it's always that one song that gets to you. You can hide, but the song comes to find you

Have you ever gone through one of those periods where all roads seem to lead to the same damn thing? And no matter how hard you try, you keep coming back to something? And it's almost as if you're meant to deal with it, somehow, whether or not you want to?

I've recently become FB friends with a high school classmate. We were ... classmates, really, not "friends" per se. I don't recall doing much together outside of school, though I always liked her. It doesn't seem intentional, just that we moved in different circles. Our associations primarily overlapped by way of my best friend at the time, who happened to be her cousin, and a guy that I dated for a while during that period, who happened to be her brother.

Getting to know her again has, quite separate from anything that either of us have done or said, brought a lot of that back into my mind. That old best friend, with whom I have not been in contact for several years after a conscious decision to no longer have a relationship. The former boyfriend, for whom I still have lots of feelings, few of which can be easily identified or explained.

And when I was settling in to write this post, which has been stewing in my brain for some time, the phrase 'everything old is new again'--in the sense of bonsai plants, which are literally broken out of their old pots so that those pots can be reused as drainage material in the plants' new containers--came to mind. Why do I know anything at all about bonsai plants? Because, in my college speech class, lo those many years ago, one of my classmates (on summer loan from wherever he really went to school) did a demonstration speech on replanting a bonsai. And guess who he was? Oh, yeah: that FB friend's other brother.

The meaning of all this is not so much the FB friend or her brothers or my strange brain and its roots in the past. I've been wanting to write a playlist of my life, and this is the first volume to that effect.

Love Song for a Savior by Jars of Clay
My former physical therapist, who had wonderful taste in music but wasn't terribly, um, intuitive? Let's say? put this song on a mix CD for his girlfriend at the time. (He called it "I Want to Fall in Love with You" on the track list.) He gave me a copy of the CD when it was done, because he was very proud of his efforts and the whole thing was awesome anyway. After I'd listened to it a few times, I asked him why he put this song on there. He was like, "Duh! It's about falling in love."
"Um, no. It's about loving JESUS."
"Have you ever really listened to the lyrics?"
He's more than the laughter or the stars in the heavens
As close a heartbeat or a song on our lips
Someday we'll trust Him and learn how to see Him
Someday He'll call us and we will come running
and fall in His arms and the tears will fall down and we'll pray,
I want to fall in love with You

I still can't hear the song without Laughing. Out. Loud. And missing him somethin' fierce.

Galileo by Indigo Girls
It was that same fella, above, who made a mix CD for me with the song "Galileo" on it, which I had never heard before. I don't know what it is about the song, but there is something in the combination of exuberance and harmony, searching and earnestness, sweetness and clarity, that makes me want to cry, and sing, and dance, all at once.
How long till my soul gets it right?
Can any human being ever reach that kind of light?

I love this song, on some level beyond "I like the way the music sounds and the way the words work together." Part of it is where I found it, and part of it is what it does to me, still, just like it did the very first time that I heard it.

See a Little Light by Bob Mould
This one came to me in high school. Some of my friends were cool before cool was even cool, and on the weekends and holidays they used to go up to the Cities to hang out at First Ave. and shop at (the original) Ragstock, and do all sorts of things that I was far too provincial to even bother with explaining. Somewhere in there, though, I got a second-hand taste of the best new thing (which of course wasn't really new, but it was new to me): Bob Mould, guitarist of Hüsker Dü fame, freshly gone solo. This was the first song that I heard.

It's not about individual lyrics with this one, but how the whole thing works together. When read, the lyrics sound a little sad and regretful. Without the voice, the song just tears it up. Put it all together and it's like an alt. rock nightmare about lost love. What could be better?

Downtime by Jo Dee Messina
When you've been through the worst time of your life, and you know that you led yourself right to it, there isn't much that can pull you out except yourself. Family and friends mean well. No, that's not quite it; they Mean Well. They try to do what they can, but they're undoubtedly perplexed by your behavior and choices, they want to pick you up by the ears and shake you, and at the same time they want to wrap you in bubble-wrap and protect you from any further hurt. It's an awful feeling, feeling awful on your own and at the same time knowing the people you care about are going through that because of what you've chosen for yourself.
Oh, I've been on this road a time or two, it's nothing new
I'll get on my feet and over you
I tell myself that everything will be just fine
I'm just going through a little down-time

This song gets it--really. In the spirit of coming back from a bad breakup, it always doggedly reminds me that it's all right to dig in and protect my spirit ... for a while. But that the point of it is to heal it up and be part of the world.

She Will Be Loved by Maroon 5
I'm not a huge Maroon 5 fan, but this song strikes me as both sweet and sad. It reminds me of my high school boyfriend. The affection was there, and the interest and desire, but we never quite seemed to have the rest of it worked out right. He was always being pulled in one direction, by another girl or his friends or whatever else he had going on (school, home, sports), and I was pulled in another direction by the equivalent forces in my own realm. When we did manage to get it together, we were good for each other, but it never managed to last long.
He was always there to help her
She always belonged to someone else
It's not always rainbows and butterflies
It's compromise that moves us along, yeah
My heart is full and my door's always open
You come anytime you want, yeah.
Know all of the things that make you who you are

Why do some people move in and out of your life like a sylph, seemingly affecting you in a big way but managing to get away without leaving much memory behind? Why do others, without much fanfare or drama, leave a hollow place that seems to only get deeper and deeper over time? I still miss him.

Late for the Sky by Jackson Browne
I went for years without 'getting' Jackson Browne, and then one day I heard "Late for the Sky" in the right way at the right time, in the right mood, and I suddenly got him. I mean, I'm sure there's loads that I don't even start to get yet, but this song really...wow. It encapsulates the futility of working hard to make a relationship keep going, against its own will.
How long have I been dreaming I could make it right?
If I closed my eyes, and tried with all my might,
To be the one you need?

"Giving up" is an awful feeling, but staying still is worse. Having done both of those things, I can say that unequivocally. This bittersweet song takes me right back to those feelings, and knowing that I made the right choices.

Clean Breaks by Dashboard Confessional
Pretty much every song that Dashboard ever released, I liked. Not just the singles, but the whole darned catalog. The only thing I'm not wild about is the description of it as "emo." Really??

"Clean Breaks," however, is the song that resonates with me the most (and which brings this whole post back to the busted-up bonsai pot so nicely, too). It tells the universal story of the affirmations that one makes to oneself: I DO believe in clean breaks. I CAN leave this behind. And then, when one least expects it, when one thinks one has it all locked down:
I was lying when I said ...
'I believe
in clean breaks'

Yeah, I've lived this. And I love the song, carrying me through it.

[the title quotation is by Rob Sheffield, from Love is a Mix Tape]


  1. An interesting read. In all the time I've known you, since the very beginning both Jackson Browne and Indigo Girls were playing in my car and on my stereo, yet it never found its way to you. JB was great friends and a collaborator with Warren Zevon, both amazing writers that I love. Late for the Sky has always been a huge person favorite. Indigo Girls as well, via Tony originally. I would think "And as the bombshells of my daily fears explode, I try to trace them to my youth" resonates well with this theme.

    1. Have we ever been in a car together? And was there a stereo in that basement? I believe that there was in that brick house on Franklin....

      Rather than wondering why I didn't know of your fondness for these before, I think we should marvel at the lovely and meaningful parallels that our lives have taken. It makes me wonder what other shared affections we might have.