Closing Credits

What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-by. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.
– from On the Road, by Jack Kerouac

Today’s Writing Group prompt: Which 5 songs would you like played at your funeral and why?

This was my contribution to the list of prompts.  I’m not sure why I came up with it, but I’ve been thinking about it since I submitted it.  Here’s what I’ve got:

1. Wonder, by Natalie Merchant

Yes, I used this in the theme song post, but there you go – if you talked to people who knew me during a particular period of my life, they’d tell you that this song is mine.  I want it sing me out.

2. Seasons of Love, by the cast of Rent

This song, man.  The lyrics are gorgeous, and the music just gives me chills.

3. Angel, by Sarah McLachlan

I know what this song is about, but I don’t care.  I think it’s beautiful, and I find it so comforting.  I’d hope others would as well.

4. If I Should Fall Behind, by Bruce Springsteen

For David.

We swore we’d travel, darlin’, side by side
We’d help each other stay in stride
But each lover’s steps fall so differently
But I’ll wait for you
And if I should fall behind
Wait for me

5. All Good Things, by Jackson Brown

And I want you to remember/All wild deeds live on/All good times/All good friends

Indeed.

Wonder

“And I thought about how many people have loved those songs. And how many people got through a lot of bad times because of those songs. And how many people enjoyed good times with those songs. And how much those songs really mean. I think it would be great to have written one of those songs. I bet if I wrote one of them, I would be very proud. I hope the people who wrote those songs are happy. I hope they feel it’s enough. I really do because they’ve made me happy. And I’m only one person.”
–from The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

Today’s Writing Group prompt:  What’s your theme song?

This is super easy for me:

I have loved this song since it came out, and it’s long been my signature song at karaoke.  I wish I had more time to get into it right now, but today’s a busy day for me.  My apologies.  Here are the lyrics:

Wonder
Doctors have come from distant cities
Just to see me
Stand over my bed
Disbelieving what they’re seeing

They say I must be one of the wonders
Of god’s own creation
And as far as they can see they can offer
No explanation

Newspapers ask intimate questions
Want confessions
They reach into my head
To steal the glory of my story

They say I must be one of the wonders
Of god’s own creation
And as far as they can see they can offer
No explanation

Oh, I believe
Fate smiled and destiny
Laughed as she came to my cradle
Know this child will be able
Laughed as my body she lifted
Know this child will be gifted
With love, with patience, and with faith
She’ll make her way

People see me
I’m a challenge to your balance
I’m over your heads
I, I confound you and astound you, too
Oh,  I must be one of the wonders
Of god’s own creation
And as far as you can see you can offer me
No explanation

Oh, I believe
Fate smiled and destiny
Laughed as she came to my cradle
Know this child will be able
Laughed as she came to my mother
Know this child will not suffer
Laughed as my body she lifted
Know this child will be gifted
With love, with patience, and with faith
She’ll make her way

Memory

Some people remember the first time
Some can’t forget the last
Some just select what they want to
from the past
– Mary Chapin Carpenter, Come On Come On

Today’s Writing Group prompt: Write about Memory.  Something you have experienced that you wish you remembered in greater or more clear detail?  Something that makes you doubt your own memory of an event as accurate?  Something you’d prefer to forget? Memory.

We got this prompt a couple of days ago and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.  There are lots of things I wish I remembered better; I envy my older brother’s better memory of events that happened when we were young; and there are a few things I wish I could forget.  But what I was thinking about most with respect to memory is music.

In my younger years – high school, college, shortly after – I fancied myself a bit of a poet.  My “early” work stinks, straight up.  But one of the last poems I wrote, in April 1999, goes like this:

Just Music
The thing about a song
is that it’s just music
until –
until it attaches itself to you
and becomes yours.

Which is not to say
that it never becomes anyone else’s,
only that it will never be
anyone else’s
in quite the same way
that it is yours.

And each time you hear it,
you are reminded
of how it became yours –
how a boy you loved
once told you that this song
made him cry.

And how you found that admission
so inexplicably special
that this song,
about the power of first love,
has since been, is,
and forever will be,
for you at least,
connected to that boy
(now a man, whom you still love)
in a way
that’s almost enough
to break your heart
in the first two measures.

