The Soundtrack of our Lives

Today’s post comes from Steve Grooms.

I’m passionate about music and life, so it is not surprising that the two often meld for me. Certain moments become inextricably associated with the music I was listening to at that time. The most familiar example of this is how couples can have a song or performance that becomes “our” song. But that sort of things happens over and over for people like me. We end up associating music with certain times places we have known. I keep hearing the phrase: “the soundtrack for my life.” And that, for many people, colors how they think of moments from their past.

The worst place I ever lived was a shabby little house on the West Bank near Seven Corners, but that place is also associated with the moment I discovered the music of Leo Kottke at the nearby Scholar Coffeehouse. As awful as that house was, Leo’s music was one of the happiest discoveries of my life. Some of the associations we make are complicated.

Sometimes the soundtrack we can’t help associating with something is wildly inappropriate to anyone else. I discovered the Lord of the Rings trilogy early in grad school. At the same time, I was listening to a lot of Ravi Shankar sitar music. Clearly, the epic trilogy is as thoroughly European and Nordic as Shankar’s music is Indian, but when I read Tolkien I keep hearing sitar music. It is, after all, exotic, and I found the novels exotic.

I think of these matters a lot now because I keep encountering two types of music that are linked in my mind to the pandemic. I discovered the music of the traditional jazz band Tuba Skinny just as the virus reached the US and changed our lives. When I listen to YouTube videos of the band, as I do for maybe an hour each day, I keep reading comments from others who say they could not bear the pandemic without the uplift of Tuba Skinny music.

Similarly, early in the virus shutdown period, Mary Chapin Carpenter began recording Songs from Home. She films herself with her animals (White Kitty and Angus, the golden retriever) at her farm home in Virginia. She delivers her performances (filmed on her phone, I think) with a breathy intimacy that is incredibly calming. Unless you somehow hate her music, I urge you to sample some Songs From Home to read the comments of all the people who say their sole salvation in this difficult time is the music she makes for them.

What about you? What music do you associate with particular moments from your past? Do you have “our song” with anyone?

113 thoughts on “The Soundtrack of our Lives”

  1. when my kids were born i gave them each a song and used to have dale play it for the in their birthday
    sons was i feel good by james brown
    daughters was shake it til you break it dance dance by the nylons they both loved
    my x wanted us to have a sing that could be our sing and romantically link us to this wonderful time in our lives . i said “ok next song on the radio will be our song…” it was my baby takes the morning train. she was not thinking that way. i laughed my ass off at gate and will remember sheena easton fondly forever https://youtu.be/E9YwyfX33LU

    Liked by 6 people

  2. I’ve posted Tuba Skinny videos before. Exercising restraint, I won’t do that again today.

    Here is MCC doing one of her Songs From Home. I can’t imagine people not feeling that she is welcoming and positive at a time when things seem bad.

    Angus is obsessed with squeaky toys, and he manages to contribute to the soundtrack often. White Kitty usually naps through her person’s concerts. If your computer speakers are good, you might notice the voluptuous tone of MCC’s guitar. It’s pretty special, both in sound and appearance.

    A surprise development is that the Songs From Home have apparently given a boost to MCC’s career.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. I think there can be no doubt, PJ, that the person we see in the Songs From Home is the real MCC. The music, her home, the pets, the beautiful land around that home . . . it all fits together, and you feel like she is your friend. Incidentally, the thumbnails for this YouTube series are gorgeous landscape photos of her place and the landscape nearby. I’m pretty sure she is the photographer.

        Liked by 3 people

  3. OT: my daughter clued me into a Netflix series called Derry Girls. I’ve just begun watching it. It shows the lives of some Irish teens during the Troubles of the 1980s. It is foul, tasteless and riddled with cultural stereotypes. The humor is often earthy and crude. In short, I love it.

