The Soundtrack of Your Life
May 14, 2021
I love music. Love it. It could be The Beatles White Album, Roy Clark doing a twangy cover of Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues, or getting swept up in the catchy Handclap by Fitz and the Tantrums. Music from 400 years ago or last week can sooth me, excite me and motivate me. I DJ part time and have for 15 years. I have seen music turn an 80 year old grandmother into a Solid Gold dancer and a 5 year old into a whirling dervish of abundant energy. So what about you? Are you someone who lets the music grab you? Do you catch your hand beating on the steering wheel, your foot tapping under the dinner table or lyrics dancing through your head when you are supposed to be concentrating on your latest project? Do you have a soundtrack for your life? If not, let me illustrate 6 kinds of music that should accompany you through this thing called life. I am not speaking of 6 genres, I am speaking of 6 ways that music can illuminate the journey.
Music Type 1- Music That Energizes
I am on a journey, a journey of weight loss and energy gain. For the umpteenth and I emphatically say final time, I am recreating a lifestyle which is sustainable, enjoyable and which will hopefully keep me around a few more decades to accomplish the hundreds of goals on my ever increasing bucket list. 38 years ago I ran my first one mile race at the urging of my middle school track coach. I won, and life over the next several years wasn’t the same. I ran competitively in high school and did very well in many distance events. Kids, this was in the days before the iPod, the iPhone and even the Discman. A couple of the rich kids had the Sony Walkman which played cassettes and became available in the U.S. in 1980. It wasn’t until 1983, my junior year of high school that the cassette tape outsold the vinyl album. The Walkman’s height of popularity wasn’t until 1987 when I was in college. Oh, how much faster I might have run if I could have pumped the Doors Greatest hits through some oversized headphones!
Fast forward to 2017... I am losing weight, I am feeling more energy and I sign up for my first 5k in 3 years. (I did 4 of them in 2014 during my first push for weight loss). The early mornings and after work training sessions at Planet Fitness ( known thankfully as “No Judgment Zones”), were accompanied by music- songs to get me energized and build my stamina to 5k levels. “Bicycle Race” by Queen, “2112” by Rush, “Goin Mobile” by The Who, “Not to Touch the Earth” by The Doors and “Run Like Hell” by Pink Floyd were among my selections. By the morning of the race, I had played that 5k soundtrack until I knew exactly where on song 3 I should be at the one mile mark and I knew that if I reached “Destroyer” by The Kinks that I was beyond
my self-imposed 38 minute race goal. Thankfully, the hard rocking song by Ray Davies and the boys didn’t come on until I was through the finish chute and reaching for the obligatory granola bar and bottle of water. As I reflected on that first “comeback” run and signed up for my next one, I realized how much the music helped- the cadence, the beat, the bass notes matching my shoes pounding pavement. The private world inside my earbuds led me to feel that the sky was the limit.
You too have the potential to reach whatever goals you want to achieve, whether it is a race, a time you want to stay on the bicycle or a weight that was once too daunting and now with the proper music muse in your ears is being lifted on a regular basis. What is that music for you? It can be as simple as typing in “running music” on Spotify or ITunes. It can be your favorite band or a series of songs that have just the tempo you want to keep. I would encourage you to find your “energy music”. See how it uplifts you, how it adds that last missing ingredient to your quest for excellence. Find 20 minutes worth, then 30, and then an hour. Pay attention to it, let the driving guitar be your intense workout, the bridge be your rest period, and let the words soak in. Can you imagine slowing down during “Happy” by Pharrell Williams? Would you stop pumping the pedals during “Good Feeling” by FloRida? I think not. Maybe you are more old school- Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop til You Get Enough” or “Walk This Way” by Aerosmith can keep your heartrate elevated. The key thing is to search, to seek, find what you like, and then change it up. Let your mind get lost in the rhythms and lyrics and before you know it workout number one is done. Day after day, you are gaining momentum and as you know, The Law of Momentum is one of the elements of a successful life.