I really love that.  I’ve been surrounded by music my whole life (well, my whole life up until almost 11 years ago), and so there are certain songs that I only need to hear the opening notes of before I’m spun back into the past, tumbling down a rabbit hole of remembrance and nostalgia.  Like so:

All For You, by Sister Hazel: This is The Power Hour song, according to my brother, Nate.  When he and Andre were roommates and we’d have get-togethers at their apartment, this song in the CD player meant you got your shot glass and beer ready.  The single opening guitar chord never fails to put me back in that place.

Everything I Own, by ‘NSYNC: My best friend Aimee and I were unabashed ‘NSYNC fans in the late ’90s and early 2000s.  This song, off their debut album, is a remake of a Bread song (which I’ve never heard; the only Bread song I know is “If”) and was never released as a single.  It is amazing, though.  The best part?  Lance Bass – Aimee’s fave, who never, ever got to sing lead – gets a spoken word interlude: “You know, baby, my love for you will always stay true. That’s right, [chuckle], ’cause there is no me without you.”  Aimee and I would listen to the CD driving around Richmond and whenever this song came up, always, without fail, we’d speak Lance’s part together, chuckle and all, and turn and point at each other on “without you.”  And then we’d crack up.  Whenever I hear this song now, I can see us, shiny and happy in our early 20s, tooling around town without a care in the world.

Mr. Jones, by The Counting Crows: This album came out my freshman year in college and this song was everywhere.  When I studied in Spain my junior year, they played it in a club one night.  I remember so clearly standing on the steps up to the DJ’s booth singing my heart out and locking eyes with a Spanish guy 20 feet away also singing his heart out – he smiled the biggest smile and gave me a thumbs up, like “I can’t believe you know this song, too!”

All Along the Watchtower, by Jimi Hendrix: I lost my hearing in April 2002.  When I visited my parents the Christmas before, my dad called me downstairs one night after my mom had gone to bed (I think Nate must not have been there yet).  He put a tape in the stereo and pushed play.  It was a recording of him playing guitar and singing this song.  I’m so lucky that he shared that with me when he did.

Bed of Roses, by Bon Jovi: In college, I had two best friends, both named Jess.  Big Jess (who was 6’1″) was in my a cappella group, which is how we became friends.  Little Jess and Big Jess were best friends from home and roommates at school.  Little Jess always felt a little intimidated when we would go to karaoke because Big Jess and I would get up over and over and sing our hearts out because we knew what we had.  Little Jess always thought she sucked – she never sang in groups or anything, although she loved music – so she’d never sing with us.  Once I went home with them over a break and we were at a bar and this song came on.  Big Jess and I started singing along in harmony, just at our table, and all of a sudden, Little Jess joined in, finding a harmony right in the middle.  And she was perfect.  I’ll never forget that.

The Hard Way, by Mary Chapin Carpenter: When I was sixteen, I was driving with my mom in the car when this song came on the radio.  After it played a bit, she said, “I like this arrangement.”  I laughed and said, “I bet you do.  I’d like a chauffeur, too.”  Turns out she meant the musical arrangement!

These Are Days, by The 10,000 Maniacs: Big Jess and I dueted on this for our a cappella group in college.  Somewhere, there’s a VHS tape of one of our performances.  I’m nearly positive that, if you watched it, you’d see at the end this goofy little dance we always did because we didn’t really know what to do with ourselves after the words were done but the music was still going.  I miss my girl.

As for the song the poem’s about?  Maybe J knows.

You see what’s missing from this list, right?  There’s no song that reminds me of David.  I guess that’s not entirely true.  I mean, we danced our first dance to I Could Not Ask for More, by Edwin McCain, and I have lovely memories of that.  But David and I don’t really share music, since he’s only ever known me since I lost my hearing.  So we picked our wedding song not because it’s something special to us, or because it’s “our song,” – we don’t have one.  We picked it because it’s beautiful and has sweet lyrics (the runner up was When You Say Nothing at All, by Allison Krauss).  As much as I love that song, and as happy as it makes me to hear it when it comes up on my iPod, it’s not really the same as the other kinds of memories that music brings me.  There aren’t moments of our relationship that are defined by music the way so many of my pre-2002 moments are.  We keep our memories in pictures and trinkets, not music.