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  4. When I was growing up my dad controlled music in the household. Not necessarily in a horrible way but just that I never had a record player of my own and so therefore never had any records or music of my own. I do remember when we got the eight track tape player. This was a big deal and my dad was very proud of it. But of course he purchased the eight tracks, not me. One of the eight tracks that he liked a lot and therefore played a lot was Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. You don’t hear them much these days but whenever I do it takes me straight back to junior high.

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      1. It really wasn’t that big a deal. It’s funny though-except for his reactions to music, I would never call my dad a prude. He didn’t like the Bonnie and Clyde song because of the violent ending. He didn’t like several Simon and Garfunkel songs – Bridge over Troubled Waters had the line about the whores on 7th Avenue. And he didn’t like Baby Driver at all because of the line about getting up to wash your face. (Particularly ironic that because of the fuss he made about that song I figured out why a man would get up from bed to wash his face – ahem) And of course he didn’t like Bob Dylan or John Denver because their voices were too nasally!

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        1. I wouldn’t say that my dad was any kind of a music aficionado. No, he didn’t like John Denver.

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  5. The first song my wife-to-be and I slow danced to was Color My World by Chicago. Around 2 am at our all-night HS graduation party. If I ever had a doubt about her being “the one,” it vaporized after that dance.

    I love too many artists and too many styles and genres to even want to bother with a soundtrack to my life. That implies selecting and rating and ranking individual songs and performers and that’s impossible to do accurately. Mainly because my moods change from day to day. Sometimes I want to swing my ass off to big-band jazz with screaming trumpets and swinging saxes. Other times I want to sit in a quiet room and listen to Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral and cry at the end for the 500th time. Sometimes I want to “air-conduct” Beethoven’s Fifth in my living room and imagine the MN Orchestra at my fingertips playing it even better than the performance Osmo Vanska coaxed out of them for that recording.

    One semi-tradition my wife and I have is that at the start of any sort of road-trip vacation, we pop Huey Lewis & the News’s “Fore!” CD into the player and sing along to most of those tracks to get our trip off to a lively start.

    Chris in Owatonna

    Liked by 6 people

    1. I didn’t get through all nine this year, but I have taken to listening to the MN Orchestra’s recordings of Beethoven’s Symphonies as a soundtrack to my New Year’s Day. Hard not to air conduct to at least a few. The Third, the Fifth, and the Ninth especially.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Husband’s go to music is the Beethoven symphonies – on the 70s farm, he would fill an outdoor claw foot bathtub they painted black, so it would absorb maximum heat during the day. Then in evening, hot and sweaty from working in the garden, he would luxuriate in it while gazing at the hills and listening to Beethoven (from a stereo on a long extension cord).
        I’ve grown to love all of them, but my personal favorite is Beethoven’s 7th.

        Liked by 3 people

  6. Fans of TLGMS will remember Dale and Tom would play requests. For one of my wedding anniversaries, my erstwife requested Jim Ringer and Mary McCaslin singing The Bramble and the Rose. I was secretly concerned about her choice, for that song is about love between people who are fundamentally different.

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  7. In Manitoba, they have a gathering called a “Social” for a couple getting married to raise money and as an excuse for a good party. Our Canadian friends held a Social for us before we married. It involved a DJ and dancing and good food. We had a special dance to Coltrane’s recording of “Like Someone in Love” .

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      1. Oh yes! We have a very extensive collection of jazz recordings. In High School I played electric bass in the school jazz band. We really like Miles Davis and anything by Coltrane. One of my favorite albums is Benny Goodman’s Carnegie Hall concert.

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  8. If I have “a song” with anyone it’s “Dancing Queen” by Abba with my best friend. I’m not even sure how it became “ours” except over time. She and I also have a connection to Cat Stevens (it sounds like Chicago – the city – in our collective minds because of a road trip when CD players in the car were new… we kept forgetting to grab a new CD for the day, so Cat Stevens accompanied our long weekend in Chicago). “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” belongs to high school friends and Annie’s Parlor on the West Bank. And while Husband and I never had a song for us as a couple, most anything by George Michael makes me think of him – he wasn’t a dancer as he was a bit self-conscious of his lack of rhythm and he was convinced he had no grace. George Michale, though, could get him dancing around the house until he was sweating – eyes closed, head thrown back, not caring if anyone was watching.

