Well, in my youth I never bought music albums. It wasn’t until CDs came along that I started buying any. In my life I’ve been influenced more by individual songs than full albums. The instructions say that I should name these in 15 minutes.
You know I can’t do that. Never one to follow all the rules, I am modifying the task. Here are a list of songs that have influenced my life along with the reason why and I’ll take more than 15 minutes to write it.
I do have a long history with music. My mother played the piano. She was classically trained and played well. When I was about 7, I told my mother I wanted to learn to play the piano. She taught me for a while and then I was sent to a piano teacher for private lessons. In the 5th grade, the school offered music lessons and I chose to study the violin. Also, I was in a children’s choir at church, plus I performed in a summer school music camp’s choir.
I have to be honest here – I was terrible. I learned the mechanics, how to read music, which key to press to make the note and so on, but I have a poor sense of rhythm and a very poor ear.
By the 8th grade I’d given up on music and I found my real artistic calling in writing. Still, I do love to listen to music and when no one is listening, I sometimes sing along.
Music does change and influence us. It has the ability to change how we feel. Music can inspire or make us cry. Here are 16 songs that have influenced my life (a longer and less well annotated list is under the “intertextual Andrew” tab above).
- What Child is This? – I learned this Christmas carol for a children’s Christmas pageant at church. It’s the only time I’ve ever sung a solo and likely the only song I’ve ever sung with any skill or feeling. It still has a special place in my heart. It wasn’t until my mid-thirties that I discovered that the tune for this song is really Greensleeves. After a bit of research, I found this traditional tune has been used for many songs.
- Black Bird by The Beetles (The White Album) – This is the first Beetles song I didn’t hear on the radio. A friend had the album and I first heard it at her home when I was about 17. It was a revelation to me that The Beetles had produced good songs I’d never heard. I’ll never forget the line, “Take these broken wings and learn to fly.” At the time I felt like my wings were broken. Today, I can fly a bit, but still have a lot to learn.
- Yesterday by The Beetles – perhaps one of my favorite Beetles tunes. Simple, slow and a bit wistful. A bit like me sometimes. It’s a song that called to me when I first heard it and it still has a power over me -“Oh I believe in yesterday.” When I was in Paris a few years ago I found a little shop selling music box movements. There was one there that played “Yesterday.” Today that movement sits on my desk waiting for me to build a music box for it.
- Daydream Believer by The Monkeys – for all the weird things about the group the Monkeys, I did like their music. This one still pops into my head from time to time. Warning, I do sing along when I hear this one. And I do believe in dreams.
- A Horse with No Name by America – likely one of the most annoying songs I know, as it most often reminds me of Argentina. I was in the 6th grade when this song hit the charts and I was supposed to write a paper on Argentina for Social Studies. When my mother learned I hadn’t been working on it and had only the weekend to complete it, I was taken to the library Friday afternoon, loaded down with books on Argentina and sent to my room to write. It took all weekend, but I got the report done. I was allowed to listen to the radio and this darned song seem to come on every hour or so. To this day the two are firmly linked in my mind: Argentina and A Horse with No Name.
- Space Oddity (Major Tom) by David Bowie – I liked all things science fiction in my youth. This song was weird enough to make me think about what space travel might really be like.
- Rocket Man by Elton John – Even rocket men have their problems. This song also taught me that, “Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids…”
- Cats in the Cradle by Harry Chapin – “careful your kids will be like you,” is the message of this song. Oh my, I am like my father. This song drove that reality unwillingly into my thoughts.
- Anything by Simon and Garfunkel – A great poet and great voices. These songs have always been an influence for both my poetry and notions of what art is supposed to do: Create a vision and impart a feeling. Two of my favorite songs are, The Boxer and Scarborough Fair. I sang Bridge Over Troubled Waters and Sounds of Silence with a youth choir so both have a special place in my heart.