Pitchy

Through all the notes that sound within the earth’s resplendent dream, one whispered note alone sounds for the secret listener.
– Friedrich Schlegel

I walked into the choir room of the local high school tonight and nearly cried.  It was so like the choir room of my own high school, 100 miles and 18 years away.  The staffed blackboard is now a staffed white board, but the risers, the competition trophies, the hastily scrawled try-out info, the grand piano — they’re all the same.  Girls in matching formal dresses and boys in tuxedos with matching cumberbunds and bow ties smile out from pictures taken at competitions, and in an instant, I’m 15 again at JMU or 16 again at DisneyWorld, taking on the world with my high school choir cohorts.

The tears were also a product of fear and anxiety.  Tonight was the first night of the new county community chorus I’d signed up to take part in, and having not sung in an organized group since before I lost my hearing, I felt no small measure of trepidation.  What if, after all this time, after all this longing to sing in public again, to be a part of a group, I just couldn’t do it? I didn’t know if I could.  I knew I could sing by myself, and even to music, but I had no idea if I could sing as part of a larger group.

It turns out, really, that I can’t.  After introductions and the business aspects of a first meeting of any group, the director organized us by part – sopranos on the left, tenors and basses in the middle, and altos on the right.  Somehow I ended up in the worst possible spot – in the back row of altos with no one to my right  (there were several empty seats between me and where the sopranos began) and no one behind me.  I didn’t say anything.  I had imagined in my head keeping my hearing impairment a secret until some perfect  moment when it would be revealed and everyone would be stunned that I was so fantastic in spite of it.  So I tried. I forged ahead.

The director asked us to sing My Country ‘Tis of Thee.  How long have you known that song?  Your whole life, right?  You can sing it in your sleep, probably.  So can I.  Alone.  But in this group of 50 other people, with the sopranos on my right and the men in front and to my right, I had absolutely no clue what key we were in.  I turned my head to try to hear my fellow altos, but no pitch I tried seemed to match what they were singing.  Three times we did the song, and three times I sang in fits and starts, trying to find my way, and three times I ended the song mouthing the words and fighting back tears.  At the break, I texted David, “This is some kind of disaster.”

I went to the director at the break and explained, through tears, my situation.  I told her I didn’t want to quit, that it was so important to me to be a part of this, to try to get this piece of my life back.  She was very sweet and understanding and moved me to the front row for the last part of rehearsal.  Unfortunately, that didn’t help.  When we started on the music we will be singing this “semester” to perform in November, I was totally lost.  When we did the song by parts, sopranos, then altos, then tenors, then basses, I was ok – mostly – but when we put it all together I was completely floundering.  I tried so, so hard, but I just couldn’t pick my part out of all the noise.  And that’s all it was, too, noise.  And it breaks my heart.

I’m not done trying.  I’ll just have to work harder than the others.  But I can’t say that I don’t long for the days when all of this just came easy to me.  Being in that room transported me back to the scene of so much success for me musically, and finding the present day experience so difficult is just a lot to take in.

Ah, Youth

Smooth ice is paradise for those who dance with expertise.
– Friedrich Nietzsche

Driving home from an appointment this evening, I had the XM radio in David’s car tuned to the 90s station.  After some Goo Goo Dolls, a little Soup Dragons, some Sophie B., what should I hear but . . .

Yeah.  That’s Vanilla Ice.  This song was released in 1990; I was 13.

At 13, I was dying to fit in.  A lot of people I knew at school, who were already into classic rock, hated this song.  I clearly remember repeating one of their derisive comments when this song came up in front someone I was trying to impress: “Oh, all he did was rip off Under Pressure,” I said, trying to sound worldly.  As if I gave a fuck about Queen at 13.  In truth, I loved this song.  I taped it off the radio and spent afternoons in my bedroom with the door closed, playing it over and over, even choreographing a dance routine that I imagined presenting in the talent show at 4-H camp that summer.  It should go without saying that I was not cool at 13.