Category Archives: Music

Witnessing Magic: Which Historical Event Would You Experience?

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

“People never learn anything by being told, they have to find out for themselves.” –Paulo Coelho, Veronika Decides To Die

Hello friend,

I have just had the most uplifting treat! I sat down to watch a documentary merely to learn some history and came away instead with a full heart and a smiling soul. And longing! Oh, how I longed to be swept away and taken back in time–a few years before I was born–to feel what those lucky people felt over the course of three long days on a farm in upstate New York. I longed to be with them at Woodstock.

That whole world of the middle-to-late 1960s is absolutely fascinating to me. I have done a lifelong, off-and-on study of this revolutionary era in American history, when norms and expectations were being questioned, challenged, and sometimes toppled, both by the groups who had so long been oppressed but also by the children of those who had created all of these norms and expectations in the first place.

There was a “counterculture” that did things like grow their hair out, oppose a war (relatively unheard of until then), resist racism and poverty, and yes, even take drugs. Music was a language they could share. Bob Dylan was one of many who sang for them:

Come mothers and fathers 
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’.
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’

Indeed, they were. There was a generation of people that were disillusioned by the America they had been sold and were actively bucking the establishment. And whether they were individually more focused on fighting for the civil rights of African-Americans, women’s rights, ending the war in Vietnam, or merely the conservative dress code and social mores of their parents, they seem to have each been buoyed by the progress on the other fronts. They were doing it together. The rising tide was lifting all of the countercultural voices, emboldening them to believe that real change could be made.

Young people with Freedom, Love, and Peace on their minds will make magic happen.

Riding that wave of idealistic unity and rebellion, and fueled by the music of their new generation, a few guys decided to put together an outdoor festival on a dairy farm in bucolic upstate New York. Billed as “3 DAYS of PEACE & MUSIC,” with the silhouetted image of a dove perched on the neck of a guitar on its advertisements, Woodstock became–and remains–the most epic music festival in our history.

But it was so much more than a big concert. It was a cultural touchstone. It was the subject of the PBS documentary I recently watched on Netflix called “Woodstock: Three Days That Defined A Generation.”

Woodstock was something I was vaguely aware of as a kid–it happened in 1969, a few years before I showed up in the world–kind of like Vietnam or the Civil Rights Movement. They were so near to my lifetime but, as a sheltered kid in a small town with parents who weren’t about any of that stuff, 1969 might as well have been in the Stone Age. I had no exposure and thus was left to rely only upon my natural curiosity, which kept vague notes regarding what I should remember to learn about one day in the future.

That note was still left unchecked in my mind when I opened up Netflix last week to see what was new. There on my screen was the key to one of my lifelong curiosities and what is now one of the events I most wish I had attended in all of human history.

Watching the images from the film–both the aerials spanning the sea of humanity in the natural amphitheater of the hilly field as well as the intimate shots of the peaceful, joyous faces–and listening to voiceovers from the festival attendees as they unpacked their memories from the magical weekend that changed their lives, I could not help but envy them and imagine how I would have fit into such a unique scene, not merely as a fly on the wall but as a full participant.

Indulge me, please, a few too many quotes from those lucky souls, expounding upon everything from the sheer size of the crowd to the palpable energy to the depth of the impact the entire experience had on them. To begin, the first impressions:

“As you walked in, it hit you. Suddenly it just all came into view at once: this whole, enormous bowl full of people. It was mind-boggling.” –Michael Lindsey, attendee

“Coming over the hill, the feeling, the energy of that crowd was something I’ll never forget. There was so much power in it.” –Joel Rosenman, producer

“It was indescribable, the feeling that came over me of warmth and ‘Oh my God, there are this many people in the world that think like I think. There are all these people; I never knew there were that many people in the world!” –Laureen Starobin, attendee

“We walked up that hill, and we saw, you know, all these people our age, looked like us, dressed like us. You know: Us. I mean, it was just, it was like meeting your brothers and sisters. It was really beautiful.” –Susan Reynolds, attendee

“We were 400,000 kids on a hillside who were all vehemently against the war and, you know, for me it was like, ‘These are our people! We found our people!’” –Susan Reynolds, attendee

When the producers realized that they could not erect the fence around the farm soon enough to keep out people without tickets, they made the extraordinary move of announcing that they would no longer be charging admission, effectively losing themselves hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process and ensuring the festival would be a huge financial loss. The generosity of that gesture was absorbed by the swelling crowd and seemed to multiply from there. Everyone just seemed to take care of each other, passing around whatever food (and drink and drugs) they had with all of those around them. They sang and danced together, made campfires for all, and slept next to one another under the big night sky.

But it wasn’t just the concert-goers who seemed to find the best of themselves in the experience. The locals, who considered themselves hicks and conservative country folk and many of whom staunchly opposed the festival and the “hippies” from the outset, became swept up in the wave of Love and Good Will that washed over their rural county. When, upon hearing on the second day of the festival that the food had run out and that trucks could not get through because of traffic jams, they made sandwiches and emptied their home pantries, donating everything they could to be helicoptered to the site to feed all the hungry festival-goers. Similarly, when medical supplies ran out, doctors volunteered their time and flew in on Army helicopters full of supplies to treat the people in need. Something magical was happening.

“This was actually kind of a functioning city out in the middle of nowhere, and we realized it was functioning because of people pulling together. It just had this feeling that this was ours. This was the new city; this was the alternative city. And it worked.” —attendee

“I remember sitting in the mud listening to Crosby, Stills, & Nash, looking at the sheer beauty of the night sky and wrapped in a blanket of Music. It was the feeling of oneness with it All.” –Katherine Daye, attendee 

On the third day (Sunday), an older-looking gentleman walked onto the stage. It was Max Yasgur, the conservative owner of the dairy farm that had been taken over by this ocean of young people. He, too, had been moved by the experience and had donated tons of milk and yogurt so that everyone could eat. He humbly stepped to the microphone:

“I’m a farmer. I don’t know how to speak to 20 people at one time, let a crowd like this. But I think you people have proven something to the world. Not only to the town of Bethel or Sullivan County or New York state; you’ve proven something to the world. The important thing that you’ve proven to the world is that a half a million kids–and I call you kids because I have children that are older than you are–a half a million young people can get together and have three days of fun and music, and have NOTHING BUT fun and music. And I God bless you for it!”

By the next day, Jimi Hendrix had played his iconic rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” and the sea of people had risen from the mud and returned to the world, forever changed by the experience.

“If 400,000 people could get together and have absolutely no violence, absolutely no conflict, I felt like if we could bring all that love back into society, we could change the world.” —attendee

“The festival became a symbol of intelligence and humanity and cooperation and love and affection. It was the start of a phenomenal change in a lot of people’s lives.” –attendee

“I felt like I had finally gotten to fully experience what I was hoping the counterculture meant. Woodstock was a very powerful confirmation that, yeah, this is what you are looking for and you are headed in the right direction.” —attendee

“Everyone looking after one another, everyone caring for one another. I mean, once I experienced that, I made it the basis for the whole rest of my life.” –attendee 

That is some powerful stuff. It captivates me, I think, because of the “wave of Love” that seems to have taken over the entire production. The vibe. The energy. The feeling that seemed to sweep over all involved. I think it was something transcendent, something bigger than the sum of each person’s contribution. It was bigger than anything.

When I think of other historical events I would like to have been a part of, I think that what draws me is this sort of wave that Woodstock had going for it, this momentum of Love and Good Will that swept up everything in its path. I imagine being a part of the Civil Rights Movement, riding the wave on buses and at lunch counters, at the March on Washington with Martin Luther King. I imagine riding the wave as one of Jesus’s followers in his last few months. I bet the people at the launch of Apollo 11 for America’s “moonshot” felt that unity and excitement. Similarly, I can imagine wanting to be swept up in the frenzy of a hometown’s ride to a Super Bowl or World Series victory, especially being in the stadium for the final win. I remember my Black wife flying our infant daughter across the country and going out in the wee hours of the morning in the bitter cold just to be in the same city as President Obama’s first inauguration, so momentous was that occasion in her life and the life of so many people of color. She had to be there. These feelings–and the memories they stamp on our heart hearts and minds–are irreplaceable.

This is how I picture Woodstock. That wave of love.

It is the only way I can explain to myself why I am so particularly drawn to it. Yes, I love music, and it had that. But music alone doesn’t explain it. Because, really, I: 1) dislike crowds and sharing germs with strangers, much less sleeping in the mud with them and using porta-potties, 2) have never been interested in drugs, and 3) don’t necessarily know well or care for many of the bands performing. It has to be the wave. That feeling of being a part of something bigger than myself. Something beautiful and pure. A unity of spirit.

Maybe this is the reason why the documentary hits me so hard right now. Maybe the profound Unity and Love that defined the festival leave me shuddering and longing to this degree precisely because these are the things so sorely absent from our country today, 50 years after those transformed young people wandered off Max Yasgur’s farm and back into America. I mean, can you imagine putting 400,000 strangers in a field together in our era and come away three days later with no stories of conflict, violence, or animosity? It is absolutely unthinkable. Our wave seems to be sweeping as forcefully but in the opposite direction that theirs was. Give me Woodstock over this nonsense anytime.

It was truly a singular event in human history. I wish I had been there.

How about you? Which event or era in human history would you like to be a part of? Open up your journal and allow your fantasies to run freely. What event comes first to your mind? Did it happen during your lifetime and you were just somewhere else, or is it from a different era altogether? Was it something brief (seeing The Beatles on Ed Sullivan, Kennedy’s inauguration, the March on Washington, the fall of the Berlin Wall, a Super Bowl, or even a family reunion during your ancestors’ time) or did it take place over a number of days or months (following Jesus or Dr. King or the Grateful Dead, a sports season, or living in Rome at the height of its glory)? What is it about that event or era that appeals to you? Is it the people involved? The place where it happened? Is it about what it led to? How historically significant is your event? How much of it is personal to you or your family? Was it a part of a wave of feeling or a movement that people were swept up in? Have you studied it in depth or, rather, do you not know much about it but just have a romantic vision of it in your mind? Is it easier for your mind to fantasize about it if you know more or fewer of the specifics? Speaking of your imagination, do you think that if you were actually able to time-travel to your special event, would it be as good as you imagine it, or would it disappoint? Do you think the people there knew it was special? How well do most people do at recognizing the significance of their biggest life moments while they are happening? In your own life, have you fully absorbed your biggest moments in real time and recognized them, or was it only later that it struck you how important and impactful those moments were? Does that even matter? Is there an entirely different era that you would prefer to live your whole life in? What can that era teach you about the kind of life you want to live now? What can you do in your little corner of the world to create more of the kinds of moments that you will want to relive in the years to come? How can you create that wave of Love or that sense of true Unity, that feeling of being part of something special and pure and bigger than yourself? How confident are you that there are magical moments like that in your future? Which past example do you hope it most resembles? Leave me a reply and let me know: Which historical event would you go back and experience?