- Tom Dooley by Kingston Trio – Okay, I lied a little bit. We owned a few record albums when I was a child. I recall three that I’d listen to over and over: A Disney record of Ludwig Von Drake, SSgt. Barry Sadler Sings the A-team (famous for the song Ballad of the Green Berets) and Tom Dooley. I loved and still love folk songs. The Kingston Trio were among the best. I recall loving this record so much that I could spend a whole afternoon just listening to it over and over again. That did set a precedent for my life – my tendency to listen to the same album in my car for two months before I change it. Drives my wife nuts.
- All things Peter, Paul, and Mary. Folk music has always called to me. It’s story telling, it’s simple and feels honest. It comes from the heart. Peter, Paul and Mary had a way of singing that still speaks to me. Come on, how about a chorus of Puff the Magic Dragon or Blowing in the Wind?
- Light My Fire by The Doors. “Come on baby light my fire.” I didn’t know what they were talking about in this song, but I knew it annoyed my mother so I listened to when I knew she was within ear shot. Sometimes a kid just knows he needs to annoy his mother.
- Filk in general. In the 70’s and 80‘s I attended a number of Science Fiction conventions. These were great gatherings where you could see old films, meet stars from movies, talk to writers, and dress up in costume if you wanted. At one of these conventions I came across the word, Filk. Filk is best described as “Science Fiction Folk Songs.” Legend has it that the term “Filk” started as a mistake. The rumor says that at a convention, a group was to present a program of “Folk songs for SciFi,” but a mistake in the printed program proudly listed a program of “Filk Music.” The name stuck. I found Filk to be a collection of classic American Folk songs rewritten with futuristic lyrics and ballads of future heroes. Some were meaningful while some are just plan fun like, Banded From Argo, which describes in amusing detail the adventures of Captain Kirk’s crew on shore leave. I don’t listen to it as much these days, but I do have fond memories of it.
- Muppets, Gonzo’s Song, I’m Going To Go Back There Someday – I just loved The Muppet Movie. I saw it in the theater about 20 times. Honest. You see, I view Kermit the Frog as the model for leadership and making your dreams happen. Think about it, the green guy starts riding a bike out of a swamp and then becomes rich and famous. Amazing. The song, I’m Going to Go Back There Someday, is sung near the end of the movie at a low spot in the group’s adventure. The group’s car has broken down and it’s all looking bleak. Then Gonzo sings this enigmatic song about dreams, and friends. There is a lot of great poetry in the song, but one part sticks in my mind, “There is not a word yet/For old friends who’ve just met.” I’ve always loved that thought. It’s happened sometimes – I’ll sit and talk with someone who feels like an old friend, even though we’ve just met. Seems to me the best way to treat people we don’t know.
- Music of the Kesh by Todd Barton based on Ursula K. Le Guin book Always Coming Home. In 1985 I bought a copy of Le Guin’s book. It details a future California where machines have left the planet and the Kesh People live a simple life in the hills and valleys of Na (what is now the Napa area). It is a story told in fragments, short stories, poems, and music. Included in with the book was a cassette tape with a wonderful collection of music from the mythical Kesh people. This is a great creative work and the linking of words and music enhanced the story making it one of the books I reread from time to time. Sadly there’s not enough space here to discuss it in detail.
- Sea Shanties: Shallow Brown, Minglay Boat Song, Haul Away Boys. The first time I heard a tradition shanty was around 1986. I was working as a field engineer repairing computers throughout Northern California. One day while driving through Berkley I was listening to what I think was a radio station at the university. The program was a musical group singing shanties from golden age of sail in the 19th century. I loved it and wanted to hear more. Well, about 12 years later I found a CD with shanties, Deepwater Shanties by Holdstock and MacLeod. I loved them and now I have a large collection of CDs from a number of artists. There is something about these songs of work that calls to me. These days you’ll find me listening to shanties in my shop, in my car and if you see me with headphones on at the office, likely I am listening to my play list of shanties. (see the Shanties category for more of my posts on shanties).
That is it, a long responds to a short question. These are just some of the songs and music that has and continues influenced my life.
I did leave out Lawrence Welk, whose music I still enjoy listening to while putting together jigsaw puzzles. Perhaps that habit requires a post of it’s own.
Till next week,