Music Type 2- Music to relax you
I used to be terrible at relaxing. How terrible you ask? Well, many years ago on a trip to Disneyworld in Orlando, I invited my sister and brother in law to join us for our “vacation”. They had never been to Disney, and I booked them a room on US 192 just a few miles from the park. When they arrived, I told them to rest up because I was picking them up at 6:30am for our trip to the Magic Kingdom. “Why 6:30”, they asked. “Well, I replied, “ the ticket booth opens at 8, you can get as far as the rope by Cinderella’s Castle at 8:30, and when the rope drops at 9am, we take the shortcut between the Frontierland Shooting Gallery and the Saloon and get on to the brand new Splash Mountain without enduring a two hour wait.” They were good sports and in those energetic days before kids we knocked a twelve hour day at the Magic Kingdom out of the park like a Barry Bonds home run. Now before you think I was too regimented, I did allow two or three bathroom breaks in there before rides on Space Mountain and the like. After the park closed at 9pm, I gathered everyone up
and scooted them over to Pleasure Island (now Disney Springs). There, we checked out the Comedy Warehouse, The Adventurers Club and several other offerings. At 2am, we left and I dropped them off at their hotel. I told them they could sleep in until 7am and that we would have breakfast and head to Epcot. A little reluctantly, but still in the Disney spirit, they slept their 4 and ½ hours and were ready in the lobby the next morning. We conquered Epcot and headed back to Pleasure Island to see what additional damage we could do, both to our livers and our overall constitutions. As we headed back to their hotel, again at 2am, I began to lay out the itinerary for day 3, which was Disney MGM Studios. Before the words were out of my mouth, my brother in law, a large Broward County police officer insinuated that if I said 6:30 again, my feet would not be the only part of me with blisters. I guess you get the picture. Vacations for me were always itinerary covered (often in written form) goals to achieve. Years later when I owned a business, I supplemented my break neck pace around the parks with hour long phone calls back to my store while my family (now with two small children) ate lunch. Something had to give.
So how does this all fit in with music? Well, a divorce and several years of soul searching later, I realized that I had to stop and smell the roses. Because of my love for music, I turned to that to sooth the savage beast. I recalled times in college studying for exams when I would play Piano Concertos by Chopin and “Your Latest Trick” by Dire Straits ( from their album Brothers in Arms- the first CD I ever owned in 1985). I discovered a love for cigars and today some of my happiest, most relaxing moments come on my back deck, savoring a Henry Clay Robusto and listening to something relaxing. For me as a classic rock lover, Emerson, Lake and Palmer filled the bill. When I was in a different mood Louis Armstrong or Duke Ellington jazz or a Billie Holiday ballad would do the trick. It is amazing how a little Sinatra or Michael Buble with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon and a Montecristo stogie would bring the pulse rate down and make my eyelids flutter.
You have songs that are probably going through your mind right now; songs that help you get past the 9 to 5 (or 7 to 7 or whatever crazy hours you are currently pulling). It can be of any genre, “Confessions, Pt 2” by Usher can relax the same way as “Space Oddity” by David Bowie can. The important part is to find that music that turns your driven, goal oriented self into replenishment mode. With today’s technology your favorite relaxing music can follow you in to the shower or next to your bubble bath. It can play in your car as you drive to and from work, a commuter tool that unwinds you and balances your work self with your home self. It might not be an everyday thing- but as you self-tune and learn more about yourself (an important part of growth as a human in my humble opinion) you will know when and for how long. It can accompany a healthy meal, a glass of wine or a favorite tea. Treat yourself to the gift of relaxation. I wish I had done so sooner.
Music Type 3- Music that Feeds Your Spirit
Oh, if my spiritual life was just one uphill climb, wouldn’t that be a great story? But it isn’t, as I am sure yours isn’t. Like other lessons in my life, I often had to learn that the hard way. Starts and stops, times when I felt close to my creator and times when I was so far away I doubted everything I had learned. If you don’t have that component of your life, I encourage you to at least seek. Learn and make a decision that comes not only from your head but your heart. I often found that head knowledge came before heart change. You can skip this part if you find yourself saying “ Oh, sorry Hugh, that isn’t for me”, but I would as least encourage you to seek music that speaks to more than just your head and plays in your ears. For me, and you may think this is morbid, I have begun to collect songs that I would love for my family to play upon my passing. Not all of them fall into the “gospel” or “worship” categories, but some do. Casting Crowns, Third Day and Jars of Clay all speak to me on a heart level. They do for me things that are somewhat indescribable; make me realize that I am a small but significant speck in a vast and infinite universe. “A Mighty Fortress is our God” written by Martin Luther sometime between 1527 and 1529 can bring me to tears when played at certain times in my life.
