Latest News

Commentary: Compiling the soundtrack of our lives

We were driving down the road when the old Eurythmics song “Sweet Dreams” came on the radio.

I turned it up.

Some of them want to use you! I sang along loudly.

Some of them want to get used by you,

Some of them want to abuse you,

Some of them want to be abused! 

Hannah turned in the passenger’s seat to face me.

“You mean like I’m being abused?” she said. “Right now?”

To paraphrase the great DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince: There’s no need to argue, some kids just don’t understand.

In my life, as I assume in most others’, there are few clearer signposts than music, few things that conjure more precise, powerful memories than a song.

I hear “Copacabana” and remember roller-skating with Darlene Payne in my parents’ driveway, choreographing the Lola-Tony-Rico love triangle Broadway-style, with dramatic jumps and spins.

The Doobie Brothers’ “Black Water” makes me think of family road trips, when my brother and I would practice the harmonies over and over, for miles and miles.

And I ain’t got no worries

’Cause I ain’t in no hurry at all.

Gloria Estefan takes me back to high school cheerleading, Madonna’s “Crazy For You” to high school prom — Swaying room as the music starts — and I can smell the fog machine and adolescent angst.

My college soundtrack includes R.E.M., Talking Heads, U2, Tom Petty, Prince, John Cougar Mellencamp and The Replacements. The guys in the neighboring dorm room blasted “Life’s Rich Pageant” from morning to midnight freshman year, and I still can’t hear “Begin the Begin” or “Swan Swan H” without thinking of my personal beginning, the years I learned to work hard and play harder and recognize poetry.

A pistol hot cup of rhyme,

The whiskey is water, the water is wine.

Marching feet, Johnny Reb, what’s the price of heroes?

I thought the audio track would start to fade as I got older, but, if anything, it has grown louder and longer. Now it includes songs from my wedding, songs from favorite concerts or musicals, songs I heard poolside on summer days, lullabies I sang to my babies, tunes like “Brown Eyed Girl,” which our family considers Hannah’s theme, and OutKast’s “Hey Ya!” which a 4-year-old Jack used to scream from his car seat:

My baby don’t mess around

Because she loves me so

And this I know FO’ SHO’! 

Still today, whenever that song comes up on shuffle, I can see little Jack shh-shh-shh-shaking it like a Polaroid picture.

He’d no sooner do that today than he’d take a security blanket to middle school, preferring instead the Foo Fighters’ hard-rocking guitar riffs or old-school tunes like Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” (And a little Michael Jackson. Shhhh.)

But I remember.

Hannah and her friends, meanwhile, are obsessed with British boy-band One Direction. The singers’ names are doodled in her notebooks, and the songs are on constant rotation in her room:

Babe, you light up my world like nobody else,

The way that you flip your hair gets me overwhelmed 

You don’t know, oh-oh,

You don’t know you’re beautiful.

I smile because I know she’s compiling her own soundtrack now, the one she’ll reference one day when she’s much older, when she driving down the road and hears One Direction for the first time in forever. She’ll hear that song, turn it up, sing out loud and drive her daughter crazy.

Sweet dreams are made of this.