“I met my old lover on the street last night/She seemed so glad to see me, I just smiled/And we talked about some old times/And we drank ourselves some beers/Still crazy after all these years.” (1)
In the middle of a 12-hour drive to NY the other day, I found myself singing along with my iPod, these words springing thoughtlessly out of my mouth even as I executed some tricky maneuvers to avoid a wayward driver (and I threw a few choice words into the middle of the lyrics, too). It was only then, when I needed to do some multitasking that ordinarily might demand all my attention, that I realized how ingrained some things (like song lyrics) are in my brain.
All day long I’d been warbling along with my iPod, frequently able to sing several different harmonies, without the least thought about the words or tune.
“Stand by the stairway /You’ll see something certain to tell you
Confusion has its cost /Love isn’t lying /It’s loose in a lady who lingers /Saying she is lost, lost/And choking on hello.” (2)
(Anybody who can correctly identify song/singer throughout this post, give yourself a gold star – check your accuracy at the end of the post.)
“We dress like students, we dress like housewives
or in a suit and a tie/I changed my hairstyle so many times now
I don’t know what I look like!” (3)
Since my younger son (the former Pennybags, current incarnation Rock Star) plays in a band, I end up going to concerts/gigs quite often, and hear music from other bands that I’m sometimes unfamiliar with. Some of it I really like, and back home, might download it to iTunes. Seems like I’ve been singing my entire life, so when a tune comes on that I like, I usually sing along – lately, though, I have a hard time calling the words to mind. Not the songs from years gone by – just the ones I’ve been learning lately. And I use that word “learning” sort of loosely – as far as I’m concerned, you haven’t learned something until you’ve committed it to memory and can replicate it time after time. But that doesn’t seem to be the case with some of my more recent efforts. I might have heard and tried to sing a new song quite a few times, and somehow, I still end up inserting an awful lot of “…something, something, something…” in the middle, like this:
“I say Hey I’ll be gone today/[something, something, something]
It seems like everywhere I go/The more I see the less I know
But I know one thing/That I love you” (4)
I don’t remember expending any effort at all to learn songs way back when. I heard them a few times, and then I was just singing them, like they osmosed into my brain cells. I didn’t write them down, don’t remember practicing – they were just there. Of course, there were instances of my singing the wrong words, not because I couldn’t remember them, but simply because I never got them in the first place! I particularly remember skipping blithely down the street one day with my sister Pegeen, singing at the top of our lungs, “Be free! When I close my eyes/Every second of the night I live another life…” Our sister Tara was hanging about ten paces behind us (embarrassed by our carefree flamboyance), so we didn’t hear her mumbling, “You jerks – it’s ‘These dreams!‘”
“What has happened down here is the wind have changed/Clouds roll in from the north and it start to rain/Rained real hard and it rained for a real long time/Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline” (5)
I somehow managed to sing without thinking much about it even while I, a non-musician, was concentrating on trying to pick out the chords to Joni Mitchell’s ”A Case of You” on a friend’s mountain dulcimer – of course, this was 25 years ago. If I tried to do that now, one or the other – words or music – might not be very recognizable!
“The violence spread down south to where Jackson State brothers/Learned not to say nasty things about southern policemen’s mothers/Nothing much was said about it and really next to nothing done/The pen is mightier than the sword, but no match for a gun” (6)
I try to have a sense of humor about all this. I figure that my kids’ friends might be slightly impressed by the fact that I know every word of songs by The Band and the Grateful Dead that they are playing now, and occasionally gently correct them on their own misinterpretation of those lyrics.
“I lit out from Reno, I was trailed by twenty hounds/Didn’t get to sleep that night till the morning came around/Set out running but I take my time/A friend of the devil is a friend of mine
If I get home before daylight I just might get some sleep/Tonight” (7)
Hopefully, it’ll be a looong while before all I can call to mind are the songs of my very early childhood, the ones my grandmother sang to me as she lulled me to sleep in her rocking chair.
Meet me tonight in Dreamland, under the silv’ry moon/Meet me tonight in Dreamland, where love’s sweet roses bloom/Come with the love-light gleaming, in your dear eyes of blue/
Meet me in Dreamland, Sweet, dreamy Dreamland/There let my dreams come true. (8)
1. Still Crazy After All These Years; Music & lyrics by Paul Simon, 1975; Sung by Paul Simon
2. Helplessly Hoping; Music & lyrics by Stephen Stills, 1969: Sung by Crosby, Stills and Nash
3. Life During Wartime; Music & lyrics by David Byrne, 1979; Sung by the Talking Heads
4. Say Hey (I Love You); Music & lyrics (with apologies!) by Michael Franti, 2008; Sung by Michael Franti and Spearhead
5. Louisiana, 1927; Music & lyrics by Randy Newman, 1974; Sung by Randy Newman
6. Student Demonstration Time; Lyrics by Mike Love, 1970; Sung by the Beach Boys
7. Friend of the Devil; Music & lyrics by Jerry Garcia, John Dawson, and Robert Hunter, 1970; Sung by the Grateful Dead
8. Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland; Music & lyrics by Leo Friedman and Beth Slater Whitson, 1909; Sung by Judy Garland (and Grammie O’Toole!)