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      1. Another musical snippet about Tom – and a place where we agreed to disagree: he loved Olivia Newton John. I find most of her songs a bit treacle-y, but he thought she was the bomb. I feel a little bad that I expressed my distaste loudly enough that he felt he couldn’t listen to her when I was home, but not not a lot bad… (because I find “Physical” entirely insipid and I didn’t want that to come between me and my beloved in our marriage). Oddly, even with his fondness for ONJ, I could not get him to watch “Grease” with me, except once. He never said why, just wasn’t his thing, I guess. Or maybe he didn’t like that John Travolta got his on-screen love instead of him. 😉

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  9. When my mother died, I helped my father organize a memorial service for her. At one point I suggested we include the September Song made popular by Frank Sinatra. I thought it was “our song” for my folks. My dad said, “No, that was always the song I thought of as ‘our song.’ But your mother hated it because it seemed too sad.” It was a little window on their relationship I had not seen before, and that made me sad.

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  10. We don’t have a real “our song”, but lots of specific songs bring back special memories. One CD we keep in the car for road trips is by Chris Smither (Hundred Dollar Valentine) that we got when seeing him perform at one of the first Rock Bend Folk Festivals we attended. : ) Here’s “Make Room for Me” from that cd:

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    1. Words to last verse:
      Well, the first thing to go is that life is fair
      Second is that you’ll be a millionaire
      Without working too hard, lunch is free
      That’s not in the cards – that’s number three
      Train your brain, baby, make a little room for me…

      (or is it Drain your brain… ?)

      Liked by 2 people

  11. For the past ten months, a group of FB friends and I have enjoyed a daily music challenge that has been a tremendous boost to our collective spirits. The lead “challenger” is a woman who just turned fifty-nine, and most of the participants are old friends of hers, many going back to high-school in New Jersey. I’m by far the oldest participant, and I know only a handful of the others in “real” life, but this has been lots of fun, and very educational. Yesterday’s challenge was about Mondegreens – misheard or misunderstood lyrics – as you can imagine, that was lots of fun. Today’s challenge is “post a song you both love and hate,” no telling what the day will bring.

    The participants in this challenge are a diverse and interesting group with wide-ranging musical tastes; one is a professional music critic and writer, a couple of others are professional musicians; about half are Jewish. I’ve been introduced to artists that I had never heard of before, some of which I like and will explore further, but a lot of it, a lot noisier than I care for. But it has been a trip.

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  12. I have many memories of my father singing around the the house, usually to be funny. When he was ready to leave the house and my mother was still getting ready, he would start singing “Slow Boat To China”. It really annoyed mom.

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  13. I recently mentioned that my erstwife and I house-sat a lovely home north of Stillwater when its owner, a friend and co-worker, took her family on a trip through Europe. One family member stayed behind, living in the basement. David was about 15, and that can be a messy time. He was deeply into Bob Dylan and high fidelity. Well, surprise, surprise, that translated into him playing Nashville Skyline over and over at a volume that literally shook the house. That was a stressful but also magical summer in our lives, and the soundtrack was Lay Lady Lay.

    Liked by 5 people

  14. Yes, I have a song with someone but he left me for another woman and there will always be a great deal of pain associated with that. We used to play and sing it together. I thought we would make sweet music together for the rest of our lives. I loved him so much. The song was, “If I Needed You.” I think Don Williams wrote it. Many have sung it. https://youtu.be/QHoAg-LlVVM

    Steve, you and I really respond to life and emotions in very similar ways. Music is a thread woven through my life. There are so many instances in which a particular song can transport me straight back to a memory. So many that I have a hard time pointing to just one.

