Music….food for our souls

The first record I remember hearing was James Taylors “Sweet Baby James”.  The vinyl sounded course and dirty.  The lyrics confused my 12-year old brain; I had no idea what love was, or how it felt to lose it.  But the melodies spoke to me. James Taylor had this way of writing about pain and longing, without sounding whiny or….to use the parlance of my particular time: “Lame”.  My parents liked his music, so I was almost forced to listen. I’ve always been glad they were James Taylor fans.

The first album I bought with my own money was the “Days Of Thunder” soundtrack. David Coverdale, Chicago, Guns N’ Roses. I grew up in a sort of racing family, so the film moved me. The soundtrack was silly, and I kind of knew it at the time.  But still, I would crank that sh*t to eleven, and imagine myself behind the wheel of a speeding race car.

Grunge came along in the early 90′s, and my interest in actually making music started to take shape. Filthy guitar tones, front-men shrouded in mystery. Why were they so angry? Where did these vicious sounds and words come from? I wasn’t a particularly angry or disgruntled kid at 14. In fact, I had it pretty easy. (It wasn’t until about 15-16 that I started to get in trouble with the local police and disrupt an already dysfunctional family) But records like Pearl Jam’s “Ten”, and the soundtrack to “Singles” made me listen beyond the melody, and forced me to focus on the lyrics. At that point, I realized that pop music mattered, and that lyrics were so important; a time-stamp of an emotion; of a generation.

In 1993, I heard Counting Crows,”Mr Jones” on the radio, cutting through the static of generic “grunge/Seattle” programming. On the record “August And Everything After”, Adam Duritz poured his heart out with reckless abandon. He sang of longing and insomnia. Of love and love lost. Of finding ones true self. He washed his words in americana, and metaphor of vast panoramas and endless highways. I longed to explore the American landscape, free of parents who didn’t understand me, teachers who couldn’t teach me – and myself, whom I didn’t really know.  The album, “August And Everything After” made me a guitar player, and a songwriter. It made me an artist, and it changed my heart forever. It made me a romantic. It made me truly care about music, and the effect it had on my life. To this day, I regard that record as one of the most important catalysts in my life – not just it’s musical influence, but it’s affect on the way I viewed the world, and how I interacted with it.  Last year, I had the opening chorus of “Rain King” tattooed on my body:  ”I belong in the service of the Queen. I belong anywhere but in between.”  I see these words everyday, and yet their meaning continues to evolve.

This post is about the music that first affected you….the music that you truly adopted as your own. The music that defined you.  What first moved you? What upset your heart and challenged your mind? What defined/shaped your taste for art?  What made you dance and sing and shout and cry – madly and unabashedly?

Sound off…  Because it this little blog has taught me anything, it’s taught me to listen. And I like to listen…

11 thoughts on “Music….food for our souls

  1. Zack

    It’s been 5 minutes, and I already hate the title
    of this post. And I already want to add to the list, and edit the content. There are just too many records and experiences to consider…

    The first time I heard Jeff Buckley’s “Grace”. I wanted to put down the guitar forever…Jeff had pushed the limit
    of songwriting and orginal guitar playing to it’s limit. Who was I to challenge such music?

    The Indigo Girls taught me harmony. TOOL introduced me to complex timing and abstract lyrics. Patty Griffin reminded me that a single verse can break your heart. Steven Kellogg taught me that my priorities and opinions are always changing; that my path is not set in stone. Susan Ashton proved that music about faith can transcend religion. Clem Snide and David Gray provided the soundtrack to my strange and beautiful time in New York. Bob Dylan taught me that a song has a heartbeat, and a life of it’s own; and that the songwriter simply births it into the world, and doesn’t have to answer to it. Dan Bern convinced me not to take anything too seriously.

    The list goes on. It will always change and repeat and evolve. Like us, I suppose.

  2. Leonard

    The music that first made my heart ache and lean forward as if it were going to whisper something else to me was the music born out of the angst of the 60′s and 70′s. Cat Stevens, Peace Train, is a song I will stop and listen to every time it is on. I get all nutted up internally when I hear some of the Mowtown flavor of music that is born out of the cry for freedom and respect… , the folk rock sound of Bob Dylan and Paul Simon always make me pause. I will close my eyes to Taylor and zone out. Must be my era. In the 90′s came the alternative sounds of music that created the same reaction within me. Thanks for pausing to listen.

  3. jc

    Wow….Zack….a side of you I didn’t know. What a well written, deeply felt piece of writing. It’s so interesting to hear you talk about significant songs in your life that deeply affected you and I barely know any of the artists you are speaking about. I mean I may have heard their names once of twice, but couldn’t attribute them to a song.

    For whatever bizarre reason, melody has been the only thing that has ever mattered to me. I have been singing along with records since I was 7 years old. I have been deeply moved by songs…but never lyrics…always the music. To this day I can listen to a song 100 times and not tell you what the lyrics are (my daughters and my wife know the lyrics after 3-5 listens). On the other hand, I can hum the melody back to you almost immediately. Probably says something about what a shallow person I am.

