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Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Soundtrack of Life

Clearwater Benefit Concert - Show
If somebody were to ask you to put together a 12-song sound track of your life, what songs would go on it?

I'm not talking about songs you love or even like necessarily; instead I'm talking about songs that are just part of who you are. They gave a voice to some emotion you were feeling or they were background music for some period in your life and the second you hear the first note, you remember.

Here's what would go on mine:

Dream On by Aerosmith: The song came out in 1973. I was seven years old. I didn't actually know the song until I was probably 14 or so, but Aerosmith became my favorite group and this song was the main reason. I thought Steven Tyler was so cool and I just loved their music. When I went to work at a fast food restaurant, all of us had our own cup we used and re-used for soda pop throughout our shift. The name I wrote on the masking tape on my cup was "Steven Lee Tyler." Pretty ridiculous, but hey, that's where I was at the time in my life.

Baby Come to Me by Patti Austin and James Ingram. I had a girlfriend in high school who deemed this our song. I never liked it much, but I've heard worse. I can't hear it now though and not think about those days.

Purple Rain by Prince. This was sort of a transition song for me. It came out in 1984. I graduated from high school that year. I saw the movie, that shares the same name, twice in one day -- once in a movie theater with a female friend who adored Prince and then later that night at a drive-in theater with some friends, including a former girlfriend. After I started working at the fast food place, this song became our anthem as we cleaned the place after we closed. We'd pull out the boom box, pop in the tape, and blast it.

Hello by Lionel Richie. I was in college when this came out. Whenever I heard it, I thought of a woman I was into at the time. One day, while playing in the final of a tennis tournament on campus, this song came over the PA. I'm a sappy romantic at heart and I drew inspiration from the song as I thought about the woman I was interested in -- especially since I was there alone and the other guy had a small cheering section. I won the match, and the tournament, and then I told the woman about it. She wasn't impressed or interested, but I'll always have "Hello."

Like a Virgin by Madonna. Another song that came out when I was in college. It was on the radio non-stop as I drove to and from class every day. I can still hear it as I drove down 24th Street toward home one day. I don't know why, but my mind took a snapshot of that moment and stored the photo in my permanent memory banks. I didn't really like the song a whole lot, but when I think about college, I think about this song.

Faithfully by Journey. So, this one involved another woman. Sensing a recurring theme here? Said woman and one of her friends and I went to see Journey perform in Lincoln, Nebraska. This would have been 1986 or so. I was into said woman more than she was into me. But, we were there, sitting together and during this song, as Steve Perry belted out the chorus, I slipped my arm around her. A couple of weeks later, I got the fateful note/letter -- remember those? -- telling me she just wanted to be friends. But for one night, I got swept up in the moment provided by Journey. And things were good.

Alone Again by Dokken. I went to an outdoor music festival with a friend around 1986. Dokken was one of the bands. I didn't really know their music, but they sang a ballad that was dripping with emotion called "Alone Again" and I was hooked. The lyrics and the feel of the song really grasped the way I was thinking and feeling at the time.

That's What Friends are for the cover version by Dionne Warwick and friends. This song became one of those songs that define a relationship that was hard to define. It also became a privately shared knowing between us whenever it came on the radio.

Every Rose Has its Thorn by Poison. I was never a real song writer, but for a while, in the late 80s I played the guitar a little and wrote about a dozen songs. I learned how to play "Every Rose Has its Thorn" although I'm not sure I ever learned it all the way through. But I could play most of it and it sounded pretty good. One night, I had a group of friends over and one of my friends brought a woman who knew the words to this song. So, she sang along as I played. We wouldn't have won any awards, but it was fun.

Easy Street by Zwarte. This song came out the same year I became a Christian. Everything I believed was changing. During this same period, a friend and I went to see Zwarte play at a bowling alley every time they came into town. Zwarte's anthem was (and I suspect still is) "Easy Street" -- a song about the perils of choosing the easy way. The song meant a lot to me because it gave a voice to they way I was feeling.

Your Life is Now by John Mellencamp. This song came out in 1998 on Mellencamp's self-titled CD. After my dad died in 2000, this song became a powerful reminder of who I was and how short life is. Mellencamp sings, "Your father's days are lost to you / This is your time here to do what you will do / Your life is now." I felt that. Something about losing a parent makes you realize that your life is now -- it's not some distant dream.

Ohio by Over the Rhine. Last June, I wrote about this song and the emotions it creates in me. When I listen to the song, I think about it from the "Your Life is Now" perspective. So much is changing and my "father's days are lost" to me in the sense that you can never go back. But sometimes, you have to go back -- mentally speaking -- to remember where you came from, and ultimately, to help you see where you are going.

Your turn. What songs would go on the soundtrack of your life?


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