    Like VS, my dad had an enormous influence on my future relationship with music. He would not have intended to do so. If he had known, he never would have done what he did. But he did it. He loved music. Deep inside I think he was a man who was rocked by emotions and music was his expression – probably his only positive expression of those emotions. He played the early soundtrack of my life: Peter, Paul and Mary, the Kingston Trio, Simon and Garfunkel, Neil Diamond. He liked it loud and he tended to shut everything else out when he listened. I loved it but he had no idea that he was teaching a girl with budding musical tendencies all about melody and harmony. “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” at high volume will transport me straight back to our living room when I was a young teenager. The sun shining in the windows, my dad with his hand on the volume control.

    Other songs can take me to Minnesota Square Park and Rock Bend Folk Festivals of yore. John Hartford, Eliza Gylkison, Tom Paxton, The Mollys, so many others… I can almost smell the air and feel the energy.

    Liked by 6 people

        1. I agree, PJ. The Mollys performances were not always polished. They were great for outdoor festivals and bar scenes. It was the energy they put into it that made them an obsession for us. They really gave it their all. Unforgettable. Their music is so much better live than on the CDs.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Krista, for me–and I’d bet it is true for you–one doesn’t choose to attach a piece of music to a moment in life. They attach themselves, like it or not, and then forever that music will evoke that time in your life.

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        1. I also have this song associated with a friend who has passed away – he was part of my group of friends when I was discovering Monty Python and he is forever associated with this particular MP song.

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      1. The Mollys were a band we had at Rock Bend in the ‘90s. They were an incredibly high-energy band that had the entire park on its feet and dancing. Musically, they were mainly about the mandolin and accordion players but the two female vocalists pulled it together for them. Rock Bend liked them so much they brought them back the next year. We all became friends. They were a hard-playing, hard-drinking bunch. They didn’t survive their strong personalities, though and broke up. They really were fun. The entire CD Hat Trick is on YouTube. Kathleen’s voice made you think they were an Irish band. They were from Arizona.

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        1. Sorry, I need to correct myself. That was Nancy singing in the video I posted. Kathleen was an amazing mandolin player and vocalist who danced while she sang and played. The two women impressed me enormously. I had only played mandolin for a year or two at the time.

          Liked by 2 people

        2. I need to make another correction (blushing emoticon). The mandolin player was Catherine. There was a song they played with the name Kathleen in it. I have always made that mistake. Catherine played mandolin and sang and danced on that song. I really admired her.

          Liked by 1 person

  15. Sunrise, Sunset was sung by a good friend at the wedding reception for ex and me.
    Reprised at daughter’s reception.
    Re-reprised at son’s reception.
    Tears shed each time.

    Liked by 7 people

  16. Husband’s musical tastes are a lot less eclectic than mine. He loves John Denver, and in general likes songs that strike me as sentimental. The lyrics to most of his songs seem manipulative to me. Fortunately there’s a lot of music we can agree on, so road trip music has never an issue. It does mean, however, that I go to many concerts either alone or with other friends.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. The soundtrack of my life has changed considerably over the years. Some songs that I used to love, I now don’t care for, but others have stood the test of time. My time in Moscow is indelibly and joyfully connected to The Beatles’ first album. I still love those songs, and they instantly transport me back to that time and place. Great dance music!

    The Platters take me back to my teenage babysitting days. One couple that I used to babysit for had an LP with The Great Pretender, Harbor Lights, Only You, and Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, all of which appealed to my teenage romantic heart. Another couple whose kids I took care of had a 45 with Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusic. I just about wore the grooves off that thing by playing it over and over again – at the wrong speed – something I didn’t realize at the time. It sounded good to me, even at the wrong tempo.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. The soundtrack of my life is the thousand or so tunes I have on my phone and play, randomly shuffled via bluetooth, whenever I drive anywhere in the car. The Platters are included on that soundtrack.

      Liked by 4 people

  18. On those rare, precious days we were allowed to entertain a girlfriend in our college dorm rooms, my preferred music was always something classical and romantic. Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto was a favorite. Some of you will already have figured out that the big advantage of that is that you don’t have to keep leaving what you are doing to tend to the record player.

