Inspired by a recent piece in Rolling Stone magazine, my good friend Nancy from Midlife Mixtape gathered up a group of friends and asked us to share a mixtape of “the songs that made me.” A dozen of us have chimed in. Bless her for giving us a 10-song maximum or we could go on forever. Here goes mine...
1. Put Another Log on the Fire by Tomball Glaser and the Outlaws If you grew up in Texas in the '70s, your family probably owned a vinyl copy of Wanted: The Outlaws, featuring Waylon and Willie and the boys. Sure, one of the boys was female Jessi Colter, but that always seemed natural to me considering I was raised in a decidedly male-centric household. My favorite song on the album was not the popular My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys but instead a tribute to an obnoxious husband and a wife who has been putting up with crap for too long. My brothers and I memorized every last word: “Now don’t I let you wash the car on Sunday? Don’t I warn you when you’re getting fat? Ain’t I gonna take you fishing with me someday? Well I man can’t love a woman more than that....” This song put old-school country music in my blood and established an affection for honky tonks and rowdy singalongs, which would later come in handy during my college years.
2. Brass Monkey by The Beastie Boys Ahh, that funky monkey. Brass Monkey was the first song that I knew my parents would dislike, and I remember feeling thrilled and liberated at this prospect. (If this is out there, just think what else is!) The song played at our 8th grade cotillion dance, where I was sporting my first-ever strapless dress. I'm pretty sure that dress was glued on to make up for my lack of curves. I did not let this precarious ensemble stop me from following The Beastie Boys’ instructions to “Put your left leg down, your right leg up, tilt your head back, let’s finish the cup.” It still takes more than an uncomfortable outfit to get me off a dance floor.
3. Fall on Me by R.E.M. I’ll try not to get too emotional about this one, but Fall on Me was the beginning of a long and devoted relationship with R.E.M. It’s a relationship that has continued even after their breakup a few years ago. I’ve played this song countless times, but I still get woozy when I hear Stipe’s voice cracking when he sings, “Buy the sky and sell the sky / And bleed the sky and tell the sky...” This song (and many other cryptic R.E.M. classics that followed) taught me that I don’t need to know what the lyrics mean to love a song. Sometimes poetry is meant to be felt more than translated.
4. Supernova by Liz Phair Liz is such a badass. That’s my assessment of Ms. Phair...and at one point in my life was also my personal mantra whenever I felt vulnerable. Supernova was a vital part of my soundtrack during the unencumbered, action-packed years that were post-college and pre-mortgage. That time was all about dancing in various apartments or bars, climbing mountain peaks, skiing through trees, and taking spontaneous road trips. For a few brilliant years, my only goal was to build up my invincibility. Thank God nobody told me that supernovas shine brightest when they eventually explode.
5. Misunderstood by Wilco The start of another long, intense band crush began with this song and I can hardly believe it, but I was only 25 years old at the time. I was trying to become an adult and was having all kinds of (laughable, but totally real!) quarter-life crises. Was I really misunderstood or just uninspired by my desk job? Who can say, but wow, this 6-minute-long riff gave me plenty of time to reflect on it. Over and over again.
6. Mary by Patty Griffin A few years before I became a mom, I was at a Ben Harper concert under a canopy of lighted oak trees. During his encore he invited Patty Griffin on stage and the two sang what I consider the most gorgeous tribute to motherhood ever. Perhaps they sat on stools. It was likely acoustic. I don’t recall exactly. What I remember for certain were the goosebumps and the surprising tears and the definite knowing I felt in my gut. Knowing that at some point in my life I wanted to feel what she was singing. My own mother was battling a decades-long illness and it had complicated and hurt our relationship in so many ways. In spite of that, motherhood never scared me. I was determined to someday join that raw and beautiful tribe of women.
7. Sigh No More by Mumford and Sons Sigh No More arrived in my life during a year of heavy loss and deep reflection. My mom was in hospice care and I spent months shuttling back and forth from Austin to Dallas to be with her, leaving behind my three young kids and husband. Depending on the day or the moment or the way the wind was blowing, the lyrics brought either comfort or angry tears. Both responses seemed necessary and acceptable at the time. I was trying to take care of so many hearts, so many loved ones. Just trying to hang on...not to hope so much as peace. Four years later, I still find myself working on the peace part.
8. Here Comes the Sun by The Beatles How many times did I hear this song before it made me? It has always been a favorite Beatles song, but it took decades of listening before it really sank its claws into me. Decades, because that’s how long it took for me to have three kids buckled into the backseat of my car singing “Little darling, the smile’s returning to the faces....” Before I knew it, one child picked the song to study for his 4th grade poetry project. And then another sat at a grand piano and played it in front of a large crowd, singing every lovely note with confidence. George Harrison did it pretty well, but he never quite sounded this sweet. May life always feel as simple as "sun, sun, sun...here it comes."
9. Salvation Song by The Avett Brothers This song reminds me that we’re all just doing the best we can. This world is not for sissies. Sometimes just building a life, raising a family, and keeping your chin up and your spirit buoyant--sometimes that can be the hardest part. But there’s grace in this steady work and beauty in the dedication it requires. All I know how to do is try to find something to smile about every single day. To look for small joys and keep my eye on the prize: “We came for salvation / We came for family / We came for all that's good that's how we'll walk away.”
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But wait, there's more! Check out the songs that my friends shared...
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