my99: Part One

Introduction to my life playlist:

Selecting the songs that define my life was much harder to do than I could have ever imagined. I decided to limit my choices to the songs on my iPod (about 10,000), and I was thrilled when my first round of choices narrowed the list to 353. From that playlist, though (titled “my99 possibles”), it seemed nearly impossible to cut 250 songs from that playlist. I felt as if I were excluding defining moments of my life, somehow negating their importance in the making of me. What made it even worse was, in the process of making those difficult choices, I thought of other songs that “absolutely” had to be on my life playlist. It felt as if the pool of choices never diminished, despite my final playlist creeping toward that magical number of 99.

After I selected my songs, I moved them over to a Word document and started arranging them in categories, or themes. The list that follows is the result of that arrangement. As “final” as I believe this list to believe, I look forward to revisiting it in a year to see what revisions I might make, or what new themes might emerge.

One final note: For the most part, the arrangement of the themes, as well as the songs that are listed within each theme, is intentional. The greatest surprise, I think, was that when I finished, I realized that I opened as most stories end, and ended as most stories begin, reminding me that the journey is not about beginnings and endings but about seasons and cycles, defining who we are along the way.
One song that didn’t make my final 99 was “Love the One You’re With”; maybe it’s the most important one to keep in mind for ourselves, though, because we must love ourselves, as no one else has been with us through all of those cycles and seasons.

Enjoy. I’m interested in hearing how many of my songs are on your life playlist!

The Origin of Rus:
Over The Rainbow, Judy Garland (Music has always been a part of my life, and I think it all started with Judy Garland singing “Over the Rainbow” in The Wizard of Oz. Those days in the early 70’s, before the invention of any kind of made-for-home video product (tape or digital), we had to wait for the classics to come on TV, and the biggies like Oz only came on once a year. It was such a big deal in our house. We all gathered together—even my father—and we made popcorn (yeah, over the stove; what in the world is a microwave???) with real butter melted and poured over top of it, still steamy in the big orange bowl.

I believed in every word Judy sang, I hid my head when Mrs. Gulch turned into the Wicked Witch while in the twister, and I cried when she melted at the end of the movie. I remember thinking that, for anybody to die in such a way, no matter how good or evil, was a horrible thing. Over the years, “Rainbow” has come to mean different things to me: hope, belief, and most importantly, love. it served as the lifelong catalyst for my already-strong optimistic outlook on life, and I’ll never stop believing that life and love are always possible, even in the darkest moments.)

Dream On, Aerosmith (When my oldest brother came to live with us when he was having troubles with his wife, he slept on the other side of the attic. Each morning, when his alarm went off, “Dream On” woke us both. To me, it was the theme song for both of us for where we were in our lives, twenty years apart from each other, but still dreaming of better days to come.)

Crocodile Rock, Elton John (My sister Cindy gave this song to me for Christmas one year, along with a black and white case to hold 45 singles. It was my first-ever 45 (that’s vinyl, for you younger ones), and I played it on this blue and white plastic turntable that, even at my young age, looked very, very old. It was one of the greatest gifts a big sister could ever give her baby brother—she knew how important music had already become in my life.)

I Think I Love You, The Partridge Family (I loved their bus more than their music.)

Funeral For A Friend (Love Lies Bleeding), Elton John (When this double album came out and my sister bought it, I used to play the songs non-stop on her (better) turntable in her room. I remember listening to the music through her oversized Pioneer headphones (my goodness did the music sound unbelievable), looking at the words to each of the songs and the somewhat risqué artwork that accompanied the lyrics.)

Venus and Mars/Rock Show/Jet, Paul McCartney & Wings, Wings Over America (This was our concert album that I played air guitar with and sang into tin-foil microphones with my neighborhood friends Bruce and Timmy. It was also my first introduction to live music, and I fell in love with the spontaneous sound and the love that flowed between the players in the band with the audience in the stands. I attribute this show to my lifelong love for the concert over the studio recordings.)

Black Dog/Whole Lotta Love/Rock n Roll, Led Zeppelin (The walls in my room in the attic were lined with posters of Robert Plant and Jimmy Page playing in a wash of oranges and reds, of Boston guitars in spaceship form taking off to unknown lands. I was never a 98 Rock kind of kid, but I loved the music of Zeppelin, Boston, Foreigner, Styx in my Junior High years. Absolutely loved all of it.)

Killer Queen, Queen (Simply this: Listening to music on WLPL, 92.3; this was always my favorite song to listen to.)

Jamming, Bob Marley (When I was 16, my parents allowed me to drive to Ocean City, MD to work the week before (and the weekend of) Labor Day at the Family Fish House. My brother was there on his vacation, and I was staying in a hotel room all by myself. To say the least, the trip was an initiation into adult living. This song played often that week after the dining rooms shut down and we cleaned up for the night. I had never heard of Bob Marley or reggae until then; now, it is a part of my life.)

For Unto Us A Child Is Born, Handel, Messiah (So many of my memories in high school and college (and beyond for another five years) were made with my best friend Brad, who opened his house to me even when I didn’t need it. We spent so much time there watching movies, ordering pizzas after midnight, and being loved by his mother and father in ways that were different from my own parents. I never saw them as replacements to Mom and Dad; they were my “second set” away from home, and I loved them both dearly. Brad’s father is still alive, but Mom passed away a few years ago. Brad was and still is passionate about classical music, and he had several variations of Handel’s Messiah. Each version, though, played this song beautifully. It transcended me in a very personal and spiritual manner that I never shared with him. The reason why I’ve listed it under this theme is because that transcendence could have never happened without his love or the love of his family. His parents planted a seed of faith in me that despite my greatest attempts at times, will just not stop growing inside of me. One Christmas Eve service at his church, Pastor Maack asked volunteers to join the choir in singing this song. I went, and my own mother was so proud to see me singing this song. The energy, the spirit that moment filled in me is still with me today.)

Christmas Time Is Here (Vocal), Vince Guaraldi Trio, A Charlie Brown Christmas (Just like the Wizard of Oz, A Charlie Brown Christmas was an annual event at our house. Such a celebration for a 25-minute animated show! However, it carried the same theme as Oz did, with a dash of spirituality thrown in. It was the best of all combinations for me as kid and now, as I look back on it, as who I am today. When I first started teaching, so many of my students shared their love of life with me. Two in particular would draw me a rainbow stemming from a cloud with the following quote: Keep Dreaming, Keep Believing, Keep a Rainbow in Your Heart.” Good words to live by twenty years later.)
Part Two will be posted soon!

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