At the heart of life is music.
From cavemen rhythmically banging brontosaurus bones against stone walls to high-tech DJs pumping dance-inducing beats through the souls of over-served college kids, music is a force that can penetrate every fiber of our individual beings. It can make us feel euphoria, sadness, inner reflection and, yes, rage.
Lyrics can unite us behind a common cause, separate us over differing opinions, explain feelings of lost love or teach us to “Walk Like an Egyptian.” A song can transport us to a different time and place in an instant, generating smiles or tears at a moment’s notice.
As a kid, my love for music began with the songs played by my parents. I was exposed to the Beatles, Carole King, Bob Dylan and James Taylor by my mother, while getting equal time with the Four Tops, Magnificent Men, Temptations and various jazz musicians from my father.
Many of the songs came equipped with stories from my parents, either on the musicians themselves or memories that popped up from their past with each song. I’ve held on to the music of my folks over the years because, well, they happened to listen to great music, but I also expanded into other genres that interested me individually.
I fell in love, so to speak, with Led Zeppelin, the Who, Van Halen and Kiss, and that time period coincided with my own stage of growing more independent and slightly raucous. I enjoyed noted D.C. musicians Rare Essence and Trouble Funk as I got a little older and watched them perform their singularly-D.C.-styled go-go music in person, while all along growing more and more fond of more mainstream performers like U2, Prince, Bruce Springsteen and, yes, Huey Lewis.
Like many of you, I can basically go back through each chapter in my life and find music to build that soundtrack. I can’t listen to “Stairway to Heaven” without thinking back to middle-school dances, sweat beading on my brow while I made the “Walk of Horrors” across a gymnasium floor to clumsily ask a pretty girl to dance awkwardly with me for a few minutes while I struggled to find air.
I hear “Paul Revere” by the Beastie Boys and think of eight guys crammed into one car on a Friday night, combining our coins into one pile to see just how much fun we can have that night, and Nirvana will always be the music we played in the production room at our newspaper in San Jose, Calif., while we put the paper together against near-impossible odds each and every deadline.
I saw Lyle Lovett on television a few months ago, and instantly became mentally transported to a beautiful night under the stars at the Freeman Stage last summer, and “All About that Bass” by Meghan Trainor will always be that song that was on top of the billboards when my daughter was born in November 2014.
Which brings me to my next point...
You know how you sometimes get a song in your head and can’t get rid of it no matter what you do? Sometimes it’s a jingle from a commercial or the theme of a television show or a song you heard piping through the speakers at the grocery store. Regardless of how that song got in your head, it takes root and there’s just no getting it out of there.
I once had “Dear Mama” by Tupac Shakur stuck in my head for three days when I lived in California. That pesky earworm appeared while I was at work, out with my friends or just lying in bed. Nearly drove me mad, and caused me to not listen to it for almost a year.
This past weekend, it was an alphabet song in a Leapfrog movie.
For background purposes in telling this story, let me start out by saying my daughter has the attention span of a hyperactive piece of lint with attention deficit disorder. We will put on a Pixar movie or Daniel Tiger episode, and you would think the U.S. just won Olympic gold in hockey by her celebration dance. Three minutes later, she is hanging upside down from a chair with a stuffed animal in her teeth and my wife and I are diving across the room to catch her with “Toy Story 3” playing background music to our follies.
But not this Leapfrog movie. No, this one commands her full attention. It has been her favorite movie since she was about 4 months old, and watching it more than 27 million times has done nothing to dull the thrill for her. When it ends, she stands and claps, looking back at us to make sure we are paying it the same respect.
Then that little finger points at the screen, and a soft little voice forcefully announces, “Again.”
But Sunday I found myself outside on a beautiful day, grilling up some steaks, singing softly, “The ‘S’ says ‘sssss,’ the ‘S’ says ‘sssss...’ And I wept. Then I found “Dear Mama” on my iPhone and tried that. Nope. The alphabet song won out.
So, I guess this stage of my life has a new soundtrack. And, as agonizing as it sounds, that’s alright, too.