Make your own wave,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it with your community. Create a movement together!

P.S.S. If this way of self-examination illuminates you, consider purchasing my book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers.

A Life Sentence In Music: Choosing Your Only 5 Bands For Eternity

“To stop the flow of music would be like the stopping of time itself, incredible and inconceivable.” –Aaron Copland

“People haven’t always been there for me but music always has.” –Taylor Swift

Hello friend,

I have had this question rolling around in my head for months. Months! Typically, if I get a question in my head, I do a little journaling and it works itself out. For some reason, though, I have not followed that path with this one, and it has most definitely NOT worked itself out. So, I write to you today not to share with you what I have worked out, but more to marvel at the process of working it out and how difficult (impossible?) some topics are to nail down and how likely they are to change at the very moment you think you have the answer.

It all started, as most troubles do, with a friend’s Facebook post. I love those people who post great questions that you cannot resist answering in the Comments or, even if you don’t have an answer on the top of your mind, you can’t resist looking at everyone else’s answers. He put one like that on there this week, too: something like, “What are your top five favorite movies, all genres included?” I took that question so seriously that I couldn’t put my answer down immediately because it required deep consideration, so I adjusted my settings so it showed me notifications any time someone commented on it (I love movies, and I love opinions even more!).

Anyway, the question he asked that night a few months ago that has been trailing me ever since is, “If you could only listen to five bands/musicians for the rest of your life, who would you choose?” I was stricken instantly by the difficulty of it. Even as I read my friend’s choices and the lists of the first few people who had already commented–evidence that it could obviously be done–I was overcome by the enormity of the challenge posed. It seemed a question as big as The Meaning of Life. An absolute stumper. As often as I have thought of it since then–almost daily–it remains just that to me.

You see, I am in love with music. It captivates my soul and moves me in a million beautiful ways. I am completely in agreement with the great philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who proclaimed, “Without music, life would be a mistake.” In the past decade of my life–ten years defined almost exclusively by heavily involved parenthood–I have often lamented that, for all of the magic and delight that my dotingly attentive Dadding has gifted me with, what it has kept me from is tons of hours under the cover of my big headphones, lost in the sway of this Divine language called Music. You don’t get that luxury when you are listening for babies crying or big kids squabbling. But oh, what a luxury! And there is so much of it filling so many different genres, each magnificent in its own way.

I find pleasure in a wide array of styles: Folk, R & B, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Classical, Blues, Reggae, Hip-Hop, Pop, Jazz, Broadway, Soul, Country (well, a few select old-timers, anyway), New Age, Gospel, Motown, and more.

I am not exactly sure what the proper name of the genre I listen to most is. To myself, I call it “Singer-Songwriter Music.” It is probably easier identified by the names of some of my favorites in that category: Matt Nathanson, Mat Kearney, Glen Hansard, Ryan Adams, Tracy Chapman, Indigo Girls, David Gray, Ben Rector, Ben Folds, Storyhill, Brenda Weiler, Ray Lamontagne, The Decemberists, Natalie Merchant, Joshua Radin, Marc Cohn, Amos Lee, The Avett Brothers, Mumford & Sons, The Eagles, Bob Dylan, Jakob Dylan, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Bruce Hornsby, Five For Fighting, John Mayer, Jack Johnson, and Joshua Kadison. Basically, it is music that is mostly (or easily) stripped down to guitars (often acoustic) or piano along with vocals. I listen to a lot of that, and when I first considered this thought experiment of narrowing my lifetime musical choices to just five, I was tempted to pull from this list only (well, maybe this list plus Counting Crows, a longtime favorite band who nearly fits this genre but is probably more considered Rock). That list would probably be (subject to daily changes of mind): Counting Crows, Indigo Girls, Marc Cohn, Matt Nathanson, and Mat Kearney. Wow, that’s hard to narrow!

But just when I think of how much I love those artists and how I would enjoy listening to their catalogues over and over, it strikes me how much Joy and inspiration I would be missing out on by sticking only to my favorite genre.

I love R & B! I am a sucker for the 80s and 90s slow jams from my favorites–Keith Sweat rules–but also love the stuff I can dance to. All of the family tree of New Edition–Bobby Brown, Ralph Tresvant, Johnny Gill, Bell Biv DeVoe–is amazing. But so many others, too: Luther Vandross, Johnny Gill, James Ingram, Keith Washington, Peabo Bryson, Hi-Five, Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys, Ne-Yo, Guy, Babyface, Barry White, Janet Jackson, SWV, TLC, Boyz II Men, Deborah Cox, John Legend, and more. As much as it is paining me to think of leaving these artists out of the rest of my life, I cannot imagine leaving out the entire genre. I have to keep at least one for my five eternals. Right?

And that is just my second favorite genre! Could I ever do without Classical or Jazz Piano from the likes of Keith Jarrett? Could I survive without at least a little Hip-Hop flavor in my life? And Reggae? How could I narrow my lists down to just five artists and not have someone from these genres?

And then there are those few artists who aren’t necessarily in my categories but are amazing and possibly necessary for the list. Michael Jackson. Prince.

As I was thinking about this topic the other day, I walked into the house and found my wife jamming to a Beyoncé/Destiny’s Child mix in the kitchen. I couldn’t help but start dancing. It struck me: How could I live without this, something that I would never call my “favorite” because the songwriting doesn’t touch me but that is so catchy and fun that it makes me dance every time? Was Beyoncé a candidate for the list, too?

It might also be some kind of torture to be alive and not be able to listen to the singular songwriting of Bob Dylan, the golden voice of Patti LaBelle, the blues guitar of Buddy Guy, and other such unique talents. Mozart. Marvin Gaye. Al Green. Bruce Springsteen. Ray Charles. Willie Nelson. Wynton Marsalis. Shirley Caesar. John Prine. Bob Marley. U2. Jay-Z. Johnny Cash. Billie Holiday. The Beatles.

It is enough to make my mind explode! How could one possibly narrow all of this magic down to just five? And yet, that is the challenge. I am so drawn to these thought experiments because they are so darn difficult, could go any number of ways depending upon my mood, and are open to such thorough debate.

In this case, there is the internal debate about the grounds for choosing. Do you go with the five you seem to listen to most? That seems the most obvious and it’s what I did first. But it left me feeling starved for variety. But when I start thinking I should spread out my genres, I end up with too few of my absolute favorites. And with R & B, I deeply love the genre but don’t necessarily have one artist that demands inclusion. Then I try to compromise by combining, like, “Maybe Michael Jackson can satisfy my R & B fix with some of his songs, even though he is mostly Pop.” Then I try my last desperate ploy: “I will take New Edition if you let me include all of their solo careers that came after the band broke up, pretty please.” I’m going to pretend that plea/caveat was accepted! Then you have to consider if some of your possible choices have a big enough catalogue of music or if they are still young enough that they are going to keep putting out new music, which makes it more exciting.

So, what if I started by narrowing it? That might make it seem more manageable than trying to just pull five from the 76 artists (and counting) I have already mentioned. Okay, here we go, legitimate options……Matt Nathanson, Mat Kearney, Ryan Adams, Tracy Chapman, David Gray, Indigo Girls, Storyhill, The Decemberists, Joshua Radin, Marc Cohn, The Eagles, Bob Dylan, Joshua Kadison, Counting Crows, Keith Sweat, New Edition (and ensuing careers), Babyface, Keith Jarrett, George Winston, Michael Jackson, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Marley, The Beatles.

Okay, that’s 24. Not particularly helpful, but a start. It’s time to get tough. Next cut……Matt Nathanson, Mat Kearney, Tracy Chapman, David Gray, Indigo Girls, Joshua Radin, March Cohn, Bob Dylan, Counting Crows, New Edition, Keith Jarrett, Michael Jackson.

Alright, now we have definitely reached the painful point! Twelve would be much easier to keep than five! Okay, okay, I can do this (with teeth gritted)…..Mat Kearney, Indigo Girls, Marc Cohn, Counting Crows, New Edition.

Hooray! And sob. I love these selections; they represent so much of my history and memories, with still some music left to be made. That makes me happy. It’s sad, though, leaving out the great diversity of artists and genres that I love and that continue to shape me as I push every year to stretch my musical palate. It seems a great tragedy. To try to limit the infinite power of music is a crime. No wonder this exercise has been so difficult!

It is a good thing it is hypothetical. Still, I love this kind of challenge! Once I get going, I plunge in headfirst and take the process seriously to the end, fleshing out the finer points and multiple possibilities. After so many years of journaling, my brain seems to especially enjoy topics that are ambiguous and multi-faceted, full of intricacies and forks in the road. I am drawn to nuance, depth, and grey areas that beg to be understood more fully rather than just the black-and-white answers that we are so often fed by politicians and social media trolls. I think that is what so intrigued me about this topic of narrowing musical choices. I knew it would require a period of uncertainty, of not knowing exactly what I think, and that I would have to wade through those murky waters and linger in that discomfort until I could come up with, through my own process of analysis and ultimately trusting my own judgment, the answers that feel right to me.

So, in the end, this challenge was rewarding almost as much for the mental exercise as for the trip through my music collection and all of the brilliant artists that have blown my soul wide open through the years. Almost! Truth be told, I could just climb into my music collection and let my heart bubble over with Love. As my guy Matt Nathanson sings, “I feel invincible with my headphones on!”

