A Musical Autobiography + Part I

So I’ve been kicking around this idea, and I think I’m just going to go ahead and do it. For awhile now (specifically, since late July or early August), I have been pretty much silent (for me, anyway). My mind has been focused on a lot of other stuff, and for the first time in my life, the idea of writing about everything felt like overexposure. It’s something I’m not predisposed to at all, something totally new to me, but I’m feeling this need to get back to broader topics. And I can’t think of anything broader and deeper than music.

(A note: This is going to get weird. Just go ahead and get your helmet, because it’s going to get weird. Like you’re going to feel like you really know me after this series of posts concludes, and also, I’m probably going to ruin some songs for you. Or at least make you Google a few lyrics.)

(Another note: If you take nothing else – NOTHING ELSE – from this series of posts, you should take it as a sign that I have a bottomless pit of memory for songs, random facts, and completely unimportant dates in history. And yet I cannot memorize my husband’s social security number to save my life.)

Last week, I landed an interview for a job that is, by all measurements, pretty much my dream job. This is not in terms of pay or clout or stature or any of that stuff. It’s just a job where I know that, in perhaps the highest concentrations in my post-collegiate life, I’m probably going to be really happy. And the interview went really well. In fact, there’s a good possibility my future boss(es) will read this at some point, so HI, GUYS! 😉 It’s okay, I’ve met them, they’re all super cool, chill people. I can’t really say how excited I am to be working with these folks.

I read somewhere the other day that a person’s music can pretty much tell you more about them than they ever could, and I think that’s probably about as true a statement as I’ve heard lately. Beyond all the B.S., the posturing and pretending that we do in our lives, music points straight to the soul. Some people say that the eyes are the window to the soul, but sometimes a person’s eyes are like windows with dark curtains pulled tightly shut. I squint and squint, and yet I see almost nothing. No truth, no indication of what stirs the soul within. But the music they listen to? Oh, give me a moment with Google and some lyric analysis, and it’s on.

And then this weird (but not shocking, because almost nothing is anymore) thing happened during my interview with the head of a radio station last week. He looked at me as I described the Birdy version of “1901” (only the Phoenix version is getting any real airplay right now, but the Birdy cover is legitimately good). Caution: There is too much hipster in this video for most people to even be able to breathe, but suck it up and try.

I thought it best to break out my weirdness DURING the job interview. I think the conversation went something like this…

“It’s not like the Phoenix one, which clearly has the broadest market appeal,” I rambled. “But it’s more like Ellie Goulding, stripped down to an acoustic, piano-driven, airy thing…almost like a touch of Heather Nova, but without the weird cracky vocals. And without an ounce of Lana Del Rey (who I f-ing refuse to link – you can Google that crap yourself), thank GOD.” His eyebrows jumped a little and I realized that – as I am inclined to do – I’d run off on a tangent.

“Wow,” he said, deadpanning in my direction.

“I’m sorry?”

“You, my dear, are a music junkie,” he smiled. “Why haven’t you been working in radio – or a record store – already?”

It was probably one of the biggest compliments I’ve ever received.

So in a very Forest Gump-y sort of way, here’s my musical history. Now, obviously I’m not some sprightly teenager with only about five years of listening experience that extends beyond the realm of “Hannah Montana”…so this might take a few installments to complete. Considering I haven’t really known what else to write about lately, I’m happy with this temporary wealth of content. Because seriously – regardless of how many installments there are – I could always write a hundred more.

***

My dad plays the guitar, and I grew up singing along with him. This is where I learned to pick up harmonies, since Dad’s voice is Jim Croche with a touch of Don McLean and the jubilee quotient of the late Brad Delp of Boston (because admit it, you’ve had amazing Boston singalongs on road trips, just like I have). I was probably just four or five when I realized that it sounded better if I picked a harmony to a song and sang that instead of trying to be in the exact same key as dad. It probably sounds freakish and morbid, but my dad and I have long since discussed and practically finalized his funeral playlist. Creepy, right? Not to us. We’re just cut from the same off-beat cloth, I think.

When I think about my dad, I think about his Army stories – like the one where he was skydiving and landed in a pile of horse shit, breaking his leg. You can’t make this stuff up. And it’s always accompanied by a cacophony of mid-to-late 70s rock, like Boston’s “Don’t Look Back” or Croche’s “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim.” My dad could’ve told me stories all day long, he could’ve shown me pictures from his time at West Point and his glory days playing rugby and jumping out of planes. But without the songs, the “hero” image would’ve stumbled a little. These songs are what gave the image of the “hero” all of his swagger, his rhythm, his power. Life is basically a music video on mute – most of the time, anyway. Try it sometime, I guarantee it: Ladies, if you’re feeling kind of down about yourself, get your ass in the gym and crank “Paris” by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. You will be blazing a trail of your own awesomeness across that place within about 45 seconds. Also, tell me if she’s not just about the hottest live female performer this side of Lzzy Hale (who is also especially helpful for swagger provision).

(Token Tangent: I met Lzzy and the rest of Halestorm outside after their show at the Handlebar in April ’09, before they made it super big…NICE folks, really liked them. You could tell they were really having fun and that they didn’t have a concept of their own pending celebrity at all. Now, the guys from Red? Especially the twins? Not big talkers. But still, an awesome show.)

So, I’ve pretty much told Dad his funeral playlist is a done deal. And his response made me laugh, because it’s just so Dad:

“Sweetie, I’m not having a funeral. Just cremate me and go stick me in the lake, I’ll be happy with that.” Again, I realize this probably sounds really morbid, but in our family, it’s just something to giggle at. He’s going to outlive basically everyone reading this anyway, stubborn ol’ juggernaut that he is.

An aside: Like any person with an overawareness of their own mortality would, I have also given some thought to how my funeral should go in the event of my ultimate demise. My friend Liz Pardue-Schultz (who is amazing in every way imaginable, not all of which I’ve personally experienced, but hey – I have faith) has already been made aware of a pretty ridiculous request. In the event that she outlives me, she is to do an interpretive dance at my funeral, in FULL bee costume, to Blind Melon’s “No Rain” – and she happily, graciously agreed. I’m telling you: in my life, if you’re not a little weird, a little off-kilter, get the fudge out. But if you want to know a song that makes me simultaneously tear up, giggle, and smile from ear to ear, it’s “No Rain.” I heard it for the first time while riding a Tilt-A-Whirl at a local fair. I think it was 1992, and so I was 8 years old. I was sitting next to my friend Amber Valley (she moved up North a few months later and I haven’t seen her since), watching the lights flash around me, and I thought “Oh God, this song is for me.” The music has such a peppy, upbeat, optimistic tone, but then the lyrics point to someone who really struggles to keep it together – and that’s me. It still makes me squeal whenever I hear the initial, watery strains of the distorted hook. I freaking love that song.

***

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