My Sheltering-in-Place Playlist
March 31, 2020
I hope music is as comforting to you as it is to me during this difficult time.
Like everyone else, I have my favorite songs. But what I cling to right now are my favorite song-related associations. I find myself binge-listening to the tunes that touch my soul in very specific ways, usually because they engrained themselves on my psyche during particularly formative times in my life. With that in mind, here’s my sheltering-in-place playlist, in the approximate chronological order in which they nestled their way into my fondest memories:
The Twelfth-Street Rag: My dad, a self-taught musician, could never go more than a few hours without sitting down to his beloved Ludden & Bates baby-grand piano. This rollicking rag, which he learned listening to Pee Wee Hunt on his family’s radio during the Great Depression, was one of my favorites. It was often my childhood wake-up music, with Dad’s tickled ivories reverberating throughout the house first thing in the morning. What a great way to start the day. Dad taught me how to play the song, and years later, it would become one of my kids’ favorites, too.
I’ll Be Seeing You: My mom’s beautiful face was always so serene when she sang along to Dad’s piano accompaniment. When her voice ascended upon reaching “that small cafe” and “the park across the way,” I thought my heart might melt.
Oh! Susanna: This Stephen Foster classic was the first song my brother John taught me on the guitar. I missed him terribly during his first year away at college, so cajoling him to teach me to play the guitar that summer proved a surefire way to monopolize his time. We’ve been playing together ever since.
Boulder to Birmingham: My sister Cecilia and I love singing duets, trading off the melody and harmony parts with no particular rhyme or reason but somehow instinctively knowing to zig when the other zags. This heart-wrenching Emmylou Harris ballad is one of our favorites and almost always brings at least one of us to tears.
Refugee: The Heartbreakers provided the auditory wallpaper of my college years, and my friend Wendy and I always cracked up at Tom Petty’s incisive observation that, if someone is out of sorts, there’s a least a possibility it’s because he’s been kidnapped, taken away and held for ransom.
Karma Chameleon: This Culture Club song was a top-40 mainstay when I was falling for the love of my life, and I’ll be forever grateful to Boy George for accompanying us on our dates.
Eternal Flame: I heard this Bangles song on the way home from the doctor’s appointment when my first pregnancy was confirmed. Twenty-five years later, my son and I shared the song once again as we danced to it at his wedding.
“Even Stevens” theme: My kids watched this show in the late afternoon when they were growing up, and the theme song invariably had me tapping my toes (and occasionally breaking into dance) as I cooked dinner. Oooohhh, to turn back the clock for just one day. . . . (For extra fun, check out Ren Stevens’ educational rendition of “We Went to the Moon” on Youtube.)
Everlong: I share my stepson Graham’s love of the Foo Fighters, and I’m particularly partial to perhaps the most life-affirming lyric ever, which seems particularly apt right now: Promise not to stop when I say when.
O Come, O Come Emmanuel: When our kids were growing up, we hosted annual Christmas parties. Singing and/or strumming was mandatory, and some of my most treasured memories involve these informal guitar pulls. We’d start with a few Christmas carols, finishing up with O Come, O Come Emmanuel. That was our segue piece, with the last chord morphing into the first chord of Secret Agent Man, the kickoff to the rock portion of our concert. I love that song even more now that my niece Beth informed me her son thinks the words are “Secret Asian Man.”
Gold Rush: Shortly after graduating from college, my daughter Julianne picked her dream city (Charleston, South Carolina), then seemingly effortlessly found a way to launch her adulthood there. This Death Cab for Cutie song was one of our favorites as we tooled our way around town while she learned the lay of the land.
Say Yes: My brother Steve and I are armchair movie critics and enjoy sharing our opinions. He was stunned to learn recently that I’d never seen “Good Will Hunting.” I wasn’t really interested but gave it a shot because one of my favorite artists, Elliott Smith (RIP) is featured prominently on the soundtrack. Steve and I “watched” it together, separated by 150 miles but texting each other our observations throughout, then debriefing on the phone afterward. “Say Yes” was the highlight for me. No, on second thought, the highlight was sharing the experience with Steve.
Sin City: My mom and I adored melancholy songs. This Gram Parsons gem is one of the last tunes we ever sang together, my brother John accompanying us on guitar at her bedside just a day or two before she slipped away.
Ave Maria: I accompanied my sister Anne on the flute as she played the Franz Schubert version of this hymn at her senior piano recital. Just a few months ago, she played it again for our father’s funeral, this time accompanied by my exquisitely talented cousin Mary on the violin. I carry the memory everywhere I go.
And the Angels Sing: Speaking of Dad’s funeral, my sister Cecilia thought it would be a travesty to hold the service without an homage to Dad’s love of swing bands. Brilliantly, she arranged to have this Benny Goodman classic fill the air as mourners filed out of the church. Dad would have loved it.
Coconut: My grandchildren and I are fans of impromptu dance parties, and this Harry Nilsson song is the last one we danced to before this damned virus forced us apart. How I yearn for our next dance party.
Hello In There: Just yesterday, a friend posted a link to this timeless, ethereal song by John Prine, who is battling the Coronavirus as we speak. I hadn’t thought of the song in years, and my heart soared to hear it again. Godspeed, John, and to everyone else dealing with the loneliness, fear and isolation of this pandemic, I share his sentiment:
Hello in there.