Old Songs, Old Memories

I grew up in a musical family. This was largely because of my mom, who graduated from college with a major in music and a minor in elementary education. While she did finally get a full degree in elementary education, her first job after college graduation was teaching music at the elementary school level.

We children were “strongly encouraged” to follow her path of music appreciation. I remember all the way back to being in 3rd grade chorus in school, and sang with the school choirs through my time at college. I also sang in the church’s youth – and later – adult choirs. Of course, my mother was the organist and choir director!

My older brother learned to play trumpet. I chose the piano (like mother, like daughter). My younger brother started on the drums and later also took up the guitar. Dad? Well, he was awesome at playing the record player (long before the word ‘stereo’ was anything!)!

When high school came, I needed to figure out a way to get my very strict mother to let me attend our school’s football games (did I mention that she was very strict?) We were always permitted to be in an extra-curricular activities that included music, so…. I conned my way into the band! Unfortunately, I couldn’t just be in marching band (where I played a xylophone) but also had to be in concert band, so a French horn is what our band director decided I would learn. Let me just say these two things…. #1, our band director was an alcoholic who was never without a peppermint Lifesaver in his mouth and, #2) other than at lessons with him, I only pretended to play my French horn. That’s right – nary a note did I actually toot during any of our concert band activities!

From that, I suspect that you can understand why music has always been an important part of my life. I remember family time in front of the TV watching “The Lawrence Welk Show” and following Mitch Miller’s bouncing ball and singing along. There were old records my parents sometimes played, then the easy listening I enjoyed in the 70s and 80s and early 90s, and then a gradual switch over to being a country music fan as I am today. I never cared for hard rock and roll, can handle about a minute of rap before visibly cringing, but if you play any of the songs I either grew up with (40s and 50s) or the ones from my earlier adulthood, there’s a good chance, if I liked the song, I know most, if not all, of the lyrics.

Of lyrical songs, I like the ones that tell stories – especially if the lyrics are a bit melancholy. Not to say that I can’t, and won’t, belt out all of the words to “Friends in Low Places” or “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”; not to say I won’t sing along to the classic “Stairway to Heaven” or “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. But the more in-depth the story told by the lyrics is, sharing pain as well as joy, well, those are the songs I adore.

I remember dubbing cassette tapes and later, learning how to create CDs on my computer from downloaded wav formats. Of that effort, two CDs remain – one is TSO’s Christmas and the other just a mix of favorite songs that I related to. From time to time, I go through my collection of CDs and narrow them down even more… I’m down to about 50 now. And we won’t talk about my rather large vinyl collection, which includes records that belonged to my parents.

Now, except at Christmas, the only time I listen to any records or CDs is from my CD player in my car when I’m on a road trip. The changer holds 6 CDs, and I change out 4 of them about 3 times a year. Woody Bradshaw (a one-hit wonder and soap opera star I had the pleasure of hosting at my hotel) and The Best of the Doobie Brothers never leave the changer. During my recent change-0ver, I added the homemade CD of mixed songs (also a Kenny Rogers CD, a Broadway show tunes CD, a CD of Linda Eder).

So recently, on my last road trip to see my brother, I’m listening to these CDs. They aren’t programmed into the slots in a particular order, but the homemade one came on when I was about half-way there. I hadn’t heard these songs in some time – still knew all the words, of course! – and I’d forgotten how many of them I chose to record because there were specific memories attached to them. And maybe because I hadn’t listened to them for so long, I’d forgotten their power of evoking those memories. But they came at me like hurricane winds.

I’m sure that anyone looking at me from other lanes or perhaps in their rearview mirror wondered a little about the crazy lady apparently singing at the top of her lungs and banging on the steering wheel at certain words in certain songs. I was alive and reliving every meaning behind every phrase, but I’m sure I appeared demented.

You know what? I don’t care! It felt good to travel back to visit the times, places and people who inspired me to like those songs. I felt younger as those memories flashed by me, taking me back to those relevant times in my younger life. I reveled in the power of the lyrics as they told a story much like my own at one time in my life. And it also gave me a chance to see how I endured and survived the pain and trauma that some of those times represented.

I’m sure all of us with any appreciation of music have some “old songs” that we relate to because they represent our story in some way. I’m glad I’ve kept this CD. I think it might become the third CD with a permanent place in my CD changer. For all of the emotion and passion listening to it brings, it also serves to remind me that those times were necessary to mold me into who I am today – older, wiser and still able to belt out a tune with all of the lyrics!