    Anyway, not sure if my songs would hold up to yours in terms of life impact, but I’ll give it a think. Thanks for sharing Zack.

  4. michael

    When I was 12, my Aunt sent me three tapes for my birthday – Thelonious Monk “The Composer”, Take 6, and Wynton Marsalis “Standard Time”. All three are spectacular, but hearing Thelonious Monk for the first time changed my life. Now that I think about, I’ve probably posted about this before …

    Yep. Here is it:

    Thelonious Monk, The Composer

  5. michael

    It strikes me how much of this is just hearing certain music at specific times in our life. If my Aunt had sent me R.E.M.’s “Document” instead, would I have had the same overwhelming reaction, and would I be a totally different person musically?

  6. sharolyn

    Wow, Zack, great post. You, too, Mike (Monk). I don’t know if I can speak as passionately, but I’ll share.

    The first CD I bought was in 8th grade. It was Branford Marsalis’s “Random Abstract”. Before that, I made faces when my brothers listened to and played jazz, but that was the day when I decided I liked it, too. I remember turning off the radio (Lisa Lisa’s “Head to Toe”) and turning on the CD instead. I think that was me deciding I wanted something more out of music. The next year I got to hang out with Branford for about 20 minutes, which was like the coolest-thing-evar. Also, with the late great pianist Kenny Kirkland.

    Kenny Kirkland also toured with Sting, which brings me to the Bring on the Night tour video, which I watched more than a few times. That taught me that music is a business (which was revolutionary to me at that time).

    The Brecker Brothers taught me that music evolves (in this case, earlier jazz to fusion). It is just fun and funky music. Think the music from CHiPs, with every attribute amplified exponentially. So it also taught me that sometimes music should go all out, commit to a genre by a thousand percent. The Brecker Brothers will always be the soundtrack to my brother’s VW Bus.

    This is not to say I didn’t listen to pop music. While I never tried to emulate or dissect it, I “danced, sang, shouted and cried” to Chicago, C & C Music Factory, Spin Doctors, and whatever else bonded me to my friends. Just like my mom will always have a place for Elvis and Ricky Nelson, I will always have a place for the Fly Girls dancing on In Living Color, and think of my awesome senior year of high school.

    Harry Connick Jr. made good old songs new. I love that they gave the soundtrack to “When Harry Met Sally” to a 21 year old.

    Aly introduced me to Joni Mitchell, so raw and unpackaged. That woman cuts through frivolity and makes us all human again. Thanks, Aly.

    I could talk about each James Taylor song, but just mention that in college I felt like he wrote “Like Everyone She Knows” for me. But that’s his magic – everyone feels like he is singing to THEM.

    In the same way (but less known), I had a hard year in 2007 and felt like Kurt Elling’s “She’s Come Undone” was for me. It don’t listen to that song in passing. It’s too profound for me. Isn’t it amazing when writers can do that?

    Nickel Creek surprised me by revealing I can crave Bluegrass. I love the crazy high mandolin and pure voices. I got a whole group of people to go to one of their concerts, and was embarrassed when we got there to find out it was standing only. People took turns hanging out in the lobby. I was pregnant, and stood and danced the whole time (no complaints!) – didn’t want to miss a note.

    So that’s some. I look forward to discovering the rest of your all musical journeys.

  7. june

    I discovered Bruce Cockburn during my college years and his “All the Diamonds” was and is the perfect song to me. The poetic imagery of this simple tune strikes my soul profoundly and to this day, these lyrics come to me often and quickly.I have the notion of doing a series of paintings based on these lyrics. Someday.

  8. Betsy

    The first pop song I remember is Petula Clark’s Downtown. It was so…glamourous, I guess. I definately believed the lyrics on the first hearing, a weird urban kid in the middle of the extremely rural northeast.

    In high school, the Roaches first album as a trio meant the world to me – the harmonies, the wordplay, the idea that weird girls could struggle to fit in, and decide they’d rather not, and survive to adulthood to harmonize about it.

    We first head Kurt Elling on PBS, on a film about the Newport Jazz festival. We went out and bought every cd we could scare up the next day. My husband said: I want to be as good, and as relaxed, at ANYTHING as he is at singing.

    At a terrible, terrible time, on the verge of a great, great time, I would sing along with Kurt and Jon Hendricks every morning in the car on the drive to work. I would put “Don’t Get Scared” on repeat, then let it go on to “goin’ to Chicago” as I pulled into the lot.

    As I write this, it seems like it’s all about lyrics – but it’s the whole experience. Voices, arrangement, melody, the human that comes through.

  9. michael lee

    Music, especially pop music, it at it’s absolute best when everything else gets out of the way and the human connection between singer and audience happens.

Comments are closed.