US.

    Rori - I believe Adele is British, but someone, please correct me if I'm wrong. I don't know exactly what her genre is - maybe pop/bluesy. Thanks for your comments. I'm not much into the oder country, not because I don't like it, but mainly because I just never listened to it really.

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