How about you? How will you narrow your musical loves down to just five for the rest of your life? Open up your journal and your album collection and play your way through to clarity. Do you like these types of questions that, even though they aren’t “serious,” force you to dig deep to come up with the answers that best represent you and your loves? Do you tend to comment on them when someone poses a question like this on social media? If not, do you at least tend to make a list in your head? Do you scan the Comments for other people’s lists? It’s interesting, right? It gives us insights into people we may not get another way. How about this particular question? How keenly were you drawn to it when you first heard it? Did you instantly start thinking of your list? What were the first names that jumped to your mind? Were they artists that you have always listened to, or were they more recent additions to your collection? As you started to expand beyond your top couple and considered options for your final selections, how big did the list grow? Ten? Twenty? Fifty? What were the biggest factors you considered? The pure joy the artist’s music gives you? The memories tied to that artist’s music? The number of songs in their catalogue? How many albums they are likely to release in the future? How self-conscious did you get in the process? Did you feel yourself succumbing to considering how other people would react to certain selections, leaning toward artists who would give you more cachet with “music people” over less sophisticated artists who just make your heart sing more? Did you feel pressure to diversify your list when you saw what it might be? What was your Top 10? How did you get from there to five? How painful was it? Who were your five? When you read through it, how much Joy do you feel? Any regrets? How fun was it just to go through your collection? Isn’t music amazing? How could we ever limit it, even to our very favorites? Leave me a reply and let me know: How seriously can you take a hypothetical question about something you love?

Let your spirit sing,

William

P.S. If this got you thinking or made you smile, pass it on. The world needs more active minds and smiling faces!

P.P.S. If this way of questioning yourself invigorates you, check out my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers.

EXPRESS YOURSELF!!! Do You Let Your Inner Artist Out?

“To be creative means to be in love with life. You can be creative only if you love life enough that you want to enhance its beauty, you want to bring a little more music to it, a little more poetry to it, a little more dance to it.” –Osho

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” –Maya Angelou

Hello friend,

I am an artist. I am an artist!

Gosh, that is really hard to say!!! It makes me feel as though I am boasting! And perhaps, if I am deep-down honest, it makes me feel insecure as to whether I am telling the truth, whether I am good enough to measure up to the term. Artist. Artiste! But I am working hard to say it with conviction. “I am an artist.” I am.

I have a much easier time saying–to myself and to you–that I am a writer. I have the ink stains to prove that claim. Clearly, I write to you on a regular basis. I wrote a book. I qualify as a writer. Before I started Journal of You, I was already writing in my journal every day for 17 years. During those years, however, I didn’t necessarily consider myself a “writer” because I wasn’t sharing my words with the world. I wrote every day because it made me feel good to write. It connected me to myself. And to my higher Self. Writing liberated me at the same time that it taught me who I was. It brought me out while bringing me in. It was both a form of expression and discovery.

Stop there. Back that up a few sentences.

Even as I was just typing that explanation of why my early writing was not “writing” or “art,” the words coming out of my fingers were telling me that that was exactly the kind of artistic outlet–call it Art or Creativity or Imagination or Soul Connection or Self-Expression or Divine Inspiration or whatever you want–that I needed then and that I think we all need throughout our lives, whether or not we ever intend to share our “art” with the world and call ourselves artists.

Sometimes I think it is the terms themselves that hold us back from exploring these outlets that allow us to feel alive and uplifted and whole. Call something an “Art class” or a “creativity exercise” or a chance for “self-expression” or “imagination,” and most of us shut down entirely. “I don’t have a creative bone in my body!” we say. Or, “I’ve never been artistic.”

So, we don’t take up our buddy on that offer to teach us the guitar. We don’t join our friends who are going to take a one-night painting class together. We don’t go out dancing. We don’t sing karaoke (or even in the shower). We don’t draw pictures, even though we used to love that when we were young. We even ignore those new “adult” coloring books. We don’t pick up the pen to write that poem or short story that seems to be rattling around in our brains looking for an outlet. Heck, we don’t even write that first journal entry, so certain are we that we “have nothing to say” (I hear that one all the time, believe me!).

Why do we squash that? I think a lot of it is FEAR and SHAME. We think that if we try something “artistic,” that we will inevitably be found out and then judged on our performance. Judged harshly. We think people are going to be whispering, “How dare she think she is good enough to perform in public? She’s not a REAL…..(insert whatever you like: dancer, singer, actress, painter, musician, writer).”

Beyond just the criticism of our (lack of) talent, I think there is also that self-consciousness and insecurity around being thought of as childish for doing something as whimsical, imaginative, and brave as art is, even if just done in private.

Somehow, as we leave childhood and enter that ultra-self-conscious stage called adolescence, we tend to cut out anything that is not “cool” or “grown-up,” and we certainly stop doing anything we are “bad” at. The potential judgment of our peers stifles so much that made life fun and engaging and meaningful and inspiring. We mute ourselves. Our clothing choices become less personalized. We stop singing out loud. We don’t draw or paint or color. We don’t make music. Performances stop. Even personal writing ends. That fear of sticking out or, worse yet, being “bad” at something, snuffs out so much of our beautiful light. It is tragic.

The real tragedy, though, is that by the time we are ready to slip the chains of adolescence and emerge as independent, mature adults, this muted existence that we have exiled our true, glorious Self to has become habit. It is your new normal. And not just yours, but everyone else around you, too. Whimsy, inspiration, and connection to our artistic souls seem lost on the adult crowd. It is why I see, at the local sledding hill, the kids howling gleefully as they fly down the slope, gulping fresh air and exhilaration and Life, while their parents stand at the top of the hill and make small-talk. Or why those same parents–and I am guilty of this one, too–spend their money and time on getting their kids to music lessons to learn the piano or violin or whatever (because it is vitally important to raise well-rounded kids), but wouldn’t dream of signing themselves up for lessons.

By adulthood, we have so internalized that fear of being criticized and that need to fit in and be “adults” instead of being “childish,” that it is simply–and unconsciously–expected that we don’t have creative outlets in our lives. So, rather than write or sing or dance just because it makes our soul feel good or lightens our load, we skip it altogether and continue carrying that baggage. We don’t even realize how much of what makes us vibrant and interesting and alive and free is simply hiding under there, lying dormant. Unimaginative and muted are the adult normal.

But dormant means it’s still alive in there, right? Hibernating. Waiting for the right conditions to emerge and flourish. Waiting for its moment to shine.

Well, why can’t NOW be that moment for you? Seriously.

I am asking myself that. Why not now? At this very moment, I am doing some of what makes me feel creative, connected, and inspired. Writing this letter to you definitely has my adrenaline going and is tapping into something my “normal” self doesn’t access. I so appreciate that sensation.

But what else can I do? Music. Last year, I started teaching myself to play the guitar. Fifteen minutes here and there and I was getting just a tiny bit of a feel for it. I loved it, though, as I always knew I would, all those years I spent dreaming about playing by a campfire. But I got busy on a writing project and let it slip. I miss it and realize now that I must get back to it without delay. My other two long-term musical goals are to learn the piano and the harmonica, probably in that order. I have them in my house, too, so it is just up to me to make the time. The mere idea of it excites me, though, even as I am certainly the first one to claim, “I don’t have a musical bone in my body.” I don’t care. I love it! And it gives me all of those amazing and surely Divine tingles that I have been talking about. Even just singing–as I do often with my horrible but passionate voice–makes my soul fly. And someday, when I am done paying for all of my kids’ lessons, I am going to pay someone to help me to learn all of these beautiful things. And I won’t feel guilty about it!

I can totally see myself as being the king of Adult Education classes when my kids leave the house. I would truly enjoy learning to paint, draw, take photographs, write poetry and fiction, and whatever else they are willing to teach me. I could see myself trying out for a community theatre performance someday, too. And I am certain that I will keep writing: journals, blog posts, books, whatever. I want to make art until my last breath.

For now, I just want to make sure I am scratching that creative itch as often as possible. The writing is a huge part of it, but I realize I need more. I am here and now committing to a return to the guitar practice. I think I will borrow some of my kids’ art supplies, too, and just see what comes out of me. Even adding a few minutes of meditation every day–which is not specifically artistic or creative–can help me touch that realm of connection and inspiration where art resides. I am happy there. I am committed to putting myself in a position to touch that magnificent realm more often.

How about you? Do you have creative and artistic outlets in your life? Open up your journal and consider the moments when your soul finds its way to that place that ordinary existence doesn’t make room for. Where in your life are you allowed to let your imagination and creativity free? Do you have creative hobbies? What are they? Is there some aspect of creativity in your job? What else? Do you sing in the car? Do you ever pick up a musical instrument? Do you draw or paint? How about those “adult” coloring books? Do you write poems or short stories? Are you just reading my letters, or will you write a journal entry, too? Do you have any apps on your phone or tablet that you use to create, such as Garage Band? Do you get creative with your camera? Do you have the audacity to call yourself an artist? Could anything get you to that point? If there is nothing like these outlets in your life, what do you do that lights up your soul? How long has it been since you truly felt the light of imagination and expression inside you? What do you sense that you are missing out on by going without, if anything? Are there substitutes for that deep connection and release that art provides; perhaps things like yoga, meditation, religious ceremonies, or walking in Nature? What works for you? Why do we stop doing whimsical, creative things? Is it out of fear that we are acting “childish” by trying something like an art? Is it out of fear of being judged harshly for our lack of talent or skill? Do we think art would seem too decadent or self-indulgent, even a waste of time? Are creative people more interesting to you? Do you think they are actually more courageous than the rest of us, or are they just genetically predisposed to trying difficult things and putting themselves out there? Does the answer to that question matter to you? Do you think trying to stretch your artistic or imaginative skills could help you to grow in self-confidence or courage? Do you think it could help you become more empathetic? More open-minded? More playful and free? How else could creative pursuits improve your life? Could they improve the lives of the people around you, too? In what ways? What is one creative endeavor that you would like to add to your life? How soon can you do that? Will you? Leave me a reply and let me know: How do you feed the artist inside you?

Liberate yourself,

William

P.S. If this letter resonated with you, I invite you to share it with your people. We could all use a little soul stirring.

P.P.S. If this type of questioning appeals to your sensibilities, I hope you will check out my book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth, at your favorite online retailers.

The Inspiration List: What Motivates You To Be Better

“Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Hello friend,

This week, I was fascinated to read about James Shaw Jr., the man who, during the “Waffle House Shooting” in Tennessee two weeks ago, wrestled the killer’s AR-15 assault rifle away and forced the shooter to flee, saving numerous lives in the process.