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  19. A song that takes me back is Brown Eyed Girl 1967 Van Morrison.
    Many AM stations signed off about midnight. A Jamestown, ND station stayed on air much longer. They had a Sleepless Stay Up Club. That song played every half hour. I know this because my dog and I camped out guarding the sweet corn from raccoons. Although a song, Dancing In The Moonlight, came along long after the summer of 1967, I did it then.

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  20. In August of 1970 when we were married, we drove out to Estes Park i Colorado, where the family of a friend of Robin’s had a cabin in the mountains they had offered us. In the two days it took to drive there “In the Summertime” by Mungo Jerry must have played every half hour on the car radio. I wouldn’t mind if I never heard that song again but I can’t hear it without thinking about our honeymoon.

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  21. The family never missed watching Sing Along With Mitch or Lawrence Welk. Mom’s records were heavy on 101 Strings.
    Before retirement, I conducted daily safety meetings. Attendance was required. Nobody liked it. So I started playing That Happy Feeling during my reading of the latest safety issue. Each of my fellow employees had to sign off on having heard the program. Yes, I can be evil.

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    1. My parents’ records were Mantovani-heavy easy listening as well. My own influences in high school were whatever played on the radio. It wasn’t until I reached college that I was exposed to more diverse music.

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      1. I think that’s not unusual, Bill. My mother only cared for what she called “mood music,” and the mood she favored was pretty banal. Her favorite vocalists were Billy Eckstine and Vaughn Monroe. They would cause my dad to make an awful face. He was no fan of “Vomit Monroe.” Our home had no jazz, no classical and not much pop music. I had a lot to learn when I got to college.

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  22. My dad’s business partner’s daughter cut me a break and attended prom. I was a junior and she was in college. Much older! And a fabulous dancer. We rehearsed to Pata Pata. Line dances were rarely done but she taught it to the party. Memories.


    The dance requires a lot more movement than what you see on Ed Sullivan.

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  23. I blame Steve for my memory disturbances.
    While working one evening at the Capitol in Bismarck, I met my first in-person politician, Art Link. We were working with green carpet tile in a large area that had a balcony. My boss, Mr. Harney, and Mr. Link were watching and talking with each other. My workmate and I saw them but continued working. A bit later Harney and Link were down and Don said, “Wes! We can’t have work like this!” He pointed out a tile that was a totally different color. It looked that way because he had picked it up and reversed it. Mr. Link was in on the joke. The song playing on my radio was The Tide Is High by Blondie. As it is, 1980 was mostly (except for Sinner) high tide for Democrats in ND.

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    1. Wes, you mention Sinner. I hunted pheasants one day with George Sinner, then the governor. Quite a character, and a crack shot. I liked his lack of pretension. He fell in a creek and filled his boots with water. I remember him going back to the car to find a replacement for “these cheap shit boots.” I liked him.

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  24. A Mennonite friend of ours who grew up in Kansas is very musical, is a terrific saxophone player, and became a band director before he became a Master’s level social worker. He married a lovely Mennonite woman from Manitoba, and they have lived here for 25 years. They joined the Assembly Of God church, and he gave us all his jazz recordings because they were too much worldly temptation for him. We didn’t complain.

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    1. There was an Assembly of God church in Mound, near my parents’ home on Lake Minnetonka. I think they didn’t have very wealthy members. The church had a huge sign on it with the church name in tall black letters. One day the little cross dingus on the G fell off and nobody fixed it, so for nearly two decades that was the Assembly of Cod church.

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  25. I can’t recall the comedy show (Smothers Brothers last season?) but a guy was listening to the radio. Nothing but disasters being described. Unperturbed, he continues reading a newspaper full of bad news. The DJ comes on, “And now for the fourth week in a row; the number one song in the United States….SUGAR! SUGAR!!!!”
    At that he committed suicide by jumping out the window.

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    1. I hesitate to admit this out loud in this crowd but every now and then I am really in the mood for what I referred to as a bubble gum rock. And this song fits right in there.

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    1. Puts me in mind of the songs we used to corrupt on road trips to amuse ourselves. One that springs to mind is Stranger in the Night, sung in a croony Dean Martinesque way: “You were strange by day but stranger in the night.”

