Dreams really do come true. Keep dreaming!
If someone wanted to make a movie of your life (it could happen) and they needed to select songs for the soundtrack, what songs would they choose? What songs would you choose?
Throughout the different ages and stages and life experiences, music has played a significant role in my life. In some cases it’s been the music or a song that helped cement a specific memory or moment. All it takes is for some random or unexpected song to play on the radio and a flood of memories comes rushing over me, instantly transporting me back to a moment in time.
I’ve been noodling this soundtrack idea for a year of months now and it has been a truly meaningful experience to gather and reminisce and listen to so many of these songs. Although it’s an ever evolving and expanding list, as of today, here is the soundtrack of my life.
Somewhere around the age of five or Kindergarten, my two favorite songs were; THIS OLD MAN and PLAYMATE, COME OUT AND PLAY WITH ME (…and bring your dollies three, climb up my apple tree, slide down my rain barrel…). When I hear or think of these two songs, I’m about three feet tall and still need to hold someone’s hand as I walk down the sidewalk or the alley; and as large as the world is around me, I’m only aware of my safe little corner of it.
I remember the warm and safe feelings I felt listening to my parents sing and watching them dance together in the kitchen to I DREAMED (…that at my coronation, I shocked every foreign nation, giving up my throne to marry you…) or GOOD NIGHT IRENE.
I was nine years old when I danced my first dance with a man at a wedding. The dance was a POLKA. The man was my grandfather. The wedding was my sister’s. Grandpa instructed me to stand on his shoes and then he expertly whisked me around the wooden dance floor to the oomm papa beat. I don’t remember the name of the polka, but to this day hearing just about any polka music makes me nine again.
Having older sisters who played their favorite songs on their record player, spinning their many vinyl 45’s or albums again and again, I easily learned and can still sing an amazing number of songs from the 60’s and 70’s. I remember singing along to MRS. BROWN YOU’VE GOT A LOVELY DAUGHTER (at a high school assembly for my sister Barb’s homecoming, the words got changed to MRS. SPENCE) or JOHNNY ANGEL sung by Shelley Fabares or watching Ricky Nelson on our black and white TV with his dreamy and slowly blinking eyes singing TRAVELING MAN. Later every song on the Best of the Bee Gees album would be savored and enjoyed until it was almost worn out.
In junior high, I listened to and fell in love with The Cowsills and PLEASE MR. POSTMAN. I even imagined the possibility of marrying Barry Cowsill one day (I’m shaking my head too). During the summer of 1969 when Woodstock was making the news and men were landing on the moon, my parents and the five youngest siblings (me included) took a vacation to Yellowstone National Park and the Black Hills of South Dakota. Every time I hear QUENTIN’S THEME, I’m riding in the back seat of our Bonneville Pontiac sandwiched between those siblings with our aunt and uncle’s trailer following behind.
Around this same time one of my sisters accused me of liking bubble gum music, only I didn’t know what that meant. When I found out, I realized it was true, but I didn’t care. Although I do vividly remember getting in trouble with my mom for singing the bubble gum song by the Archies, YUMMY, YUMMY, YUMMY (I got love in my tummy…). When I asked her why, she told me to never mind and admonished me to never let her hear me singing it again. She didn’t.
Our family sang a lot. We sang in the car heading to our grandparents’ house and we sang waiting to open Christmas gifts. My sisters and I even sang while doing the dishes after supper. CALIFORNIA DREAMIN was one of the songs my sister Penny and I sang when it was our turn to do dishes together. Personally, I think our duet version might have even rivaled The Mamas & The Papas. I’m just saying.
My mother died when I was 12 and to this day I can’t hear LARA’S THEME (Somewhere my love…) from Dr. Zhivago without thinking of her. It was one of her favorite songs.
In high school, I fell in love with music by Carole King, Cat Stevens, Jim Croce, John Denver, and Simon & Garfunkel. I listened to Nilsson Schmilsson’s THE MOONBEAM SONG so many times on my record player that when the album started to skip, I sang the song with a skip in it. Regardless of the weather, Gordon Lightfoot’s RAINY DAY PEOPLE still gets me choked up. And the folk songs and musical genius of John McCutcheon brings me back to his singing at the Sunday morning guitar Masses at our church. As we left church, my dad and siblings and I couldn’t help singing the whole way home.
I sang soprano in the Concert Choir at Wausau West High School and in my sophomore year we made an album. I still remember the plethora of songs we sang for choir concerts and tours. We sang in our class room and on buses going places and at competitions and even at some of our years later class reunions. One favorite memory is when a group of us choir kids drove up to Rib Mountain in Wausau late one night. After climbing the 60-foot observation tower, we belted out songs, singing at the top of our lungs in beautiful harmony, giving a concert to the stars and moon and the sleeping valley below. At graduation we sang, YOU’LL NEVER WALK ALONE (When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high and don’t be afraid of the dark…). The words have been a source of comfort and a gentle reminder all these years since then.