I admit that I purposefully avoided the entire Waffle House story when the tragedy first occurred. I felt like my system was just not ready to take on the emotional toll of another mass shooting. I saw the typical headlines on the television at the gym and in my Newsfeed–the young white male, the assault rifle, the victims–and figured that I knew the story all too well and could save on my mental health by avoiding this one and taking on next week’s shooting instead. It was all too depressing and too numbingly “normal.” I kept my distance. I wanted that sinking darkness to pass me by this once.

What finally drew me to learn the full story, however, was a piece on James Shaw Jr. and his humble generosity. I had seen Mr. Shaw’s picture after the shooting–a photo of his arm that had been grazed by a bullet in the attack–and knew that he had stopped the shooter, but what I learned this week is what truly captured me. You see, he not only saved all these lives, but he also then started a GoFundMe crowdsourcing page for the families of the victims who died in the shooting. His original goal was to raise $15,000. Well, word got out, and as of the last time I checked, he had raised an amazing $225,966.

When I read that story and researched the number on the GoFundMe page, all I could think was, “Now THAT is how to do it! THAT is a light that brightens us all! Bless you, sir!”

James Shaw Jr. is an inspiration to me. He has filled my heart with hope and made me want to be a better human.  

The whole situation of the awful-yet-familiar tragedy at the Waffle House and my accidental discovery of a new source of inspiration this week has caused me to pause and ponder about Inspiration itself and where I can find more of it in this world where conflict, corruption, and calamity that grab the headlines.

I am tired of being weighed down, tired of examples of our failings and our helplessness at the hands of the dark, cold world. I want to feel lifted. I want to feel awe and hope. I want to be reminded that I am magnificent and that I am part of something even more magnificent. I want to believe in a bigger, better me.

In short, I want to be inspired.

So today, I am making an Inspiration List. On my list will be anything and everything that makes me feel all those ways I just described. You know, inspired.

With that, here goes one beautiful brainstorm:

  • The sun, moon, and stars. Everything that goes on out there in space–and just thinking of the unfathomably large magnitude of the Universe–electrifies my spirit, but I am extra moved by those celestial bodies that are part of my daily consciousness. I love driving to the gym in the pre-dawn darkness and having my breath taken away at my first sight of the full moon, then watching the magical light show of sunrise on my way home. And nothing beats a night under the stars to remind me that I am part of something truly awesome. It is in these moments of looking past our Earth that I am most convinced that there is a God.
  • Jimmy Carter. This guy is building houses for the homeless in his 90s. Enough said.
  • My kids. Everything about parenthood is being my best and giving my best. When you realize that every moment of your life is an example for both how they ought to behave immediately and how they will remember you eventually, you better step up. My kids have raised the bar for me in every way imaginable.
  • Water.  In all its forms, water is a true wonder for me. The ocean all by itself is enough to leave me in amazement every time I lay eyes on it, or better yet, swim in it. The amount of life there, the power of it, the enormity. It boggles my mind in the best of ways and leaves me in a state of Peace I can find nowhere else. It is that Peace that I love best about water. Streams, lakes, even puddles. I am drawn there and revitalized upon my arrival. I have always been mesmerized the fact that the percentage of the Earth covered by water is almost the exact percentage of water that makes up the human heart and brain. That connection inspires me.
  • Libraries and bookstores. It is the artists who wrote the words and the sacrifices they made to get the books published. It is the knowledge and wisdom contained in those books. It is the words themselves. Being surrounded by books gives me the good goosebumps.
  • Protest marches and marchers. I have been deeply moved by the marches of this era–the Women’s March, the #RedForEd teachers marching for funding, the Science March, Black Lives Matter, etc.–in their attempts to create awareness and change. It lifts me up to see regular citizens rising to the challenges that their “leaders” have failed them in meeting.
  • Quotes.  People from all walks of life across human history have said and written the most beautiful words. I read them and rise.
  • Quantum Physics. I love how something seemingly way over our heads can deliver us the most simple and powerful Truth: We are ALL connected to ALL THAT IS.
  • The teachers where I work. I am in an elementary school five days a week, and every day I am impressed and humbled by the way the teachers (and aids) navigate the minefield of our children and guide them toward a better future. It is so hard to be good at that.
  • My Facebook friend Josie. I have never even met this woman, but even electronically she oozes optimism, kindness, and authenticity. She posts several uplifting memes every day–I steal most of them for my Journal of You page–and shares all kinds of personal stories and photos from her view of the world. She is my example of how to change the world with your being and your little actions. The image of her in my mind literally glows.
  • Glacier National Park. I can hardly think about this place without getting misty. It is my symbol for the natural beauty of this Earth and the gifts we earthlings have been granted in being born here. It is why we need to do better with what we have.
  • Leonardo da Vinci. This guy was absolutely amazing! Of course, genius is always amazing in its way, but I so admire the tremendous breadth of this man’s explorations of his talents. When you are known as “The Father of…” multiple scientific disciplines and one of the best painters of all time, you are awe-worthy in my book. When people wonder why I write about so many different things instead of finding a niche, I think of Leonardo.
  • The Parkland kids. I take so much encouragement from these young people whose friends were murdered while at school and then had the gumption to use their moment to push for a positive change, proving to us all that you are never too young to use your voice.
  • Barack and Michelle Obama. This is not political. This is about character in the face of antagonism, cruelty, and outright bigotry. When I think of the Obamas, the two words that come to my mind are Class and Grace. And I also think of Michelle saying, “When they go low, we go high.” I aspire to that.
  • The idea of a Divine Creator. I won’t try to tell you that I am certain that there is a God and that this God has a plan and created all of this beauty and magnificence for us to play in. However, I am attracted enough to those ideas to let it sway my soul into being inspired by it. As I have alluded to earlier, I am deeply moved by both the magnitude of the Universe itself and by the natural beauty and power of the “Nature” found on this planet, including the oceans, the mountains, the plants, and the animals (including us!). The idea that there was an intelligent Designer gives it all that much more Life and meaning.
  • Michelangelo’s The Pietá and David. When I first happened upon The Pietá in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, I was struck motionless by it. My eyes welled up. I was absolutely spellbound. By the time I saw the David in Florence, I had seen so many replicas and pictures of it that I wasn’t anticipating much. Still, I could not take my eyes off of it. Michelangelo is an artist perhaps without parallel in history, and these sculptures are just two reasons why. I am inspired by his genius.
  • The nonviolence and strength of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. These two great men top the list for me when it comes to heroes. Both fought unceasingly against injustice–both ultimately being murdered as a result–and yet both did so without the violence that their oppressors used and that so many around them called for.
  • Teaching. At various points in my life, I have stood in front of college kids to teach them Philosophy, elementary and middle school kids to teach them World Religions, and everyone from ages 3 to 93 to teach them Tennis. And every time, my heart has been filled by the teaching, the love of the subject matter, and my immense joy at helping to expand the world of my fellow beings. Teaching gives me life!
  • My cousin Heide. She died of cancer several years ago, a beloved teacher, wife, and mother of two little girls. Her death at such a young age–and how she left behind a life quite similar to mine–has served as a constant reminder to make the most of the time that I have, as more is not guaranteed.
  • The books of Steven Pressfield. He writes in more than one genre, but the two books of his that I tell myself that I should read every year are The War of Art and Turning Pro. As a writer, these books remind me to dig in and work at my craft, to sit down every day and put words onto paper, no matter how difficult the process or how awful the result, because the world needs my gifts. I need to hear that.
  • Music.  Whether live in concert, through the speakers filling up the house, or coming to me personally through my big headphones, there is nothing like music to fill up a soul. When the first notes come through to me–whether it is the dramatic organ and monologue of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy,” the tinkling keys of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer,” the unmistakable beat of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” or the dramatic violins of Beethoven’s 5th symphony–my spirit soars.
  • Dan Rather. Growing up, we were more of an NBC household, so my news came from Tom Brokaw. But this late chapter of Rather’s life, where I have come to know him as a passionate social commentator on Facebook and a brilliant writer and patriot in his new book What Unites Us, has brought me to a man who has done and seen just about everything in his lifetime and has come away more empathetic and grateful for the process. His thoughts give me necessary, humble reminders and also great hope. So does his life.
  • Publishing my work. I will never forget the feelings of exhilaration that came when I put my very first blog post out into the world on this site. It was my reach-out to you, and hitting that “Publish” button felt like exactly what I was meant to do. I still get a charge every time I hit that “Publish” button in the early hours of Sunday morning, releasing my heart out into the world in hopes it makes someone else’s life better. Publishing my book was that way, too, only with a lot more relief after the many painstaking hours that project required. The feeling of sharing my Truth in the service of making others’ journeys more rich and full is enough to propel me to do it again and better. After all of the ways we beat ourselves up in life, it is a priceless treasure to occasionally be our own inspiration.
  • Science.  I absolutely LOVE to learn new things and get a little closer to the truth of how this Universe operates, so Science is my friend. One of my favorite things is the Ted-Ed Facebook page–I highly recommend following it–where they regularly produce these amazing little 5-minute videos, usually with animation, teaching us all about our world. Recent topics: “What’s the difference between hibernation and sleep?,” “How do touchscreens work?,” “The evolution of teeth,” “What happens during a stroke?,” “Why can’t you divide by zero?” Learning this stuff excites me, but what excites me even more is that every day scientists are discovering new things about how our world works, how we can better operate in it, and how we might eventually have to save it. That lifts me up.

That’s my Inspiration List! My spirits are lifted just by writing it all down and thinking about these wonderful gifts. The list has become the final item on the list! It reminds me of Itzhak Stern in Schindler’s List when he says, “The list is an absolute good. The list is life.” It certainly feels that way for me.

How about you? What’s on your Inspiration List? Open up your journal and think about what lifts you up, excites you about life, and moves you to be a better person. Write down that list. What comes immediately to your mind? Who are the people on your list? Are they more people that you know–family and friends–or famous people? Are the famous ones from the present day or are they historical figures? Are your categories more general–like movies or music or books–or is your list full of specific songs, movies, and book titles? Which places are on your list? Are they places you have been or places you dream about going? Is there a spot on your list for spiritual practices? Are YOU on your list? How does it make you feel to make the list? Does your list inspire you? I hope so! What have I missed in my list–what do you recommend? Leave me a reply and let me know: What fills up your Inspiration List?