What are your songs? What songs help you to see the world beyond yourself? They don’t have to come from your grandparent’s hymnal, but they might. Learn about a song, why it was written, what hardships or life crisis brought the music and lyrics into being. What songs would you want at your funeral? My great grandfather died in 1986. I was 20 years old. He was from Ireland and as a kid I remember his deep Irish brogue and his green tattoos that had stories which I never learned. I recall his funeral service and although we all knew him as Sam, the officiant kept calling him Samuel. I realized that this pastor, although well meaning, didn’t know my great grandfather. He told some stories that he had gleaned from my mom or from my grandparents, but even at the age of 20, I realized the impersonal nature of the ceremony. I began, even that day, to know that years hence, when it was my turn and I was in that coffin, that I wanted the words to ring true to my family and to leave a legacy as well as nodding heads because they knew, “yes that was my dad, to a tee”. I mention now when I hear a song in church or elsewhere that “that is a funeral song”. It is usually met with a “let’s not talk about that” or “I hope that is a long time from now”. Well, of course, we all do. But the truth is, we will all die and even in death, we can give the gift of music that moves others. “Amazing Grace”, when the words are thought through is an incredible message of hope and thankfulness. Find your songs, find the songs that give you meaning that in a vast sea of indifference, hopelessness, and tragedy that fill our fallen world speak to a greater day, a greater Being and a greater cause than just yourself.
Music Type 4- Music for the Mood
I guess it might seem a little weird to follow up “Music for the Spirit” with “Music for the Mood” but in reality they say love makes the world go around. Jackie DeShannon sang the beautiful lyrics of Hal David and the music of Burt Bacharach “What the World Needs Now is Love Sweet Love” in 1965, and in no time in history is the message of that song more sorely needed. Love is bandied around in songs all over the radio today, from “Love in an Elevator” by Aerosmith to Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love”. In probably every relationship you’ve ever had, there was “that” song, the one you first danced to, heard on your first date or one that just reminded you of the other person when you were apart. Some of these songs are relegated to the dustbin of your memories, drug out when you are listening to some music loop in a clothing store or played on some radio station you’ve scanned past on a road trip. Some of these songs transport you to another time, perhaps a more carefree time in your life or to a younger day before you knew all the world had in store. But what about today? If you are in a relationship now, what music plays in that romance? If you had to put together two hours of music for a candlelight dinner or a quiet evening on the couch, would you be able to? Could you get past the temptation to just play Sade’s Greatest Hits and mix it up a little? Do you know your partner’s musical taste? I must admit, I have put my wife through entire road trips where it is a soundtrack of what I love without regard for her taste (country). I am trying to evolve and make the playlist a little more equal, but I must say, I am a work in progress.
There are some universal love languages. If I say “Let’s Get It On” by Marvin Gaye, most people over 30 will think of that opening twang and opening lyric “I’ve been really trying baby, trying to hold back this feeling for so long”. It is just one of those songs. Gentlemen, let me speak to you for a moment. Could you design an evening of music that would show your woman that she was the most precious person in the world? Could you mix Stevie Wonder’s “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” with Alice Cooper’s “You and Me”? How about writing your own love song and putting it to music. There are apps available to turn your lyrics into music and companies that for a fee will add music to your poems. If that seems daunting, perhaps just going old school and burning a CD of songs that give you the warm, fuzzy feeling for your significant other and slipping it in their car’s player. Whatever the method, music is the soundtrack of your love and sharing that music is part of the process of memory making. Whether you enjoy the subtlety of The Beach Boys “God Only Knows” or the “let’s get to it “message of “Feel Like Making Love” by Bad Company, music paints the picture that you share with your partner.
Ladies, you are by no means off the hook when it comes to music and romance. Do you have a husband or boyfriend that likes a completely different type of music than you do? How about surprising him with tickets- two tickets as in both of you, to his favorite bands next concert? Nothing shows selflessness more than you putting your love of Justin Timberlake on hold for an evening so that you can enjoy the Heavy Metal pounding of Metallica for 3 hours. Share what your favorite music is, listen to a new band together, slow dance in the living room. It can start with something as simple as a Google search for 100 top romantic songs, or 50 greatest love songs. Enjoy them together and if you don’t already have “a song”, get one. One that I recommend to many people and one that I play at almost every wedding reception I DJ is “The Luckiest” by Ben Folds. Consider the last verse:
“Next door there’s an old man who lived to his 90’s and one day passed away in his sleep, And his wife, she stayed for a couple of days and passed away. I’m sorry I know that’s a strange way to tell you that I know we belong, that I know, that I am, I am , I am ….the luckiest”
Look it up, you’ll like it. You may even slow dance in the living room.
Music Type 5- Songs That Help Celebrate the Season
Here in Michigan we have a music station that starts Christmas music on November 1. The plastic Jack-O-Lanterns are still brimming with candy and Wham’s “Last Christmas” is waking people up and sticking inside their minds for the next 60 days. People usually fall into two camps, those who love Christmas music and those that hate Christmas music. I have been in both camps. One year when a relationship ended just weeks before Christmas, the last thing I wanted to hear was “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays”. Normally, however, I am in the “love” camp when it comes to Christmas music. I run the gamut from Thurl Ravencroft’s “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch” to Bing Crosby and David Bowie teaming up on “The Little Drummer Boy”. Everyone today is on the Christmas album bandwagon with offerings in 2017 including Hanson, Cheap Trick and Alabama. Why is Christmas music important? Why should it be important to you?
