Tonight is one of those nights where I need to use the computer to generate a little cash for the Henry household. I do a few newsletters and web sites on the side and generally enjoy what I do—that is if it doesn’t begin to take up my life—I like to read the paper, talk to my wife before and after dinner and watch a few TV shows as well when I am clocked out from “real” work.
As I began to layout the latest newsletter I inserted a few CD’s into the player that sits by my desk and pushed the start button on the console. As the bopping sound of Lionel Hampton began to fill the room and my fingers began to snap to the beat I thought of my mother and how she loved to listen to jazz and big band music and how that has affected my life in a good way.
I remember those youthful days and nights watching my mom and dad listen to music on the ancient turntable we had in our living room. It is worth remembering that the living room had off-white carpeting.
I can even remember the turntable being delivered in a big box and the all of us sitting around waiting for my dad to open it. This was back in the day when twenty-cents went a long way and comic books were only a nickel. Even though it seemed like it would be several years before we had our own records to play, this was a “family present”. As it turned out it would not take that long for my brother and I to begin our own collection of early rock and roll, folk and jazz records to play on that turntable. We even got to the point where we realized those portable turntables all but tore up the groves in our records and we got a better turntable to play records through an amplifier and not through some small tiny attached speakers.
Now bear in mind, this is not a completely accurate picture of those days. My time line might be a little off but this is the best my memory can handle at this point in my life. And being completely right is not the point anyway. It is more of what I came away with from that experience that counts.
Both my mother and father liked music—generally big band jazzy type stuff. The first records we got in the mail to play on the new turntable were Columbia or Capital record sampler albums with a selection of songs currently available in their catalog for sale. This music went from Andy Williams ballads to cuts from a Miles Davis album and lots of stuff in between. One song I vividly remember playing over and over was the M.T.A. by the Kingston Trio. It was a peppy song about a guy who got on the subway in Boston and while he was on his way to work the fares were increased and he couldn’t get off the train because he didn’t have the money in his pocket to pay the fare. Kind of far-fetched but a great song about politics and all the rest. I am looking at the CD of their greatest hits which includes that song. Things have come almost full circle.
There were times in my life when after a night out on the town (think high school senior, etc.) I would come home and not be at peace enough to go to bed and fall asleep and I would quietly sneak into the living room and put on an album by Bob Dylan or Miles Davis and listen to it through the headphones until I was calm enough to go to bed. Music was what got me through a lot of tough times and I am grateful for my parents input into that process. It was like I had my very own soundtrack to life and was not even aware of it—come to think of it, it was even before the very concept of soundtracks had even been invented. Here I am thinking to that time in the movie Jerry Maguire when Renee Zellwegger and Tom Cruise have their “moment” and we are treated to the Bruce Springstein song “Secret Garden” and that seems to sum up everything that has happened between them up to that point. Or imagine Natalie Portman walking down a Manhattan avenue with a Damien Rice song playing in the background as Jude Law catches a glimpse of her and is fully smitten.
I have come to realize after living more than half a century that we all have a life soundtrack playing in our lives. We might not be aware of it—it could be a Mahler symphony or a top-forty ballad—every now and then we might catch a John Mayer rift or a Sly and the Family Stone, “Dance to the Music” feeling in the background of whatever is going on. The only difference being that there is most likely no camera man following you around nor a song editor finding just the right mood music to place behind the action in your life—but the sound is there none the less—trust me on that one.
The other night my wife and I watched a movie “August Rush” which never made it to our little mountain town. It is the story of a young boy separated from his mother and father at birth who uses his musical gift to draw them back to him. As with all Hollywood movies it is not perfect in its portrayal of humanity as I would like it to be. But the point really lies underneath all of our frailty and really speaks to the hope that is resident within the collective human spirit.
Music really is all around us—I woke this morning to the birds singing and enjoying the food I put out for them. Even my tiller makes a certain sound that punctuates the distance between me and the sound of the shovel being pushed by my foot into the soft spring soil of my Appalachian home. And perhaps the only thing that separates me from this concert is the voice of my enemy who likes to bring things to my attention at 3 am in the morning which I can’t really do anything about but really wants to interrupt the peace or joy that I have found in living for the long ride. It is the sound of distraction, fear and doubt and sometimes I have to get out of bed and sit in my favorite chair until I can find—once again—my very own soundtrack—while not without its pathos and bathos, is not condemning or intent on my destruction.
And that my friend, is a good ride indeed. Enjoy your ride and your very own soundtrack.