Do great things,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, I would appreciate if you would share it on your social media. And if you are comfortable sharing your list, even better!

P.S.S. Dive deeper into your whole life–past, present, and future–with my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering the Beauty That Is Your Truth. Available at your favorite online retailer.

Is Self-Care Selfish? How Do You Show Yourself Some Love?

“You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” –Eleanor Brownn

Hello friend,

This week, for the first time in years, I took a yoga class. It stirred something in me, reminding me of something important that I once let slip from my grasp.

The other day I was talking with my neighbor about the types of therapy he is doing for his ailing back. He mentioned physical therapy, electronic stimulation, lifting weights, and acupuncture. Then he said, “But what has helped the most is yoga. It is healing my back, but mostly I feel it healing my SOUL.” He glowed as he talked about how this nightly, 30-minute video routine makes him feel inside. I thought to myself, “This guy has learned a secret he must never forget!” I told him how I have always been a huge proponent of yoga. I realized as I was saying it, though, that my endorsement felt a little hollow.

I first tried a yoga class about 20 years ago and fell instantly in love. It felt so good to me on so many levels. My body felt healthier than ever. My mind was calm and clear. And there was something more, something spiritual. My soul felt good. Yoga made me feel like I was caring for myself, doing something that made my life better and allowed me to show up better for the world around me. I told myself I was in it for life. There was no way I would stop.

I stopped.

I can’t even explain why. I just got out of the habit. That sounds really lame to me now, knowing that I never stopped working out over all these years. I also never stopped telling people how wonderful and important yoga is. I was like the paid endorser who doesn’t really use the product.

I guess I just didn’t make it a priority. Not a high enough one, anyway. I never seemed to make the time to add it to my schedule or trade it for one of the other things I was doing. Oh, I brought it back a few different times over the years for short stints—and I loved it each time—but it never stuck. I suppose that, subconsciously anyway, I considered it an overindulgence, like I just couldn’t give myself that much of a treat. I was not worthy of the extra hour just for personal growth or soul therapy.

It is not as though yoga is alone in this neglect. I have long been aware of the wondrous effect that reading books has on my soul, and yet I almost never allow myself dedicated reading time (I let myself do it when I am falling asleep at night or on an exercise machine). Music is the same way. Meditation, too, I have always sworn by yet rarely followed my own advice, even for just ten minutes per day. I have no excuse.

I have always tried to be so conscious of my time and not wasting it, and yet somehow in my haste to be productive, I seem to have regularly forgotten to feed my soul its fill. I haven’t taken the best care of what matters most.

Oh sure, I have done quite well on some fronts. I have kept up a fitness routine, and that has been at least as good for my peace of mind as it has for my body. And of course, my daily journaling practice has stood strong for 20 years. That is a huge pillar of my self-care. It is clarity and sanity disguised as a blank book. I also make a point of spending a ton of time with my kids. They put wind in my sails.

And that’s about it for consistent self-care for me. In other areas that feel important to me, I either make an occasional attempt or fail completely.

One of the areas that I recognize now more than ever is getting outdoors and spending some time in Nature. This never fails to help me to reconnect to myself and to the Divine. Whether it is a walk through the forest or a quiet contemplation by a lake or stream, this is my nearest approximation of a church. It makes me feel whole again. And I just don’t do it enough. I am better about it in the Summer, even if it is something as simple as laying in my hammock and listening to the birds sing and the leaves rustle. I know I do best, though, when I get out away from the paved roads and buildings, and that is something I just don’t make the time for very often.

Something that I have improved on a bit in this last year is sleeping. Starting from the time my daughter was born almost nine years ago, I have really struggled in this department. I had an excuse for a few years when the kids were little, but I became too accustomed to being raggedy. As soon as they started sleeping better, I started using that extra time for personal growth things that I had put off, like taking classes and starting these letters to you. I was running myself into the ground trying to get it all done, going on the fumes of a mere four or five hours of sleep per night, every night. As I said, just in the last year I have made a more concerted effort to bring that number up closer to seven hours. I don’t always succeed, but I feel better when I do.

Nutrition is another one that I am just getting started with. After a lifetime of pretending I could eat mostly whatever I want and still feel good, I have lately started to pay closer attention to the ways different foods affect my energy and my comfort. I am beginning to cut things out of my diet. There is a long way to go, but it feels like the right direction for my long-term health and happiness.

The one thing that I haven’t tried but that consistently tugs at my thoughts is the inclusion of more art and creation in my life. Writing these letters to you is about as close as I get to that, and Writing Day is the most fulfilling day of my week. But I want more, and I want variety. Specifically, I feel music calling out to me. I mentioned earlier that even dedicated time for listening to music lifts me up, but what my soul is itching for is to learn how to play it. I own a guitar and a beginner book, but I have never given myself permission to take that time. The same goes with the piano. Even when I touch the keys briefly as I am cleaning the house, my spirit does a little dance. I know the signs are telling me to play.

These musical longings speak again to this issue I seem to have about indulgences. Somehow, somewhere along the way I seem to have confused self-care with selfishness. I allow myself time to write in my journal, and that feels like all I deserve. I give myself permission to exercise daily, but only if it is while the rest of my family is still sleeping. I offer all of my energies to my kids—which I love doing for me—because I can claim it as good for them. I can justify adjustments to my nutrition because it is not taking up any more time or directly affecting anyone else. If I let myself go to bed earlier, I have to write less.

That thing about wasting time and being inefficient—combined with these feelings of unworthiness and guilt about selfishness—is exactly why I don’t allow myself the other self-care activities that I know would do so much for me. Meditation. Nature walks. Learning the guitar and piano. Reading books. Listening to music. These are all things that require time that I seem to feel I don’t deserve. As though care for my soul is not reason enough. This realization saddens me. I want to think I am worth more than that to myself.

This is why I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself granting special permission to go to yoga class this week. You see, I think a big reason yoga left my schedule is that it usually doesn’t feel like as much of a pure workout as lifting weights or running or something like that does, so I had a hard time justifying yoga instead of one of those (my efficiency hang-up at its most glaring). So it was a big deal for me when I substituted a cardiovascular workout for the yoga class (even though I did have to get up even earlier to make it). I consciously prioritized the benefits to my mind and spirit.

Whoa! It seems really strange even to type that thought! I just don’t do that very often, apparently.

And though I felt guilty for missing the cardio workout, oh my, how good that yoga class felt! It was a genuine treat. I was working at it, but it still felt like a pampering for my soul. I can still feel the effects on my mood even days later. What a discovery! This is what self-care feels like! I think I could get used to this. Well, you know, after a few visits to the shrink, maybe!

How about you? What does self-care look like to you? Walk yourself through your weekly slate of activities. Which items on your itinerary are aimed at getting yourself feeling connected, engaged, and at your best? Which ones are, like my journaling, your most ingrained habits, things that are a normal part of your life? How long have you been practicing those things? Could you imagine letting go of those habits? Which of your self-care practices is most important to you? Why? What practices have you tried and liked at some point but never made a part of your routine? Do you envision yourself returning to them? What will it take? Which ones have you had high expectations for but turned out to be just not your thing? Do you have any, like my guitar learning, that you haven’t tried but that your soul seems to be calling out for you to try? Why have you ignored that call to this point? What will get you to begin? Are your self-care activities more often done alone (e.g. meditating or reading) or with others (e.g. coffee with a friend or a yoga class)? Do you allot a certain amount of time each day that you proclaim as “Me Time” and really own it, or are you generally unaware of when you are taking care of yourself? Are you worthy of that dedicated time just for you? Are you only good at justifying it in the flow of your everyday life (e.g. nutrition), or are you good at claiming bigger chunks of time (e.g. a spa day or girls’ weekend), too? Is self-care intertwined with self-worth, i.e. the more we value ourselves, the more we care for ourselves? If so, what does your level of self-care say about how much you value yourself? How can you move that needle more in the right direction? How does it feel to be renewed from within? What best helps you get there? Leave me a reply and let me know: What does self-care look like to you?

You are totally worth it,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please pass it on. We are ALL worth it!

The Lyrics That Sing To My Soul

“I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself to hold on to these moments as they pass.” –Counting Crows, A Long December

Hello friend,

I love that lyric from A Long December by Adam Duritz, the lead singer of Counting Crows. As a natural chronicler of life events and someone who is drawn almost as much to depressing songs as to sappy love songs, those words jumped out of that song and into my soul the very first time I heard it. That is how amazing the right lyrics can be.

Honestly, that is how almost all of Adam Duritz’s words are for me. Even when his images are obscure and open to interpretation, they always seem to climb into me and be interpreted by my soul before my brain even becomes involved. From the moment I heard the Counting Crows’ first album, August and Everything After, I was mesmerized and truly shaken by the images and the sadness that it nestled into my heart. I could quote from any of the songs for examples, as they have taken turns as Most Favorite through the years as my life has changed and various live renditions have surfaced. But I will stick with my first love, Anna Begins, which is about trying to resist falling in love as it is overtaking him. There are individual lines that stand out on their own, like this gem: “These seconds when I’m shaking leave me shuddering for days,” she says. But, really, the whole thing is a masterpiece. As much as I hate to leave any words out, here are a couple of my favorite passages:

This time when kindness falls like rain, It washes me away.  And Anna begins to change my mind.  And every time she sneezes, I believe it’s love.  And I’m not ready for this sort of thing. 

She’s talking in her sleep.  It’s keeping me awake.  And Anna begins to toss and turn.  And every word is nonsense, but I understand.  And oh Lord, I’m not ready for this sort of thing.

I just love those beautiful words! I love the song, too, but I love the words most. These sad ones are from Raining In Baltimore on the same album:

There’s things I remember and things I forget.  I miss you; I guess that I should.  Three thousand five hundred miles away, but what would you change if you could?

I used to think it was obvious that a good song must have amazing lyrics. It turns out that is just not true. I have been combing through my music collection this week—the best research project ever—and I realized that sometimes the joy of a song is all about the sound of it and how that moves your mood. And though I am kind of artistically snobby about some things, I decided that those fun songs are awesome, too. So, while I wanted to find some genius lines in fun favorites like The Sound of Sunshine by Michael Franti or Let’s Get It On by Marvin Gaye, I took in their feeling just as well and found them brilliant.

