Tuesday, December 10, 2013

the soundtrack of our lives

i recently went to hear a storyteller. he had fully embraced the hippie lifestyle back in the 60s and it seems that he even managed to remember a lot of it. as he began, he read some introductory remarks from prepared notes. he was a bit stiff in his presentation and i was a bit worried about how the evening would go. but then, he took off his reading glasses, abandoned his notes and began to really tell his story. he was transformed into a different person - warm, lively, authentic and real.

he had brought a record player along and real LPs and he used music throughout to tell his story, which began clear back when he was in the fourth grade. a substitute teacher introduced the kids to the kind of jazz that was performed by a Danish jazz musician called Papa Bue and it was a revelation for him. in my ears, it sounded much more like 20s and 30s dixieland music, not 60s, but my musical upbringing came later and in a different cultural context.

what i loved was the way he used music to underline his story and to trigger his memories. and even tho' much of the music was before my time, it still brought forth my own memories of music. for him, the radio station you had to tune into was radio luxembourg. he sat with his ear glued to it and even recorded favorite songs from the radio, being frustrated when they interrupted a song before it was over. it made me recall tuning in late at night to AM station KOMA in oklahoma, where they played the beegee's tragedy every evening around 10 p.m. during one long summer in the early 80s. we couldn't get KOMA during the day, only at night, but even that was pretty amazing, considering there were two whole states in between us and them.

it got me reminiscing about my own musical memories. one of the earliest is of sonny and cher. i can remember listening to cher's gypsies, tramps and thieves on our very advanced 8-track player. i recall the feel of the buttons and the click as it moved between tracks and the scratchy blue carpet that was on the floor in front of the stereo. cher's hair and costumes were just spectacular, and i could picture them as i listened to the stories she told with her songs.

there were a lot of country music stations in the area where i grew up, and i remember singing along to the oak ridge boys and alabama and swingin' by john andersen. some of the first non-country music i had, on LP, was barry manilow. "oh mandy, well you came and you gave without taking..." along with the soundtrack to grease, i practically wore those records out. it was difficult to be a rebel when you were listening to barry manilow, so it may give you an idea of what a tame sort of child i was.

after that came the gogos and the cars and steve miller band's abracadabra. there were other storytellers, like john cougar mellencamp, tho' i don't think i ever owned any of his albums. (why oh why don't songs tell stories anymore?) and then there was madonna. and cyndy lauper. i couldn't choose between them, i loved them both, they spoke to my very soul. and prince, i remember thinking his song kiss was a message to all of us ordinary people, that we had a chance (you don't have to watch dynasty, to have an attitude...). there are so many memories attached to all of that music. much of it involving long drives in the car. i can still picture a stretch of road between madison and brookings where i heard dire straits' money for nothing on my way back to college one sunday night.

some music i came to late. i was only able to ascribe meaning to the eagles' hotel california after i lived in california for a couple of years and experienced for myself the soullessness of orange county in the late 80s. then that whole, "you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave" line made so much more sense to me.

we all have an individual soundtrack to our lives. some of it shared. most of it deeply private. some of it indelibly linked to memories, some of it just washed over us, leaving no trace. it was nice to be reminded of that by hearing someone else's story. we need more storytelling in our lives, good old-fashioned spoken word.