Last evening, my oldest daughter and I spent several hours downloading music onto a playlist which will accept 100 pieces of music. That seemed rather daunting to begin with, but in a matter of hours, between the two us, we had actually accomplished the task. What’s more, both of us woke up this morning, with at least another 100 suggestions popping into our heads. My daughter told me that she intends to make up another playlist to be titled, Songs My Mother Made Me Sing While I Was Growing Up. These are songs she loves as much as I do, because they bring up memories and the feelings attached to those memories.
And yes, that is where I got the idea for this particular blog. I mentioned, a few blogs ago, that mountain of Associations we carry within us. Music may be one of the quickest avenues to that Mountain, or, if you are as eclectic in your musical taste as I am, we might want to call it a Mountain Range. A big piece of our story is imbedded in the music we listen to. Each song, piece, holds some aspect of what we believe, remember, hold close and dear, as well as what triggers our anger, admiration, and our ability to love and be compassionate human beings. With each of our choices, we emphasize, and express how we understand the world around us, and how we see ourselves in that world.
That, in turn, makes my playlist a whole lot more than entertainment. It is, to a great extent, a record of my personal experiences, and some of the story of how I came to be who and what I am. When I was teaching, I would show my students how to create a time line on which they could note their experiences and create a chronology of their life. I would tell them to glue it inside their journal and when they had the time, go back and make those notations. I think I just discovered a far easier, and more entertaining manner to do the same thing. What if, say, one day a week, I go back, listen to one of those songs intently, let it take me to whatever Associations it reveals and make notes on those flashes of memory and past life. Then, later, fill in the notations with the story that hovers stoically behind them, waiting to speak? Not only of my experience, but the people, places, the emotions, feelings and thoughts the song, its words, and melody bring to mind? What a rich and colorful tapestry that would create, especially because of that eclectic taste I spoke of earlier.
There is another technique that I used in class that would fit into the above outlined exercise. Something I used to call letting the subconscious lead, or Writing Roulette.Creating the list is a simple matter of listing the titles, but this seems to lend almost too much structure to the experience. Here I would simply close my eyes and drop my pen into that list, using whatever song title the pen ended up pointing at. And yes, I know from years of experience, that the pen will very likely drop on a place I would prefer not to go. Those places are as important as the other happier ones. Knowing they exist, and wait there, is the first step in becoming aware of the meatier issues I will eventually have to deal with if I am ever to complete the list and move onto the next playlist which is already forming in my head.
Now, I will give you an example of all of this, using the title of this blog, which is a song done by Alabama. My father drove an 18 wheeler. For most of my childhood and into adulthood, he made nightly drives from our hometown to either Milwaukee or Chicago. Obviously, the song reminds me of my Dad, and the pleasure he took in what he did. I have memories of all six of us (Mom, Dad, 1 brother, and 2 sisters), packed into the car with Dad doing the driving of course. He had a flair for taking a busman’s holiday at any given moment. I can see my Mother’s shoulders dip as she settled in, hear the groans, sighs, and emphatic “yes’s” that would follow his words, “I wonder where this road leads, I’ve never been down it before.”
He would often accompany these side trips with old songs that were silly and made us all laugh and join in, no matter how many times we’d heard them. Like the one about the man who planted onions on his wife’s grave, so that when he passed by, he could pick one up and cry. Or he would regale us with some of his stories from his own childhood, like the one about his old dog Wrinkles, a bulldog that would let anyone in the house, but wouldn’t let them leave again, if they held anything in their hands. And of course, there were always the stories about his adventures, and close calls, as a truck driver.
Then there were those occasional mornings when the house would come alive with excitement because he’d driven to Chicago and stopped at the Spudnut shop. He would bring home a sack of fresh doughnuts, at least half of which had soft, thick, chololate frosting spread on them, so everyone could have their favorite. Even my Mother would smile and join in the banter as she ate her share, because it meant she didn’t have to make breakfast and clean up afterward.
That in turn, along with the story inside of the song, reminds me of how my Mother didn’t sleep well most nights, tossing and turning. Worried, I’m sure, about the responsibilities of being a temporary single parent until my Father would return. The knowledge that out there, out on the road, anything could happen and she might get a phone call, some blustering, snowy winter night that would alter her life irrevocably. And later, when I was a married adult, I would often think of her because my father had been forced into driving overland, which meant he’d be gone for a week at a time.
How occasionally, my phone would ring at 6:30 in the morning and it would be my Dad asking me if I wanted to come to the truck stop on the Interstate and have breakfast with him. We would talk about fishing, or a hundred other things. I was always eager to agree to that early morning jaunt, and time spent with my grinning parent, especially if the place had a pool table, because he always laughed out loud when I beat him.
My father died over twenty years ago, but I carry him and his memory in my blood stream. The day of his funeral, as the cortege behind the hearse that was carrying him to the Mausoleum, flowed around the curve onto the Interstate, an 18 wheeler curved onto the highway next to us from another ramp. When I saw it, I raised my arm, pumping my fist, and all four of my children eagerly did the same. The driver realized we were only about three cars behind the hearse and were obviously a part of the procession, and gave a long pull on his air horn. A very appropriate tribute to a man who was gentle, fun loving, and filled with music and playfulness. A man who would definitely grin and nod his head at the words, “Roll on, 18 wheeler, roll on.”