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  26. A lot of songs take me back to a particular time. Don McLean’s American Pie always makes me think of junior high and a particular classroom, although I’m not exactly sure why I would’ve heard the song there. Rod Stewart’s You Wear It Well reminds me of my friend Nicky and a long faux fur coat she used to wear in cold weather. Tom Waits, Bonnie Raitt and John Prine provided the soundtrack for weekend parties in the years when I was was not quite old enough to drink but did anyway. Queen’s Jazz album and Tom Petty’s Damn the Torpedoes put me back into the first apartment I had on my own when I got my first real job. Girls Just Wanna Have Fun was on the radio when my bookstore pals and I got off work and went out for a drink or two. Cornershop’s Brimful of Asha is linked in my brain with Christmas of 1997. And I always think of the Morning Show at the State Fair when I hear the Ditch Lilies, and Rock Bend when I hear any one of a number of favorites I heard there – the Divers, Cahalen Morrison and Eli West, Chris Smither, Erik Koskinen.

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    1. I couldn’t comment on road trips, but I know something about boat trips. If you are out on Lake Superior and the lake is doing scary stuff, someone’s gonna start singing Gordon Lightfoot’s Edmund Fitzgerald song. That’s guaranteed.

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  27. This group does like its music.
    I learned so much from my brother who was 8 years older than me. He had a good record collection. He taught me Jethro Tull, Ozark Mountain Daredevils, and Chicago.
    I remember listening to AM radio as a kid and the song ‘Knock Three Times’ stick in my memory for some reason.
    I remember waking up int he middle of the night and hearing a band called ‘Chic’ and their song ‘Freak out’ played right after ‘Queen’ doing “Bicycle Race” and both just jazzed me up in ways I can’t explain.
    I remember canoodling with ‘Supertramp’ ‘Breakfast in America” playing in the background.
    It used to be a rule that ‘Pink Floyd’ had to be playing if we were hanging lights.
    I remember canoodling with a folk concert going on in the background. Don’t remember who, evidently it didn’t require much on my end in the booth.
    A friend suggested Mannheim Steamroller G major Toccatta was the prefect recessional at a wedding. So we used that. If I remember, there was a slight delay for the music starting; we turned, the crowd applauded, and the applause died down and there was silence and, being young and scared I side whispered to Kelly “JUST GO!!” and the music started as we walked.
    If I get the chance to do that over, I’d have stood there and called up to the booth to get the music right and THEN we’d walk. Oh well.

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  28. I can remember being at my grandma’s house when mom’s youngest brother was there, must have been 1954, and he’d have this 45 on the record player… I’m sure I must have danced around to it, and I eventually saved it from grandma’s eventual clearing out:

    Liked by 1 person

  29. When I think of this subject I simply get overwhelmed by how many songs evoke moments of my past, at least the past that spanned 1965 to 1980 (and college graduation), and the legion of songs after that always, always make me remember my passion for “The Morning Show” with Dale and Jim Ed.

    But a few stand out:
    Sitting on a school bus in 1970 heading for a ski day at Catamount in upstate NY. The driver had a small radio to divert us on the 3 hour+ drive, and just as we were getting into the foothills the sun came streaming through the woods and George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” came on the radio. I’m not a religious sort but this was a glorious moment I will never forget. The ski trip was not much fun but it never spoiled that memory.

    Another music piece that is in my soul is Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring Suite”. For some unknown reason, when I hear the opening I immediately picture the spectacular architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. I did study architecture but never linked these until later in my life. The same music also makes me think of all the creatures, human and otherwise, I’ve loved and lost. Just an amazing composition IMHO.

    I did create a playlist of all the top 40 songs that played from 1968-1973 when I was at horsey summer camp, as the radio was on the same station 24/7 in the stables for the entire summer. That brings back a ton of lovely memory moments at a place I loved with people and critters I loved.

    Thanks for starting such a dear topic.

    Like

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