Open your eyes
     Look up to the skies and see,
     I’m just a poor boy, I need no sympathy
    Because I’m easy come, easy go
    Little high, little low
    Any way the wind blows doesn’t really matter to me,
    to me
                  Bohemian Rhapsody – QUEEN

Piano

If you could choose a song to represent the life you’ve lived (are living), what would it be?

Songs come in various shapes and sizes like fashionable clothes hanging on a rack. Some pieces are form-fitting and secure, making us feel giddy elation and full of fresh air, others bind or billow and leave us feeling uncomfortably bloated and unhappy, maybe even irritated.

Rock, folk, jazz, reggae, classical, bhangra…the choices go on and on. We mix and match them depending on the day, the time, our mood.

Lift me, won’t you lift me above the old routine
Make it nice, play it clean, Jazzman.

        Jazzman– CAROLE KING

After closing time, I worked the overnight graveyard shift at McDonalds on a few occasions as a teenager. It was quiet and still in the cooling night as the humidity of sticky Hamilton summer days dissipated until a renewed blast of heat began when the sun rose the following morning.

There was just Bob Randazzo and myself working away to get things clean and prepared for the next day’s hordes of hungry burger eaters. Bob cleaned and mopped the lobby and outside area and I cleaned and stocked the McKitchen.

saturday-night-live-angry-mcdonalds-firing

I had to pour viscous, orange Big Mac sauce into plastic squeeze sleeves, chop grotty fly-ridden lettuce into thin shreds (yes, I did remove the flies!), and chop onions into little bits until streaky tears coursed in streams down my face.

It felt eerily strange working through the night when everyone else I knew was fast asleep.

But it was music that kept me company through the solitude of the dark hours on Queenston Road. I bopped along while the radio played on the restaurant’s overhead speakers and the high-pitched cries of Minnie Riperton’s “Loving You“, Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s In the Cradle”  and Ozark Mountain Daredevil’s “Jackie Blue” kept me going.

Cats in the cradle and the silver spoon
    Little Boy Blue and the Man on the Moon
    When you comin’ home Dad I don’t know when 
    We’ll get together then son, you know we’ll have a good time then.

            Cats in the Cradle – HARRY CHAPIN

There were John Denver songs that would carry me up to emotional heights of elation (You fill up my senses…) and then Roberta Flack’s soulful voice (Killing me softly with his sooooooong...”) would push into the delicate sore spots that it couldn’t reach in daylight hours.

Darkness and solitude have a way of pushing demons and heavy-hearted ponderings to the surface. The pressing thoughts that separate and hold us back from sleep at night have no apparent link to those we have after the sun rises for the day.

beatles-harmony

So…let me ask again:

If you could choose a song to represent the life you’ve lived, what would it be?

Would there be only one song, or would it take a collection to sum up your complexity?

Would there be the rousing sound of a train whistle approaching announcing you’ve arrived or would it be a foghorn searching mournfully in the grey, weary night?

There’s a time a for joy
A time for tears
A time we’ll treasure through the years
We’ll remember always
Graduation Day

Graduation Day– BEACH BOYS

Songs define us and the times we live and share with others. Music has done this for eons. It tells stories about us that we often don’t even understand ourselves. It lodges in our sub-conscious and rushes to the surface with it’s collection of senses: sounds, smells, touches, when we hear it years later.

There’s a song for every feeling and emotion and the collection we hold inside is as individual as Saskatchewan snowflakes in late April (sorry, couldn’t resist the Saskatchewan dig there!).

We sit in our cars driving and drifting, melodies carrying us inside ourselves to times when we were flush with romantic lust in an early relationship; sweaty-palmed nervous about a presentation or assignment while travelling on the bus to university or college; gulping in the delicious wafting scents of coffee and bacon on a visit home to visit Mom and Dad.

Music is emotion

And… as I’m discovering through a brilliant online course in songwriting, it doesn’t just happen by accident.

Music is truly an art but it works like a science on our minds and our moods. We absorb music and find its meaning in similar ways. The major chords seek us out when we’re happy and upbeat, the minor chords find us when we’re melancholy. A small twinge of off-harmony notes in the chorus tell us that something just isn’t right. We’re often not even aware that the texture and tone is manipulating our emotions. One small but glaring example?…the screeching high-pitched minor-key violin notes in the famous “Psycho” shower scene are obviously designed to heighten tension and get the hair standing on the back of our necks.

I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I’d see you again

       Fire and Rain – JAMES TAYLOR

Personally, I define myself by songs bordering on melancholy. I could suggest a bunch of possibilities for why this might be the case, but the truth is, I don’t really know why. Psychologists and psychiatrists could make a good living delving into the deepest core of each of us finding reasons for the way we are. There’s something powerful and emotionally stirring in songs of despair, longing or desire.

And so, I’ll leave you here with a current favourite melancholy earworm of mine, called Pieces. This is co-written by my online songwriting instructor Pat Pattison of Boston and sung by Liz Longley. It’s designed (scientifically!) to pull at my heartstrings, and, for me at least, it works beautifully.

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