When Janis Ian sang AT SEVENTEEN, I was eighteen and with every word she was singing to me.
Hearing Dan Fogelberg sing LONGER has me back in college dancing at a dorm formal in a lovely borrowed dress with a certain special guy named Jim. And AULD LANG SYNE always and forever brings tears to my eyes and makes me think of Julie, my dear friend and favorite college roommate. It was also Julie who loaned me the dress for the formal.
Almost any ABBA song can get me dancing in my seat or singing enthusiastically along. I saw them in concert in Milwaukee in 1979 and hearing them sing I HAVE A DREAM and THANK YOU FOR THE MUSIC was a pinch-me moment.
Lionel Richie serenaded me on dance floors and Friday nights at home with STUCK ON YOU and DANCING ON THE CEILING far too many times to count. I remember some of my sweet nieces who absolutely loved these songs too.
When my husband and I were dating, we took Air Supply along for the ride. LOST IN LOVE and I’M ALL OUT OF LOVE were just a couple of our favorites.
Later on our wedding day, I walked down the aisle to CANON IN D. For our outdoor beer garden reception, we had carefully picked out all the songs we wanted and didn’t want the band to play. The one song firmly on the do not play list was PROUD MARY. Not only did the band show up late, they somehow forgot what we’d asked and played that song anyway. Almost on cue thousands of biting mosquitoes descended and broke up our reception hours before it was supposed to end. I can still picture in my mind most of our guests swatting the mosquitoes away as they said their hasty goodbyes.
Fast forward four years when we were expecting our daughter. My husband and I took turns highlighting names we loved in a book containing 3,000 plus baby names. When the pink and yellow highlighting overlapped and made the color orange over the names Clair and Hilary, with book still in hand and the radio playing, we heard the song CLAIR by Gilbert O’Sullivan immediately followed by Elton John’s DANIEL. Let’s just say, the rest is history.
The first song I ever sang to my baby daughter was WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD. A whisper of months later, when she took her first tentative steps, the song EVERY LITTLE THING SHE DOES IS MAGIC by The Police was playing and the words seemed to echo what my heart was feeling.
About a year later, as I struggled to tackle the unchartered course of single parenting, my daughter’s favorite song to request at bedtime was appropriately, BE NOT AFRAID. Not surprisingly, it often soothed both of our fears.
As the years passed and when my daughter was in elementary and middle school, the music of The Spice Girls and Britney Spears (the early years) and Avril Lavigne was often heard on our car radio as we took morning drives by the lake before school and work. Sometimes we drove around the block a second time to be able to hear the end of SPICE UP YOUR LIFE or BABY ONE MORE TIME or COMPLICATED. Watching the Gilmore Girls, we shared a mutual love of Carole King, and WHERE YOU LEAD became our special song.
Whenever I hear U2 sing STILL HAVEN’T FOUND WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR, I’m back at my aunt’s house in Dublin with my daughter and we’re listening to their Croke Park concert through the open bedroom windows the night before we headed home.
As the years transpired, my daughter often introduced me to different artists or favorite songs. I think of her in college when I hear Colbie Caillat sing BUBBLY or Adele sing CHASING PAVEMENTS or John Mayer sing DAUGHTERS. And when I hear the Lumineers sing HO HEY or Andy Williams sing MOON RIVER I’m brought back to a magical day a few Septembers ago when she became a bride and I won the son-in-law lottery.
During the months while I tweaked the words and sketched the illustrations for my book, The House that Wanted a Family, I listened to YELLOW and other songs by Coldplay, but it was UNWRITTEN by Natasha Beddingfield that became my theme song.
If I ever marry again, I imagine Bonnie Rait’s FEELS LIKE HOME TO ME will help tell the world my story. It’s a hauntingly beautiful song that could easily make me a bit weepy. Another song I’ve listened to hundreds of times and I continue to love it the same with every playing is, MY CUP RUNNETH OVER by Ed Ames. I encourage you to find them both online along with a few moments of quiet and listen to the words.
There’s no rhyme or reason or magic formula on what makes a song work its way into our DNA and become part of us and our story. I just know for me,
Sometimes it’s been the words.
Sometimes it’s been the music.
Sometimes it’s been the singer or the band.
Sometimes it was just the moment.
And sometimes, it was the whole wonderfully wrapped up package that made a song become one of the chosen ones on this, the soundtrack of my life.