A string of chords, a wisp of lyrics, an intrinsic rhythm of a song can rip your heart wide open when you least expect it. Sometimes it’s a song you’ve never heard before. Sometimes it’s a song that’s worn itself well into the tiny crevices of your heart, hiding so deeply you wouldn’t even know you remember it until you do. I’m a sensitive person, so much so that it can overwhelm me. Music helps me float in that sensitivity without drowning, coast with it, overcome it, or open up when I’ve shoved everything I feel way down deep.
Things were pretty rocky growing up in my house. My parents were deeply unhappy in their marriage in the early years of my childhood. Certain albums cast shadows in my past. When I heard Carly Simon’s Have You Seen Me Lately, the sense of betrayal and despair that swept the house was palpable, even to a seven year old child. The notes of Jackson Browne could cast a spell of sadness in a moment that transfixed all of us.
The pain of those years is still so accessible that as I prepared to marry my husband I was haunted by Coming Around Again. It got stuck in my head, around and around, warning me that I was signing myself up for some sort of inescapable disappointment. The lyrics hit at the core of my fear: “I know nothing stays the same… but if you’re willing to play the game… it’s coming around again… so don’t mind if I fall apart… there’s more room in a broken heart… and I believe in love… but what else can I do… I’m so in love with you…” I thought that no matter how happy I was with my partner now, in a marriage you inevitably doomed yourself to decades of unhappiness. Eventually I worked my way through by remembering that I was making my own choices and not destined to reap the same pain I saw my parents grapple with.
When I was young there were also the nights when Buckwheat Zydeco blared loudly out of the giant speakers in their bulky wooden cases, pumping out through the open sun room and out through the glass slatted windows opened wide to the muggy Chicago summer air. My dad making us laugh wildly as he danced around the house. Or Baby Now That I Found You which we sang with our mom on every family trip until our adolescence crept in and made us reluctant to join her. Those memories come back as vividly as the painful ones.
Those are the songs at my core. They’ve shaped in one way or another the role music plays in my life now. I’ve created my own soundtrack too, certain albums and playlists represent whole periods of time, disappointment in love, loneliness, newly found independence, new jobs, new cities, new friends, new chapters.
As I sat down to write tonight I longed for the perfect song for the first time in a long time. I realized it had been ages since I’d bought any new music, much less thought about it. So I followed the nudge and started browsing through new music. The waves of emotion that rolled through me as I found one song after another I understood how long it’s been since I’ve had my heart open. This week I’m listening to more music to create more openings for however I’m feeling. You pour what you’re feeling into the music, but it offers something back to you too. It’s no wonder they say that music can have a profound influence on our moods. Depending on what I choose to listen to it’s wondrous how hopeful, heartsick, pumped up, or nostalgic can feel after listening. In a song, I can find the emotional opening I need. Keep listening.