First of all, Christmas music is tradition. It is estimated that the first Christmas songs were sung in the 4th century. By the 13th century Christmas songs were being sung in many countries. In 1426, a collection of Christmas carols were being sung by carolers in England. By the 1700’s songs such as “Twelve Days of Christmas”, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, and “O, Christmas Tree” were already popular. Charles Dickens mentions “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” in his famous holiday story A
Christmas Carol. It is hard to think of a time when Christmas music was not around. “White Christmas”, written by Irving Berlin and made popular in the 1941 movie Holiday Inn, remains the most popular single of all time, surpassing 50 million sold. Elton John’s tribute to Princess Diana “Goodbye England’s Rose “(Candle in the Wind) is a distant 2nd with 33 million units sold. Make it family tradition to put up the tree and put all the decorations around the house with the soundtrack of Christmas that you design. Get creative, add a few songs each year. Mix traditional favorites with something unusual. Christmas time is the one time you can play Run DMC’s “Christmas Time in Hollis” with Andy Williams “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” back to back. Perhaps a night of caroling around the neighborhood is in order this Christmas, Victorian costumes optional.
Music Type 6- Songs to Teach the Kids
This final music type is music that I consider timeless. When I look at my kids, the gamut runs from Breaking Benjamin to The Beatles to Motley Crue to Beyonce. I don’t think I could have kids with more diverse musical interests. I believe, however, that certain music has achieved the rare air of immortality. My first case in point? “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey. This song, released in 1981 continues to be the final song played at many wedding receptions that I DJ. The circle is formed, the swaying begins, and pretty soon the party people are trying to reach the Steve Perry high notes (Streetlight people….). “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond is a universal sing along song. If I sing “Sweet Caroline… you immediately sing in your mind “Bah, Bah, Bah” “ Good times never seemed so good” ( so good so good so good). You get the point. Whether it is carrying on the family tradition with, well “Family Tradition” by Hank Williams Jr or carrying on the legacy of polka dancing to “Beer Barrel Polka”, there are certain songs you just want the kids to know. Every kid should know a couple of Beatle songs. Start with Ob-la-di Ob-la-da when their young and work your way to some of the other numerous hits from the Fab Four. Maybe stay away from the White Album until they are a little older. How about a little Elvis? I feel that kids should at least know why grandma has a life size Elvis cutout in her bedroom (true story!) The 2002 Disney movie Lilo and Stitch includes 7 songs from “the King”. I find it striking how many older songs are coming out in new commercials, including Apple iPhone using “The Candy Man” from Willy Wonka and All-State Insurance using “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)” by The Pet Shop Boys. The excellent 2014 movie St Vincent Bill Murray breathes new life into Bob Dylan’s “Shelter from the Storm” and the romantic City of Angels is enhanced by the song “Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls. There are many more examples.
When my daughter was 10 or 11 and quite into music, I bought three CDs that I thought she’d enjoy: The Best of Blondie, Hearts Greatest Hits and Tapestry by Carole King. She listened to all three, and although she is today more into Breaking Benjamin, she knows, and I believe appreciates the talent of those artists that performed before she was born. Expose the kids to music and they will grow to allow music to move them. Just a note of warning, however. Turnabout is fair play. You must also escape your comfort zone and listen to the music that they love. It may require getting through Lizzo and Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift, but it shows that you have an open mind and may find yourself with some new favorites.
Music is meant to stimulate you. The six types above are among the many types of music that design the soundtrack of your life. Never in history is music more accessible through Amazon Prime, Spotify or ITunes. If you hear a song playing in a restaurant that you like, but don’t know, the Shazam app can identify the song and even store it for you. There is no reason why you cannot broaden your horizons and listen to music from every era and every generation. About two years ago, I discovered the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery. It lists in chronological order 1001 albums (starting in 1955) that you should listen to. I found an online list of the book’s content on the website listchallenges.com and have steadily listened to over 550 of the albums in their entirety. Were there some that weren’t my cup of tea? Absolutely! But I have repeatedly found songs and artists that I have added to my soundtrack and to my life.
I encourage you to listen. Let the song’s rhythm move you. Let the lyrics take you places. Whether it is for motivation, relaxation, spiritual renewal, romance, holidays or legacy, let the music take you for a ride. I will leave you with a quote from Brazilian lyricist and novelist Paulo Coelho, “ Music isn’t just something that comforts or distracts us, it goes beyond that: It’s an ideology.”