I found so much insight and joy last week from your comments about story.
You captured the galvanizing impact that story has had on people for thousands of years. And you made me think more about all the different kinds of stories that speak to us: memoir, fiction, biography, history.
We all recognize those.
But there’s another kind of story that’s captivating: SONG.
Song can tell a tale like nothing else. A bewitching concoction of story (lyrics) and music (melody). Poetry in motion, urging us to pay attention.
I’m sure you’ve experienced it. You hear a song. Stop what you’re doing. Stillness. A rush of feeling. Perhaps a memory. Maybe even a long forgotten urgency that wants to be remembered.
Or just the opposite: some internal muscle awakens that you didn’t even realize was there. And before you know it there’s a chain reaction of muscles moving and you’re way past the toe-tapping stage. You’re up. Jigging. Twisting. Rocking. Hopping. Tripping the light fantastic.
I happen to believe that song has the capacity to tell us who we are.
Although it may sound a little quirky, I bet you know what I’m talking about. A few (or more) times in your life, along came a song that you were compelled to listen to. Again. And again. Up went the volume, full blast.
You just had to learn the lyrics too. In fact, you couldn’t not learn the lyrics. And if you’re like me, you sang the song. Raised your voice. In your car. The shower. To your lover. Or maybe just for yourself.
These are the songs that possess us.
They hold us tight and won’t let go. Looking back, I realize that those times when I’ve been held tight in the safe arms of a song I was being taught to sing.
Literally and metaphorically.
I was being taught to raise my voice and sing out loud.
I was being taught to raise my voice and claim my deeper story.
My life in song: click to listen to me sing it.
1. Something’s Coming. I was 17. I’d escaped California for a stint at Arizona State. I was living with my dad in an itty-bitty house with a swamp cooler. The upside: the property owners let us swim in their pool, and you could steal away into a broad expanse of desert. That was good, because I needed the space to sing and dance my heart out to this song.
Could be, who knows, there’s something due any day…
If I’d known how to listen then, I’d have realized it was the siren song of the seeker. Telling me I’d always be anticipating that elusive something that was just around the corner. Showing me my curiosity would be both a gift and challenge. And later in life all that seeking would wear me out until I grasped that I needed to turn it inward and find the deeper meaning.
2. Celebrate Me Home. I’ve returned to California and it’s been a few years since my mom died, but I’m still sad. I hear this song on the radio and go out and buy the album immediately (yes, we’re back in the days of vinyl). It comforts me, and I get all warm and cuddly from it. Family, friends, love.
Whenever I find myself too all alone, I can sing me home…
But the deeper message eluded me. Little did I know a few decades later I’d be fascinated by the subject of home, even write about it extensively. The seed was there all along; the song was pointing the way. I just didn’t notice at the time.
3. Corner of the Sky. I’ve taken my leap of faith and landed in a cramped apartment in a Brooklyn brownstone. Dave’s by my side, parceling out subway tokens for the week. There’s a revival of Pippin, and it’s filmed for television. This song captured me like no other. Filled me to bursting. Another seeker song. Enough said.
I’ve got to be where my spirit can run free…
Yes, there was more. The earliest inklings that my life’s work was going to be about helping people to define their dreams, and live with satisfaction, zest, and gusto. But I didn’t pick up on that until several years later, when I was living in San Francisco.
4. The Road You Didn’t Take. Somehow the circuitous road that I’ve taken has led me to Madison, Wisconsin. A lovely town, but not my town. I’m in my thirties now and getting awfully close to the existential wall of midlife. Who am I? What am I doing? Why am I here? Just then I discover this song from Follies. It fits my mood perfectly.
One has regrets, which one forgets…
Surprise! The song foretold a deeper tale. It was alerting me that although I was good at cheering people on to lead fulfilling lives, it wouldn’t be quite enough for me. I was being called to dive into the in-between spaces of life. To look at my own regrets. To shine a light on those mysterious places in myself and and others. But again, I didn’t figure this out until much later.
5. Pure Imagination. We’re five years down the road now. I’m back on track. I’ve returned to school. Bought a house. Put down roots in Sacramento. And this song from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory gives me a thrill. I do believe I can change the world. Bring it on!
If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it…
Ooops, not so fast. I now realize the song was actually predicting the rebirth of my creativity. But I couldn’t see that I was poised at the entrance of a playground of imagination. And as wonderful as that turned out to be, it was also a cautionary tale too: that the world of imagination was so vast, and at times overwhelming, that I could (and would) get lost in it.
6. Here’s to Life. We’ve made it to present day. I suspect every woman of a certain age wants to sing this song by Phyllis Molinary. Shirley Horn’s version is legendary and I’ve always loved it. But about a year ago I heard Eartha Kitt’s rendition, shortly before she died. And that’s when it put me in a trance. I had to learn it. Give voice to it. In fact I couldn’t stop singing it.
May all your storms be weathered, and all that’s good get better…
You know what? I finally get it. Right now I can tell you the deeper message of this song. It’s a story about how we do the later acts of life differently from the first. And it’s pointing me toward the next chapter: life lived in the moment, the way of joy, making peace with regrets. The song heralds a blossoming of community, love, and connection. A balancing of inner and outer life. Oh, the adventurous seeker still comes out to frolic, but she’s not running the show anymore. She’s found harmony with all the other parts. And if I can be singing this song when I’m in my 80′s, like Eartha Kitt, then it will have been a good run.
So do you see where I’ve been going with all this?
Each time a story grabs us so ferociously, whether it’s a short song or a three-inch thick novel, it speaks to us almost like a dream.
When we’re seized in this way, our job is to translate the images, metaphors, symbols, and patterns. Decipher what they say about who we are and who we’re becoming.
We’re not very practiced at that, though, so we tend to stick with the surface meaning. Even so, most of us have inklings along the way that something deeper is asking to be seen. And if I’d caught on sooner, I might have bypassed a heck of a lot of confusion and uncertainty. But that’s life. Right?
Care to share a song that put you in a trance?
This post was recycled with fresh art for Art Every Day Month 2012
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