I crave certain songs, sounds, or pieces of music like many people crave certain foods. There are flavors you like all the time no matter what mood you’re in. Others, you enjoy when you taste them but it takes some getting up for. Some flavors may twinge your imagination even when it’s nowhere near time to eat.
I’m like this about sound and it’s a moveable feast all day long. I usually wake up with music in my head and may find that the lyrics give me a chuckle or seem (jokingly) like a bad or good omen for the day. Sometimes it’s a snippet of melody I can’t place, possibly original. Some days, like this morning, it’s just the vamp of a nostalgic tune (playing over and over).
It surprises me that music leaks so readily up from my subconscious when I barely consume it, but these little sonic visitations always take me on a journey. The vamp I mentioned was from a song called “C’est La Vie” by Robbie Neville, released in 1986 and eventually making it to number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1987. I loved it when this song came on in the roller rink (Interskate 91. Real!) And it is how I got my (IRL) nickname.
Later today with sun glittering off our plush royal icing snow, I was visited by the song “Little Fishes” a boppy, rustic instrumental recorded by Vince Guaraldi (yeah, the Charlie Brown music guy) and brazilian guitarist Bola Sete. This was one of the first albums of Brazilian music I ever bought from an independent CD store in Dupont Circle, Washington DC when one still browsed in bins with hand labeled cardboard signs. The whole album is kind of a sugary treat as music goes, but it warms me.
Getting ready for running today, I was having trouble finding a matched pair of socks, so I improvised a tune about not wanting to wear a mismatched pair that got me trotting at a time when I wanted to be someone who had run, but wasn’t totally in the mood to do the running.
And then, emerging from a bath. I had that moment I try to get to at least once a day when everything within me is quiet. I don’t have a physical need (hunger, temperature, etc.) to think about and I have managed to muzzle the hordes of muttering gremlins that seem to live in my head most of the time chatting about anything I might have seen or heard in recent days. Into this quiet slipped, a song titled “Solitude.” I truly enjoy my solitude so it always feels like sharp tweak on the nose that the lyrics are so sad. But I suspect Ellington enjoyed his solitude too (when else could he compose?) and you can sort of hear the joke in the bridge which is major, has a suspiciously bouncy rhythm, and these large intervals that sound like a little game.
I had to YouTube a bit to find a recording that scratched the itch for me, which led me to savor this Ben Webster recording; note that this is one of those standards that -despite a simple and easily mutable melody- is almost always played note for note and straight ahead; and trip down one more garden path towards Dianne Reeves. I didn’t love her recording of “Solitude” -just didn’t match the luxe velvet of Nina Simone for me tonight. But Dianne Reeves has recorded one of my favorite ‘wisdom of life’ songs called “Reflections (Looking Back)” The original tune is by Thelonious Monk which explains everything about the stellar bridge: a suddenly straight ahead melodic repetition with a new set of chords which really make you wait for the resolution, makes the lyric stand out for me, and while it actually makes little sense out of context it is the poignant epicenter of the song.
“In looking back, we just peek through the cracks, between what’s real and false. In this eternal waltz. Meanwhile we just keep dancing.”
The song’s final lyric, full of all the joy and regret of a life lived, instead of watching from the sidelines, is “Thank God I’ma woman who knows.”
This song has been heave on the playlist through some big changes I’ve made in the past five years. I aspire to be a woman who knows. And occasionally in that moment of quiet, or when lead to music that affirms something in me. I feel like I might get there.