“We’ve got roots/Music my rock/In the storm that life blows/It’s the anchor that holds/Play me some roots/Music my rock/In the storm that life blows/It’s the shelter I know” – Bedouin Soundclash, “Music My Rock”
I woke up the other day feeling like I had been hit by a train. No, it wasn’t a hangover. I don’t do that anymore. Haven’t dealt with that in 30 years, to tell the truth. Wish it was because of some kind of partying the night before but, no, it was just being 51 and dealing with osteoarthritis in my hips. Me and Sleep are not the best of friends these days. We used to get along so well together but recently there has been a noticeable rift in our relationship.
I had the day off which should be great but knowing I had errands to run and feeling like poo-poo on a shingle, it didn’t seem all that great. I hopped in my car to head across the city and, as I so often do, found solace almost instantly in music.
We live in an age where many people listen to music in their cars, while they’re on the bus, standing in lines, going for walks, operating heavy machinery, etc. I’m not sure of the percentages but I’d have to think most of those people are listening to their music, that is, the stuff they put on their device, their playlists, their choices. I believe I am probably in the minority in that I really enjoy surfing the radio dial when I drive. I am well aware that this is seen as an old fashioned form of listening to music. I am also aware (painfully aware) that a lot of radio just flat out stinks to infinity and beyond. Trust me, I am a major whiner when it comes to radio, pining for real DJs who spin music for discerning ears, not at the behest of a corporation and/or a set playlist and/or a good-music deaf public. However, I still love a good radio journey during my journeys (as long as they’re not playing any Journey).
There is something about going from radio station to radio station, seeking those surprises, those familiar things, those tunes or lines from a song that bring things to mind or cause you to think about something you didn’t expect. Some songs bring me to another time and place, help me remember people and events. Some songs just make me feel good. Other songs challenge me and wake up my spirit and brain. Certainly, I could get this from my own playlist but to allow myself to be in a place that is open to serendipity is so much more rewarding.
On this most recent journey I decided to make a mental note of the songs I heard, the places on the radio dial I stopped and listened, either to the entire song or just catching a part of it. In no particular order (because my mental notes are never that orderly) my drive was something like this…
K-Os – “Sunday Morning”… Toronto rock-n-hip-hopper who I introduced to my family a decade ago… Memories came back of taking my family to see K-Os at the opening of Winterlude in February here in Ottawa, standing in the freezing cold and blowing snow in the bleachers with my son who must have been only 10 or 11 at the time, seeing my wife and daughter on the floor nearer the stage, huddled with everyone else looking like “March of the Penguins”, fearing that my son was getting too cold, offering to take him inside to warm up and having him say with chattering teeth, “No! Then I’ll miss K-Os!”
Robbie Robertson – “Showdown at Big Sky”… More Canadian content, this time the songwriting mastermind behind the Band and his late 80’s self-titled debut which blew me away, it is the soundtrack to my art school days as strains of this song bring me back to the painting studio, to my cassette tape player and Robbie accompanying my creativity in that space of such great memories, where I asked my wife out for the very first time, where I hung out with like-minded crazy people creating crazy stuff…
CCR – “Born on the Bayou”… At 17 years old I lived in Cambridge, England for a semester as my dad went to Cambridge University on sabbatical, there I had two cassette tapes to my name – TWO – one was Workingman’s Dead by the Grateful Dead, the other a Greatest Hits compilation by CCR, safe to say I got to know that music well… To this day, CCR, of all bands, reminds me of England, the pub across the street, the double-decker buses, cricket on TV and Cadburys Dairy Milk for a special treat… Who’d have thought a song about the Bayou could bring back memories of Britain
Semisonic – “Closing Time”… Part of the soundtrack of my thirties and, as it turns out, a greatly misinterpreted song… It is not, primarily, about a literal closing time – songwriter Dan Wilson wrote the song in anticipation of fatherhood, thinking of that future child of his one day being pushed out of the womb like a bouncer would push someone out of a bar… After I heard that, it has caused me to listen more closely to the lyrics… All I know for sure is the closing line of “Closing Time” is a killer: “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end”
Elton John – “Tiny Dancer”… I grew up on Elton John in that he was a favorite of my older brothers and sisters, being the baby meant absorbing a lot of music along the way… But this song in particular cannot pass my brain without thinking of a pivotal scene in the movie “Almost Famous” when the fictional ’70’s rock band Stillwater, after a horrific falling out, comes together to sing this song as one on their tour bus… A classic music moment in the movies
Nirvana – “The Man Who Stole the World”… I can’t hear any Nirvana without thinking about the fact that Kurt Cobain and I would be about the same age now if he hadn’t been such an asshole and killed himself… His life is tragic and in many ways pathetic and I have always had a soft spot for his messed up genius… Covering a David Bowie song is the last thing I expected of him but it works so damn well and almost comes across as a lament when sung by Kurt. Fitting.
Arcade Fire – “Creature Comforts”… This is a relatively new song from perhaps Canada’s greatest contribution to alternative rock… I don’t dig everything they do but I sure appreciate the experimentation, the intelligence and the wide spectrum of musicality they display… The opening lines of this song tear a hole in my heart, “Some boys hate themselves/Spend their lives resenting their fathers/Some girls hate their bodies/Stand in the mirror and wait for feedback/Saying God, make me famous/If you can’t just make it painless/Just make it painless”… Wow – Anyone who writes like that deserves a listen
The Beatles – “Come Together”… As I’m on my homeward stretch, making my way down my street, the familiar Brit-blues-funk of this song carries me there… I have so many memories wrapped up in the Beatles it is hard to tell one from another but I do remember recorded myself and my college roommate singing over this track like a couple of idiots…
Music makes you stupid, makes you laugh, brings tears and thoughts, comforts and disturbs, peels back the layers of exhaustion to reveal the energy below you didn’t know was there. Music my Rock.