But I love beautiful lyrics, so that is where I focused my search. I realized in the process that there are a few songwriters, like Adam Duritz, for whom I love just about every word that they write, making it hard to pull out individual lines or verses for fear of slighting the other words surrounding them.

One of those gems for me is Indigo Girls (I love them both, but Emily’s songs usually move me more than Amy’s). A few of my many favorites:

Each time you pulled down the driveway, I wasn’t sure when I would see you again.  Yours was a twisted, blind-sided highway, no matter which road you took then.  You set up your place in my thoughts, moved in and made my thinking crowded.  Now we’re out in the back with the barking dogs, my heart the red sun, your heart the moon clouded.  I could go crazy on a night like tonight, when Summer’s beginning to give up her fight, and every thought’s a possibility.  And voices are heard, but nothing is seen.  And why do you spend this time with me, maybe an equal mystery.  –Mystery

My friend Tanner, she says, “You know, me and Jesus we’re of the same heart.  The only thing that keeps us distant is that I keep f#*@in’ up!”   –Shame on You (to be sung at the top of my lungs with my sister)

I went to the doctors, I went to the mountain.  I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain.  There’s more than one answer to these questions pointing me in a crooked line.  The less I seek my source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine.  –Closer to Fine

And the Mississippi’s mighty, but it starts in Minnesota, at a place where you could walk across with five steps down.  And I guess that’s how you started, like a pinprick to my heart, but at this point you rush right through me and I start to drown.  –Ghost

One of the other things I realized in my joyous search was that I love songs that set a scene and tell me a story. A famous example of this is Billy Joel’s Piano Man, which begins:

It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday, the regular crowd shuffles in.  There’s an old man sittin’ next to me making love to his tonic and gin.  He says, “Son, can you play me a memory. I’m not really sure how it goes.  But it’s sad and it’s sweet, and I knew it complete when I wore a younger man’s clothes.” 

It just makes you want to hear the rest! This love of a story-song is what has always kept little-known Joshua Kadison on my list of all-time favorites. His “One-hit wonder” status comes from Jessie, which begins:

From a phone booth in Vegas, Jessie calls at five A.M., to tell me how she’s tired of all of them.  She says, “Baby, I‘ve been thinking about a trailer by the sea.  We could go to Mexico: you, the cat, and me.  We’ll drink tequila and look for seashells. Now, doesn’t that sound sweet?”  Oh, Jessie, you always do this every time I get back on my feet.

He has a lot of wonderful stories about old people, too, which I have always loved. These are some of his opening lines that draw me right in:

He tells her, “I want to paint you naked on a big brass bed, with bright orange poppies all around your head.”  And she says, “Crazy old man, I’m not young anymore.”  “That’s alright,” he whispers. “I’ve never painted before.”   Painted Desert Serenade 

A cigarette burns itself out in a crushed up Coca Cola can ashtray.  In front of a busted up old mirror, Delilah Blue is checking out his tired sachet.   –Delilah Blue

Tangled in the sheets of a motel bed, Samantha paints her toenails cherry red.  She asks me if she can paint mine, too.  And I say, “Samantha, anything for you.”  –Beau’s All Night Radio Love Line

Neffertiti came out West in a stolen limousine, twenty dollars to her name and a walk like you ain’t never seen.  She moved into Number 8 with just a bottle in her hand, an old radio wrapped up in its cord, and no particular plan.  I watched her in the hallway, she blew me a little kiss, and said, “Hey baby, what’s a boy like you doing in a place like this?”  –Jus’ Like Brigitte Bardot

Marc Cohn is another one on my short list, a brilliant songwriter whose one hit is another story-song, Walking in Memphis. My favorite verse:

Now, Muriel plays piano every Friday at the Hollywood.  And they brought me down to see her, and they asked me if I would do a little number.  And I sang with all my might.  She said, “Tell me are you a Christian, child?”  And I said, “Ma’am, I am tonight!”

 Beyond the storytelling, I am also drawn to songs with social and moral messages embedded in them. A few favorite lines:

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.  I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.  –John Lennon, Imagine

 Emancipate yourself from mental slavery.  None but ourselves can free our minds.  Have no fear for atomic energy, ‘cause none of them are going to stop the time.  How long must they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look?  Some say it’s just a part of it: we’ve got to fulfill the book.  Won’t you help to sing these songs of freedom?  ‘Cause all I ever had: Redemption Songs.  Bob Marley, Redemption Song 

Come on, people now, smile on each other.  Everybody get together.  Try to love one another right now.   —Chet Powers (The Youngbloods), Get Together 

I’m starting with the man in the mirror.  I’m asking him to change his ways.  And no message could have been any clearer: if you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change.   –Michael Jackson, Man In The Mirror 

And of course, as I mentioned, I am a sucker for love songs, from sappy to tragic and everything in between. I have already mentioned a handful, but here are some other lines that get inside of me:

If you find yourself lost out in this world, then I’ll find a way to get back to your side.  No mountain’s too high, no stone is too small.  I’ll build a bridge through the fire; for you I would crawl, from New York to California.  –Mat Kearney, New York to California 

Tonight our bed is cold.  I’m lost in the darkness of our love.  God have mercy on the man who doubts what he’s sure of.   –Bruce Springsteen, Brilliant Disguise 

Tell the repo man and the stars above: You’re the one I love.  –David Gray, The One I Love 

The time between meeting and finally leaving is sometimes called falling in love.  –Lisa Loeb, Falling In Love 

There are way too many love songs.  I think they’ve got it all wrong.  ‘Cause life is not the mountaintops; it’s the walking in between.  –Ben Rector, I Like You 

What do I do to make you want me?  What have I got to do to be heard?  What do I say when it’s all over, and “Sorry” seems to be the hardest word?  –Elton John/Bernie Taupin, Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word 

I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours.  –Bob Dylan, Talkin’ World War III Blues 

I wanna have friends that I can trust, that love me for the man I’ve become not the man that I was.  I want to have friends who will let me be all alone when being alone is all that I need.  –The Avett Brothers, The Perfect Space 

You got a fast car.  Is it fast enough so we can fly away?  We gotta make a decision: leave tonight or live and die this way.  –Tracy Chapman, Fast Car 

Together again, it would feel so good to be in your arms, where all my journeys end.  If you can make a promise, if it’s one that you can keep, I vow to come for you, if you wait for me.  –Tracy Chapman, The Promise (This was in my wedding.)

All you need is love.  –John Lennon, All You Need Is Love 

I could go on like this all day! There are a million more songs and verses I would love to share with you. I LOOOOOVE music!!! However, instead of giving you more lyrics, I will close with two quotes from my favorite movie about music, Almost Famous. The first is from Band-Aid (groupie) Sapphire: “They don’t even know what it is to be a fan. Y’know? To truly love some silly little piece of music, or some band, so much that it hurts.” And finally, from music critic Lester Bangs: “Music, you know, true music, not just rock ‘n’ roll—it chooses you. It lives in your car, or alone, listening to your headphones—you know, with the vast, scenic bridges and angelic choirs in your brain.” That’s how I feel, too.

How about you? What are the lyrics that have chosen you? Open up your journal and your music catalog. As you peruse your CDs or your iTunes account or whatever, what jumps out at you? Find favorites whose lyrics have climbed down into your soul and taken root. Do you have any artists that can basically do no wrong when it comes to songwriting, like my Adam Duritz or Indigo Girls? What is it about their words that attaches to you so organically? Do you find yourself more drawn to certain types of songs, or is it all over the board? What are your favorite story-songs? Feel-good songs? Songs with a social or moral message? What about love songs? Do you like the straightforward, sappiest love songs, or do you like the more subtle, not-so-obvious lyrics (for me, Anna Begins fits the latter category, whereas Marc Cohn’s True Companion, which I also love and was in my wedding, is the former)? How much do the lyrics matter to you, anyway? Are they just icing on the cake of a great sound, or are they an essential piece if that song is going to be one of your favorites? What are some of your favorites with weak lyrics? What about the reverse: which songs have amazing lyrics but not a great sound? Which ones have the best of both? How much do you love music? Leave me a reply and let me know: What are the songs of your soul?

Be swept away with Gratitude,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please share it with someone who will appreciate it. I love sharing music!

100 Loves

“We don’t need to have just one favorite. We keep adding favorites. Our favorite book is always the book that speaks most directly to us at a particular stage in our lives. And our lives change. We have other favorites that give us what we most need at that particular time. But we never lose the old favorites. They’re always with us. We just sort of accumulate them.” –Alexander Lloyd

Hello friend,

Allow me to light up your day! Come along with me and play a game we will call “100 Loves”. The rules are simple. I will name a category, and all you have to do is quickly name ten of the things you love most in that category. There will be ten categories, so ten lists of ten. Hence, 100 Loves!

My one caveat/suggestion: Don’t try to get your list exactly right! In any of the categories, of course there will be many contenders to make your Top Ten. Don’t give in to the temptation to agonize over which ones get those last few spots and which get left off the list. Just write the first ten that come to you. [Secret from the game designer: no one is going to bust you for making your lists a bit longer. If longer feels better, go for it!] This is all about thinking of things that give you good memories, inspirations, warm fuzzies, giggles, and smiles. If you are feeling pressure to get your list right, you are playing the game wrong. And just because you are making a list from one to ten, this is not about dividing up your heart into exact amounts. As long as your answers make you feel good, anywhere on the list is wonderful. Don’t rank them! Got it? Good! Let’s play!!!

Category #1: Books

  1. Walden—by Henry David Thoreau (my all-time favorite piece of literature)
  2. Autobiography of a Yogi—Paramahansa Yogananda
  3. The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway
  4. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance—Robert Pirsig
  5. Into the Wild—Jon Krakauer
  6. The War of Art—Steven Pressfield
  7. The Catcher in the Rye—J.D. Salinger
  8. Conversations With God (series)—Neale Donald Walsch
  9. On the Road—Jack Kerouac
  10. The Kite Runner—Khaled Hosseini

Category #2: Foods

  1. Monster Cookies (the ones my wife makes are divine and so naughty!)
  2. Garlic Bread
  3. Root Beer Floats (A&W preferred)
  4. Giant Burritos from Chipotle (I like them all!)
  5. Caramel Rolls (the ones my Mom makes are the best!)
  6. Grilled Halibut
  7. Dr. Pepper (I am not really a soda drinker, but when I indulge, the Doctor is in!)
  8. Pizza (I am not picky, but a simple pepperoni is lovely.)
  9. Smoothies (the one that my kids call “Mango Pineapple Pink” is delightful!)
  10. Chocolate Malt (made by my daughter after school—heavenly!)

