The Stories That Live In Our Playlists

Oh man. Nothing like a few solid hours of windshield time through some wide-open country with a big, beautiful sky to set your life in perspective.

I’m sure I get my gypsy spirit from my dad; he’s always been a happy wanderer, as well, and now I see that trait blossoming in my daughter, as she hits adulthood in full stride.  

A couple weeks ago, I had the rare occasion to spend a few hours on the road alone—just me and Spotify over the Bluetooth in the car. Ahhh it was grand. 

With tires humming on the blacktop as a random mix of my downloaded music cranked through the vehicle, I wasn’t just driving my CRV down the highway; I was travelling in my own private time machine. 

Two things bring me the strongest associations with memory: smells…and music. In the sweet space of a few bars (the kind with notes, not Captain Morgan) I can be magically transported to a whole other time and life.

Michael Martin Murphy’s Wildfire immediately puts me in a tractor pulling a rod-weeder, turning over the rich black soil of a field in summer fallow. It’s a bygone practice farmer’s don’t do any more—leaving a field fallow for a season, to rest, and allow nutrients to rebuild in the soil, organically. They use chemicals for that now.

Let me hear the words “my immaculate dream” from Come Undone, and I’m fifteen again, bouncing over the rural roads of western Maryland in a school bus, on my way to a high school, from which I will graduate the following year so I can return to Nebraska, and try to reclaim the life I was torn from at thirteen. 

I will go back, listening to Bruce’s Glory Days, and Hungry Like a Wolf by Duran Duran, but there will be nothing of that former life to reclaim, as I discover the girl I had been is long gone.

My very awful stint of being flat-ass broke, in college, and lost beyond all saving—though one professor tried his damnedest—is perfectly resurrected by Mr. Mister’s, Broken Wings. It’s hard to listen to that one all the way through, even today. 

The beautiful voice of Beatriz Adriana takes me back to the little Spanish style casita on Olive Street in Ventura, California where my first marriage began, and our first child was born. I can see, with perfect clarity, the cracks in the linoleum floor of the kitchen I swept daily, and smell the wild anise growing on the hillside at the end of the street, as Beatriz croons out Sigue Sin Mi—making my guts want to bleed in the remembering… how sweet life was, who I had been then, and all that’s come and gone since.

The happy chaos of family gatherings, holidays, and drama like only Hispanic in-laws know how to unleash, is so accurately revived when I hear anything by Los Bukis…or early Shakira.

More recently, it’s been Leonard Cohen, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Patricia Vonne, Civil Wars, Night Wish, Colter Wall, and the old stuff of Willie, Waylon, Johnny and Merle that have seen me through. 

What an immeasurable gift music brings to our lives. And how fabulous that our technology makes it so amazingly accessible. 

It’s always good to stay up with the new stuff—new artists are born and discovered every day. But we mustn't forget the value in checking back with those old tunes that carried us through—when you knew that guy, and really believed you were destined to be together forever; when you took that trip—the one that changed the course of your life; and when you laughed with her that time, over that one thing, til both of you were crying and trying not to pee—just before she got the diagnosis.

It’s a brief journey, really—much shorter for some than others, and we don’t always know which group we’re in. Our time is precious.

Every way that I can—even with my music—I try to stay in tune with that fact.