Reverb11: Music Is Powerful
Think of one song that you turn to time and again and describe why it’s important to you.
As with so many such prompts, the list of possible answers is considerable for me. For how does one choose between so many songs that one goes back to over and over? What is the metric? The most powerful lyrics? The most moving music? Or is it simply a matter of describing a song I listen to with a high degree of frequency?
So many inspiring songs in my collection. So many songs to which I have rocked out many times throughout life. So many beautiful lyrics or stunning arrangements. A few songs posses more than one of the above qualities. It will seem ridiculous to not have picked any number of songs when all is said and done, because I go back to so many of them so often.
I have opted in the end, however, to describe the song that has been a song I go back to for as long as I can remember. The song that seems to be in the background of my consciousness even if it has been a long while since I have listened to it. The song that in many ways, (as one of the first songs I ever knew, and loved) serves as the cornerstone of my entire musical aspect of my personality. Like a literal cornerstone, my eclectic musical tastes have been built up from and around this song for my entire life. It isn’t front and center, but it is always there deep within me doing its job.
I am referring to Country Roads by John Denver.
The song is no virtuoso accomplishment, from either a technical or artistic standpoint. I do believe John Denver was a good poet, by and large. An accomplished songwriter who obviously touched millions of people. Yet strictly speaking Country Roads isn’t even Denver’s own best song, in terms of compositional difficulty or lyrical potency. It was never ground breaking, but that is not why I select it.
And it isn’t that I have a huge esteem for West Virginia itself, despite having many friends there, and having lived no further than 15 minutes from its border at any time in life. (The song even inspired an essay of mine on this subject, entitled, “The Place I Almost Belong, West Virginia.) I don’t care for the politics, religion, or general feel of most of West Virginia. I am not a fan of the terrain when I have to drive in it to see certain friends.
Now in general, despite my objections to a lot of its culture, I bare no hatred for West Virginia. Yet I have no desire to move there.
So, why do I select for this post what some consider the unofficial state song of West Virginia? To begin with, personal history. I have no memory of not knowing this song. I was listening to it in infancy, thanks to Mom. This is the song I wanted my friends to like as a child, because it would mean that something important to me actually meant something to other people. Having my friends like this song would mean that I was not as alien and unlovable as I always felt. Kids of course did not love this song. Ever. They disliked me even more for ever daring to reveal I liked it. It was “lame”. It was “slow”. It was only for “old people”, or “retarded people”.
So I spent most of my childhood alone. (No surprise there.) And when alone, whether my mood be celebratory or anxious, whether I was preparing for bed, or trying to pretend I wasn’t afraid of what would happen to my oldest sister in the hospital when she needed emergency surgery to deliver my first two nieces, I would listen to the album with Country Roads on it. Along with other music, and other artists. Yet that song always seemed to be the front door into a musical session.
Years go by and tastes change, somewhat. While I don’t think a person can truly ever get away from the foods, areas and music with which they grew up, people do begin to expand their horizons. Venture further away from that which is familiar in hopes of understanding a broader swath of the human experience. We seek out other cultures, other genres of writing, other sources of music in pursuit of new feelings. Or fresh catalysts for the familiar ones. We fall in and out of love with new sounds, growing weary of some fads, while adding other songs to our permanent collections. Yet still, the seeds of what we experienced as our “firsts” almost always remain to some degree.
Through many dangers toils and snares I have listened to music. Not always John Denver, but he is often one of my considerations when flipping through the collections of music to choose a mood. Because the song seems to transcend any given mood. The lyrical longing fits in with a melancholy. The harmonies work well to soothe in jittery times. Yet the tempo is just upbeat enough to provide a toe tap when needed as a pick me up. And of course, despite being about a state, it is in the end a love song, so I turned to it many a time when I found myself in what I foolishly at the time determined to be love. A song for all seasons indeed.
I have often felt that if a song plays in the light tunnel through which many believe we pass after death on the way to the next world, mine would be Country Roads. So deeply ingrained into every aspect of my consciousness has that song been, for such a long period of time, I can think of no more appropriate human tune to transition me forever away from the things of being human at the end of my time on the earth. The song I would listen to most in life to get me quickly back into shape when feeling out of sorts. To make me feel well when I got sick.
Sometimes I go months without listening to it. Yet I have owned Country Roads in some form my entire life. The record my mother played for me in my crib was eventually sat on and broken in two during a family party. (It was the only record I was allowed to handle as a child. I’d play it all the time at Christmas, as a celebration of the season, and to this day it even reminds me of Christmas a bit.) I was about six when it got broken. It was as though a friend moved away. Worse. It was as though an imaginary friend had moved away. So much so Mom purchased the same album, this time on the far more durable cassette format, a mere few weeks later. A cassette I had with me into young adulthood, playing to thinness.
The CD was located for me in time for Christmas one year, and I have had the CD to this day. (Transferring the song on a regular basis onto an MP3 player for walks and such.) I don’t know what the next music format will be in the future. But I do know that whatever form it takes, one of the first purchases of it I will make will be of Country Roads.