Category #3: Inspirational Figures

  1. Martin Luther King, Jr.—Live your purpose. “The time is always ripe to do right.”
  2. Mohandas Gandhi—“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” He was.
  3. Henry David Thoreau—Be unapologetically you. Don’t just exist; LIVE!
  4. Ellen DeGeneres—Be you, be kind, and be generous. Oh yeah, and be silly.
  5. Mastin Kipp—Follow your heart. Stick with your biggest dream.
  6. Barack Obama—With the audacity of hope and lots of work, anything is possible.
  7. Dalai Lama—Spread positivity to every corner of the world. Be happy!
  8. Jimmy Carter—Spotlight or not, do good for all of the days of your life.
  9. Van Jones—In the most contentious of times, reach out across that chasm to find that we are rather more alike than we are different. Lead with love.
  10. My daughter, India—A contented soul makes the best company. Kindness first.

Category #4: Music Videos

  1. “Beat It”—Michael Jackson. Love that fight/dance scene!
  2. “Centerfold”—J. Geils Band. Those first bars were unmistakable and sent whoever was manning the family room TV into hysterics, yelling, “Centerfold’s on! Centerfold’s on!” so that the rest of the house would come running.
  3. “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”—Cyndi Lauper. With Captain Lou Albano as her Dad, how could this not make the list? It really was fun!
  4. “Her Mercy”—Glen Hansard. One of the few from my adulthood. My spirit rises with it. So beautiful.
  5. “She’s A Beauty”—The Tubes. I can’t explain it; I just loved this from the start.
  6. “Parents Just Don’t Understand”—DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. There’s no need to argue.
  7. “Headphones”—Matt Nathanson. A documentary set to music. Makes me smile through my tears.
  8. “I Love Rock & Roll”—Joan Jett & The Blackhearts. This is everything about my childhood. The best anthem!
  9. “Brave”—Sara Bareilles. It is a masterpiece of inspiration and fun.
  10. “Thriller”—Michael Jackson. An absolute EVENT. Captivating!

Category #5: Actors

  1. Julianne Moore
  2. Don Cheadle
  3. Cate Blanchett
  4. Daniel Day-Lewis
  5. Emma Thompson
  6. Anthony Hopkins
  7. Kate Winslet
  8. George Clooney (man crush)
  9. Helena Bonham Carter
  10. Sean Penn

Category #6: Games

  1. Taboo—a highly amusing holiday tradition with my extended family!
  2. Ping Pong
  3. Mario Kart on Wii—I love this with my kids!
  4. Yahtzee—classic!
  5. Super Mario Brothers on Nintendo—my Mom bought one of the Classic Nintendo consoles at Christmas, and between my sister, brother-in-law, and my kids, that game was going continuously the entire holiday break. Ahh, nostalgia for the many hours wasted on that game in the old days….
  6. Foosball
  7. H-O-R-S-E (Basketball)
  8. Capture the Flag—My brother and I still get the kids going on this one at the lake every Summer. This was my backyard in the Summers of my youth. So much fun and so many memories!
  9. Rock Band on Wii—because, at one point or another, we all dreamed of being in a band, right?
  10. Scattergories—Great for a large group. Inevitably funny.

Category #7: People (Not immediate family to take the guilt out of it)

  1. Gabrielle
  2. Uncle Bob
  3. Aunt Caryl
  4. Ruby Red
  5. Karen a.k.a. lizzy
  6. Cousin Becca
  7. Aysun
  8. Phil
  9. Foley
  10. Uncle Lloyd

Category #8: Songs

  1. I Go To Work—Kool Moe Dee
  2. Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters—Elton John
  3. Rochester—Mat Kearney
  4. No One—Alicia Keys
  5. Shame On You—Indigo Girls
  6. Walking In Memphis—Marc Cohn
  7. Let’s Get It On—Marvin Gaye
  8. Mrs. Potter’s Lullabye—Counting Crows
  9. Stand By Me—Ben E. King
  10. Seasons of Love—The Cast of “Rent”

Category #9: Activities

  1. Sledding
  2. Rollerblading
  3. Surfing
  4. Building a snowman
  5. Playing catch
  6. Hiking
  7. Kayaking
  8. Swimming
  9. Yoga
  10. Slip-n-Slide

Category #10: Movies

  1. Dead Poets Society
  2. The Thin Red Line
  3. Stand By Me
  4. Cinema Paradiso
  5. Slumdog Millionaire
  6. Almost Famous
  7. Home for the Holidays
  8. Beautiful Girls
  9. Moulin Rouge
  10. Life is Beautiful

Whew! We made it to 100! That was just a ton of fun! When I was making it up and deciding on categories, it seemed like fun, but it was so much more than that. It was nostalgic. It was emotional. It was deeply gratifying. Truly, that is what I take away from it: an astounding Gratitude for all of the wonderful blessings in my life, past and present. I am grateful, smiling, and inspired. Hooray!

How about you? What’s on your list of 100 Loves? Which categories were the most enjoyable to list? Which ones were hardest to keep to only ten items (I had a tough time keeping my Movies list at ten and made an extra-long list for that one on my paper). Which categories were the most emotional for you? Which brought you the most smiles and laughs? Did you break out any music, movies, or YouTube while you wrote? Which list had your most favorite memories? Were there some lists that just didn’t do much for you? If we were to make a second 100 Loves, which categories should we add (I toyed with bands, writers, locations, movie lines, even apps)? Was this as fun for you as it was for me? I hope you are smiling, anyway. Thanks for playing along! Leave me a reply and let me know: What are your 100 Loves?

Savor Life,

William

P.S. If this made you smile, please share it. We could all use more of those!

Sensation Preservation: My Favorite Sights, Sounds, Smells, Tastes, & Touches

IMG_4025“When we think of the past it’s the beautiful things we pick out.–Margaret Atwood

Hello friend,

Matt Nathanson is one of my favorite musicians. Last year, he put out a song called “Headphones” that managed to get a bit of radio play. I liked the song at first, until I saw the video. Then, I LOVED it! The video is basically a documentary montage of a trip Matt took to an impoverished town in Peru to give hearing aids to people who had either never had hearing or who had lost it. As the song rises to its climax, the video’s story reaches the point where the long-deaf people, who had lined up for hours for this moment—and certainly dreamed about it for years—begin to hear. The reactions are absolutely priceless! As they are overwhelmed with tears, amazement, gratitude, and wide wonder, I cannot turn my own teary eyes away. Each time I watch the video, I wonder about how special that moment is for those people, how the voices of Matt and the others must sound like audio magic to them, and how the image must sear itself into their hearts and minds forever. I also look at it from Matt’s perspective, but in the visual sense rather than the audio. I have to think that the look on those beautiful faces (see the photo) as they heard their first sounds—the absolutely palpable ignition of their souls—must have touched his heart in such a profound way that the image of them etched itself there forever as well.

At the start of the video’s story, in a voiceover that fascinates me, as Matt is explaining how much he loves music, he says, “I’d gladly go blind or mute, anything rather than go deaf. I’d be completely lost. I think that for most people, keeping their sight would be their first choice. But what a thought! I shudder at the very idea of losing any of my senses. I am reading a book right now called All the Light We Cannot See—I highly recommend it—in which the main character is a teenage girl who became blind as a young child. I am completely captivated by every scene she is in and try to imagine what it must be like to be in her shoes, to have seen the world once but now living totally in the dark. What images are etched in her memory? What would be the first thing she would want to see if her vision was restored? And what about Matt Nathanson and his hearing? What sounds would he miss the most? Music? Voices? The wind in the trees? What is so etched into his soul that he could never forget? What would it mean to reconnect with them?

Of course, I use Matt Nathanson, the deaf people of Peru, and Marie-Laure LeBlanc from my book as my examples, but who I am really thinking about is myself? What are the images—the sights, the sounds, even the tastes, smells, and touches–that I would miss the most? Which ones could I never forget? Would I pine for images I have never known outside of my imagination, or would it be the sensations that are the foundation of my everyday world? What makes this earthly life so great, anyway? The sights and sounds matter. So do the tastes and the smells and the touches. It turns out that our senses are the pathway to our entire experience of the world.

Like with most everything in my world since my kids were my born, the sensations I associate with my joy for life are so much tied to those two little munchkins. I think of my son’s cat-who-ate-the-canary smile and the look in his eyes when he has a joke up his sleeve. I cannot imagine a life without those magical, playful eyes that light me up every time I see them.

It is in my moments of being literally in the dark that I appreciate my sense of touch. The ones that seem to glue me together come after my daughter and I have said goodnight to my son and return to her bed. She lays her head on my arm and snuggles in close as she tells me stories and asks me questions. Gradually the talking comes to an end as she begins to give way to sleep. It absolutely is the food my soul lives upon, and I cannot imagine not being able to feel her against me, the curls of her hair tickling the side of my face.

There are also images from my past that seem to be seared into my heart and mind, and while I would love to experience them again, even if I went the rest of my lifetime without feeling them, I would still hold them as fresh visions in my mind, ones I wish never to forget. Two come quickly to mind. The first is a place called Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park (which itself is a tremendous feast for the senses that I give the highest recommendation). One day I hiked up to this crystal clear, glassy mountain lake and trudged through the brush to the far shore where no one would come near. I plopped myself down with my journal and seemed to have all I would ever need. I was surrounded almost entirely by steep rock faces with small waterfalls cascading down, except of course the absolutely crystalline water in front of me. Alone I sat with my heart completely open, and both the place and the visual completely soaked into me. I pray that Alzheimer’s does not take that image away from me any time soon.

Another fine day in another fine place came about 10 years ago in my beloved Italy. The town of Siena holds my heart anyway, but that particular late afternoon in Il Campo, the giant town square, my wife and I—relative newlyweds at the time—were just sitting on the ground on the beautiful, burnt orange bricks after a full day, enjoying some gelato and people-watching. In a playful mood, we pulled out our clunky camera—this was pre-smartphone days—and started taking selfies, giggling as we snuggled our faces up close to squeeze into the shot, then laughing at the results. We were so much at ease and so much in love. It was nothing but an ordinary afternoon in a magnificent place, but my memory of the sights, the tastes, the smells, and the feelings seems utterly extraordinary. If I could not see anymore, I would still have that day in my mind’s eye.

