I had always been surrounded by music in the house growing up. On the weekend my mom would listen to Casey Kasem’s Coast to Coast Top 40 or Dick Clark’s Rock, Roll & Remember as she did chores, read or entertained us kids. But it wasn’t just background for her; she had her favorites, and you knew what they were when they came on. To this day, 30 years later, whenever the fictional band Steam’s hit, Na na, hey hey, kiss him goodbye comes on, my mom turns the radio up to levels that would seem inappropriate for most 70 year old women. It makes me wonder what that song symbolizes for her. The song came out during the Summer of Love (1969), and my parents had been married just a year earlier. Perhaps it reminds her of the early stages of her marriage to my dad, and the future they envisioned together. I don’t know, I’ve never asked.
Some of my earliest recurring memories revolve around the 4th of July celebration in town when the local oldies’ cover band, Captain Rat & the Blind Rivets, would play before the fireworks. But they were more than just the house band for the holiday event to my parents, as I vividly remember going to see them at various other locations during my formative years. It seemed that seeing that band was important for my parents, and perhaps that is because they played the hits of my folks’ era and it allowed them to reflect back on their youth, when they met, and how they developed their relationship into a lifelong commitment.
My maternal grandma played a key role in my understanding of others’ appreciation of music. At the first Farm Aid, which was held in 1985 in my hometown, she took me to the event which included such artists as Willie Nelson, John Fogerty, B.B. King and Bob Dylan. Unfortunately I don’t recall any of the music, but I do remember the hordes of people enthralled to see the events that were unfolding. It wasn’t until 1987 when I saw my first real concert I actually remembered (sorry, Captain Rat), The Beach Boys. It was on a school night and I remember falling asleep near the end, but years later, that band is still one of my favorites. When I lived for a short time in Southern California I really got into The Beach Boys, and every time I listened to them, it would take me back to that first experience.
Music has been interwoven into my personal history in many ways. It was defining to my relationships in my formative years, and also acted as a place where I could escape when things weren’t going the way I would’ve liked. I always had a stereo in my room, and when I would inevitably get myself in trouble for doing something stupid growing up, I always had the refuge of my music and my four walls. My parents think I was sent to my room for punishment, but the reality of the situation is that I was sent there to find myself. And maybe that was the intended result from my folks anyways.
My parents never changed my bedroom after I left upon the completion of high school. Every time I return home, I am reminded of some of my earliest musical influences. Posters of Nine Inch Nails, Weezer, Bone-Thugs-n-Harmony and Guns n’ Roses still line my walls. And I’m proud of that. It reflects my eclectic taste, and it reinforces the importance that music has had for me since the very beginning. The aforementioned group Weezer’s song In the Garage is quite fitting for the experience of many youth and their relationship to music:
In the garage
I feel safe
No one cares about my ways
In the garage
Where I belong
No one hears me sing this song
For the longest time I have wanted to have a room in my house painted with lyrics from my favorite songs. White walls with the choicest lyrics covering the room in its entirety, including the ceiling. It would be a room that was full of mantras for me. A place for relaxation. The only thing I would have in there would be a comfortable chair and a stereo. No other distractions. And maybe I will one day. I hope so. But until then I’m going to share some of those lyrics; some that have meant something to me for decades, some that have only come to being in the last year or so. While we are never certain about what an artists’ intention is with their lyrics, and often their meaning is different than our own, I don’t think that matters. Music, and art in general, is intended to be a personal experience with a subjective interpretation. So here are a few more lyrics that mean something to me along with why they do as well.
Disarm you with a smile – Smashing Pumpkins
The Smashing Pumpkins’ album Siamese Dream is one of my all-time favorites. I love every song on it. I could pull lyrics from any song on there almost, but this opening line from the song Disarm particularly speaks to me. This world is too big and too fast for people to really take notice anymore, it seems. And while this song was written over 20 years ago, it speaks to the universal human sensation of the discomfort that comes with navigating social exchanges. I realize that I might not always look like the most approachable person, but I like to think that I’m quick-witted enough to disarm any situation with a timely comment. The smile, well, maybe not so much. Sometimes I feel my life is a series of missed connections and misinterpretations. Relationships that could have been formed – or saved – if only one of us would have approached the engagement more diplomatically, more humanely. To disarm someone with a smile (or a comment) is to breathe life into an opportunity, even if ephemeral.
I have become such a negative person – Car Seat Headrest
This band is relatively new to the public sphere, and they released my favorite album of the year in 2016. I saw them recently in Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington and really enjoyed myself. This line is from their smash hit Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales, and while I’m certain I’m taking the line out of context (as with most of these), to me it is a reminder that I’ve let time wear me down; the sands of the ocean of life have carved me into a cynic (see this month’s The Geography of My Mind for more on that). Elsewhere I have written about my supposed “mantra” (presence, patience, perspective and perception), but I think this line might be more appropriate as it is a very real reminder of what I’ve let myself become. My “mantra” is aspirational; I need to shed this particular lyric’s inherent meaning for me before I can move on…
Is that me, baby, or just a brilliant disguise – Bruce Springsteen
This lyric is sang differently in the first few stanzas; the protagonist is singing it to his lover only to turn in the end to question himself. We’re all operating behind masks and defense mechanisms and because we hide behind so much, we often lose who we are at the expense of great potential in the ocean of humanity and OF making real and lasting connections.
[Whiskey] don’t make you do a thing, it just lets you – Drive-by Truckers
How I love my beers. They do the same thing to me that whiskey does, just not quite as quickly. But man is liquid courage ever a truth serum. How many times have I woken up to think to myself, “Man, I did something/said something dumb last night” under the fogginess of the whiskey jacket. I don’t learn though, my 6-pack always invites me back. I always graciously accept, too…
It seems that most of these lyrics are related in one way or another, mostly in that I view the world through some sort of lens that requires me to need to protect myself from some unknown threat(s). Maybe I should start looking for lyrics that are more positive and guiding to align myself with. It’s just that R.E.M.’s Shiny, Happy People just doesn’t have the lasting impression other songs do….