It is easy to take these senses for granted, but they are absolutely amazing gifts. I think of my son’s eyes, my daughter’s snuggles, the taste of gelato, the smell of the pine forest in Montana, and the sound of the ocean waves crashing on the beach. How could these be replaced if my senses were lost? Would my memory of them be enough? I honestly cannot say. What I do know is that doing this exercise has made me smile at the thought of so many beautiful sensations and the memories they have carved into my mind. It has made me more grateful for these priceless gifts. It has swept me away to my happiest places, and I have truly loved every step of the journey.

How about you? What are the sensations that live in you for the long-term? Open up your journal and take a trip through your most treasured memories of touches, tastes, smells, sights, and sounds. What are your favorite examples of each sense? What emotions are tied to them? Do the different senses seem to conjure a different set of emotions? What senses seem to create the strongest emotions in you? Are those senses also the most valuable to you? Which sense would you most willingly give up? Least willingly? If you lost one or more, do you think your memory would be strong enough to keep the feeling alive? If today you lost your hearing for a long period of time—say, five years—and then gained it back, what would you want to hear first? Same for sight: what would you want to see first? Touch? Smell? Taste? Armed with the answers to all of these questions, what are you going to take the time to appreciate in your day today? What sensations will you seek out? Which will you try to commit to memory? Leave me a reply and let me know: What images do you savor?

 Take it all in,

William

P.S. If this post resonates with you, I would greatly appreciate it if you would share it with your family and friends via social media or old-fashioned word-of-mouth. My hope is to positively impact as many people as possible every week, and I need your help to do that. Thanks in advance for your support.

The Soundtrack of My Life

DSC_0029“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.” –Plato

Hello friend,

This morning at my gym class, the instructor’s super-techno dance mix included a mash-up of Joan Jett & The Blackhearts’ classic “I Love Rock ‘n Roll”. After getting over my initial disgust that they had butchered this all-time rock anthem with a computer-generated dance beat, I was instantly swept back in time to July 19, 1982. I was nine years old, and my parents—in a moment of highly questionable judgment—let me, my siblings, and my cousins go unsupervised to a rock concert at the North Dakota State Fair. It was none other than Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, and “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” had just blown up. I was mesmerized by the whole experience, but especially hearing her sing that song live. It was a night etched in my mind forever.

That is how it so often is with the signature moments in our lives: a song is attached. So, when we think back on our history, the telling of our lives emerges from our minds like a movie, complete with a soundtrack. The music playing while we hung out with our friends, stayed up late, kissed the girl, got dumped by the girl, won the game, rebelled, danced, roadtripped, celebrated, contemplated, got married, rocked the baby, and on and on. For most of us, the music tells the story for us. Play the soundtrack, and we could “set adrift on memory bliss.”

My life is no different. When I look through my piles of CDs or through my iPod, it is like my life is flashing in front of my eyes. So, in roughly chronological order, here is the Soundtrack of My Life:

  1. “Another One Bites The Dust”—Queen. This one starts the album, because I remember listening to the 45—yes, a record—of this in my room over and over with my brothers and neighbors. The other Queen anthems—“We Are the Champions” and “We Will Rock You”—absolutely belong on this playlist as well, but I will lump them into this one slot so I can sneak other songs in (IT IS SO HARD TO KEEP THIS ALBUM SHORT!!!)
  2. “Take It On The Run”—REO Speedwagon. This is another vinyl memory. I didn’t own it, but I remember staying up late at my (older) cousins’ cabin when I was a kid listening to this over and over, dancing around on the beds and feeling way older than my 8 years.
  3. “You May Be Right”—Billy Joel. This is my transition to 8-track. I could not get enough of the sound of that shattering glass followed immediately by the revved-up opening bars of this song to start the “Glass Houses” album. Instant adrenaline!
  4. “Greased Lightning”—Danny Zuko (John Travolta) & the T-Birds. I have seen “Grease” a thousand times and know all the songs, but this one sticks out so vividly because I remember my brothers and neighbor boys and I standing on our basement sofas performing this song—with all the dance moves, of course—like we were the T-Birds as we watched it repeatedly. (I wish that my parents had recorded more of our nonsense, because I would die to see this stuff now.) Go greased lightning!
  5. “Roll On”—Alabama. This was the signature roadtrip song for the crosscountry family misadventures (see my post “Roadtrip Down Memory Lane”), since my dear mother only ever brought one cassette for the entire trip. I didn’t know any better. Roll on!
  6. “I Love Rock ‘n Roll”—Joan Jett & The Blackhearts. Enough said.
  7. “Cum On Feel The Noize”—Quiet Riot. I have to include this not just because it is one of those quintessential 1980’s rock anthems that got played at every school dance—and still charges me up to hear it—but because of how it fits with my Joan Jett story. You see, at that first concert for 9-year-old me, the warm-up band for Joan Jett was a totally unknown band named Quiet Riot, and they blew us away with all of the material from the “Metal Health” album that would become popular a year or so later. At nine years old, I reached the peak of my interest in metal—ha!
  8. “Beat It”—Michael Jackson. I am such a child of the early days of MTV, and I could easily produce a 50-song soundtrack of songs that influenced me from those early years of the network (you don’t know how it pains me to leave off this list The J. Geils Band’s “Centerfold”, which threw our whole house into a frenzy every time it got played). Michael Jackson’s brilliance as a performer was perfect for the music video medium, and I was totally captivated. Much like some of the others on this list, “Beat It” is my representative for all of the amazing stuff that Michael put out in those early years, including “Thriller”. When I hear the song now, the dance-off video leaps onto the screen of my mind.
  9. “Mony Mony”—Billy Idol. I can’t even really claim to like this song, but when I think of high school dances, this song is the first thing that comes to my mind. It was like we all had permission to shout the F-word, and what more does a teenager want? So we shouted!
  10. “You’re The Inspiration”—Chicago. Roadtripping with my best friend to tennis tournaments, to Chicago (where we actually saw the band Chicago play), and across the American Rockies. The “Greatest Hits 1982-1989” album logged a lot of miles. Lots of sappy love songs—right up my alley.
  11. “U Can’t Touch This”—MC Hammer. I remember riding in a school bus with a high school girls’ tennis team with this song blaring, and each time it would come to the right parts, we would all shout, “STOP! HAMMER TIME!!!” Pure, unadulterated fun.
  12. “How Am I Supposed To Live Without You”—Michael Bolton. I am probably supposed to be embarrassed that I was a huge Bolton fan in my late high school-early college years. I remember when my mom first got this cassette before we left for a long roadtrip to a tennis tournament. By the time we returned, I was sold. This song made it on many a mix tape.
  13. “Summertime”—DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. This was the Summer song for 1991, the year I graduated high school. I hear this and think of my buddies. That was our time together, and we soaked it up. After all of these years, I would still lay down in traffic for those guys.
  14. “Walking In Memphis”—Marc Cohn. My favorite. I also found this song in the Summer of ’91, and I include it not so much from one memory at that time but for how deeply it moved me—and moves me to this day. Though he is widely considered a one-hit wonder for this song, Cohn sunk deep into my soul with this entire album, and he has remained foremost in my heart ever since. Like some of the others, this spot on my list really represents a lot of songs, including “True Companion”, which played in my wedding. I have sung Marc’s songs to soothe my crying kids on their tough nights, and to soothe myself in the best and worst times of my life. This song, which is about a spiritual experience for him, has become a spiritual experience for me.
  15. “I Go To Work”—Kool Moe Dee. This was my “pump-up song” to get ready for intramural basketball games in college. I love this whole album, but this song completely brings it. This is good rap. Old school like the old school!
  16. “Jessie”—Joshua Kadison. This song–and all of the others from his “Painted Desert Serenade” album–is so much about singing my lungs out on solo roadtrips across the land. I love Kadison’s storytelling, and despite a short career, he has always been on my short list of favorites. A wonderful memory is seeing him play live at the House of Blues in Los Angeles.
  17. Round Here”—Counting Crows. Their debut song “Mr. Jones” was so overplayed that I didn’t want to get the “August and Everything After” album, but someone dear to me insisted. This is the first song, and I was completely shaken by it. I bought it in Washington, DC September of 1994, and it played in my Discman the entire Autumn and Winter I spent there and New York City. It has played on every roadtrip since, and never fails to move me. I love this song, this album, this band.
  18. “Mystery”—Indigo Girls. Someone randomly gave me this CD, “Swamp Ophelia”, in L.A.; she didn’t know why she had it and didn’t want it. This is the epitome of “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.” I had never heard Indigo Girls before that, but they didn’t leave my CD player for months afterward. This song in particular captured my soul from the beginning, and it has become another roadtrip staple for me. This band is on my short list, and the song is amazing live.
  19. “The Promise”—Tracy Chapman. I walked down the aisle of my wedding to this song. Though she had put out a number of albums before “New Beginning”, this album is where I discovered Tracy on a camping trip to Montana. I played it nonstop, and this song always hit me right in the heart. It led to a huge collection of her music and eventually hearing the song live in concert while holding hands with my wife. A pretty cool relationship moment.
  20. “No One”—Alicia Keys. This one is for my daughter. When she was an infant and having a crying fit that could not be settled, this song always came to my rescue. I would put the iPod dock on REPEAT mode with “No One” and sway through the kitchen with her in my arms. It did the trick every time. I love the song anyway, but knowing that my little angel loved it, too, gave it an extra special place in my heart.

There you have it: the soundtrack of my life. As I said, I can think of dozens of songs that are deserving of a spot on the playlist, and it pains me to leave them off. But this list seems right for my journey.

How about your journey? What is on the playlist of your life? Get out your journal and your CDs/cassettes/albums/iPod. Let yourself be swept away. What images come up with the songs? Do you remember the good and the bad times equally? How many images are about love? Who do the songs make you miss the most? Which is your favorite? Do you have, like me, such clear images of the songs of childhood, but fewer standouts from more recent years? I hope you have as much fun dancing through your memories as I did in making my list. Leave me a reply and let me know: what’s on the soundtrack of your life?

Sing out loud & dance like nobody’s watching,

William