This may or may not be the first of a continuing series of posts about songs that hold meaning in my life. (Like the noncommittal-ness of that statement?) The idea here is that music has always been a significant part of my life. I’m not a musician beyond a bit of high school choir and the like, but I’ve always felt a serious bond with music nonetheless. Songs can move me, lift me and even drive me to dance around (to the vast embarrassment of my children and probably the cats). Because this blog is all about me and mine – one of the few things in my life that truly is such a thing – I like to write about the things that interest, amuse or have importance in my life. So far, that’s been a lot of kids, dogs and cat stuff. I’m going to take a crack at another life totem (wooooo – fancy word that, eh?) and see how it goes. Okay, enough disclaimers and set up!
When I was a kid – and I’m talking elementary school here – I listened to the basic pop of the day. Whatever came up on the radio (shout out here to the long-gone CKLW) and whatever my parents happened to have on the hi-fi. Lots of Neil Diamond, Carole King, Monkees, etc. The basic 70’s AM radio fodder. One day, that changed.
In fifth grade, I had a teacher who allowed us to bring in records (yeah, old school vinyl 45’s) and would play them during our reading periods. One girl – her name was Sheryl, I think, brought in an album with no name on it – just a photo of a bent-over old man with a pile of sticks tied on his back. As I remember, Sheryl was pretty cool. Different from the other kids in that she didn’t try to conform to any ideals or popularity dictums – she dressed a bit more hippy than the other kids, had long wavy hair that never saw braids or pig-tails; she just had what seemed like a sophisticated air, at least to the 11 year old me. Anyways, reading time came and Sheryl handed over her album and asked the teacher to play side 1, track 4. We sat back and listened as the first strains of guitar started to play and I was transfixed. The song, of course, was Stairway to Heaven and I was hooked. This was so very different from the stuff I was raised on. I didn’t know quite was to make of it – and neither did many of my classmates. Most were either bored or generally unimpressed, I think. I liked it, felt vaguely uncomfortable at the foreign feel of the whole thing but was moved – as moved as a generally shy and fairly gawky fifth grader could be, at any rate.
Fast-forward through my early adolescence and here I am in junior high. Still very shy, still very gawky – did I mention that by fourth grade I was wearing bi-focal glasses? This was an incredibly difficult and painful time for me. I was bullied by the tough kids and ignored by the popular kids. I had a few friends who were there for me but for the most part, it was a time of feeling very apart from, and not particularly valued by, the world. (side note: this whole era of being bullied had and still has a big impact on my life – I may need to explore this topic a bit further at some point.) Music, though, that was always there. That fifth grade experience didn’t result in an immediate departure into the world of Led Zep. As an 11 year old, I didn’t have a whole lot of disposable income so I was largely limited to radio and parental choices still. But now at 14, this was changing. I had an allowance that let me save up and purchase my very own vinyl – I could now experiment with what I liked and wanted and began to build my collection. Yeah, there was still some Diamond in there, but there was also Queen and Nazareth and a bit of Janis. And there was Led Zeppelin. My obsession with the band truly kicked off right about then.
At the end of my junior high years – that would have been ninth grade in the old structure – my parents decided that the local public school hadn’t done me any favors and the high school wouldn’t be any better. I was informed that it was going to be private school for me so before I knew it, I was plucked out of the public school system and enrolled in a local private academy called Kingswood. (Part of Cranbrook, for those Eminem/8 Mile fans who might remember the reference.) I no longer felt fear for my life and limb but the whole duck-out-of-water thing was still in play – I was surrounded by a bunch of kids who’d done this whole private education thing for some time. They all knew each other and seemed just so damned sure of themselves. I had finally ditched the glasses for contacts but still had the wrong hair, wrong clothing, wrong everything. Yes, again, I made friends. Some of whom are still in my life today – thank goodness – and just as important as they were back then. But inside, I knew I didn’t quite fit. (again – there’s a whole transition story we may have to look at a later date, dear readers.)
Music saved my life. Seems like a rather fanciful or dramatic thing to say but it’s true. It helped me escape from the pain I felt just being me. It was a common bond with friends when I felt so insecure I didn’t have much else to offer. Listening saved me.
One of the most important songs at that time of my life was Kashmir by Zep. Kashmir is, as many of you know, loosely based on the band’s trip to Morocco. (yeah, I know, Kashmir in the Himalayas – this is called artistic license, kids). The music felt so different and magical. The lyrics spoke of things this suburban Detroit white kid had never experienced. I mean, let’s get real here – I am not the adventurous type. Taco Bell was ethnic food for me back then. But that didn’t matter a whit. It all spoke, at least to me, of escape – of living a dream that was completely different to the life I had. I needed that escape desperately and found it in this song.
Oh let the sun beat down upon my face,
stars to fill my dreams
I am a traveler of both time and space
to be where I have been…
Great stuff, that. Especially to my then 16 year old self, dying to be anyone else than who I was. It sounded exotic, exciting and a lot of other adjectives that didn’t apply to my fairly boring life back then. To this day, it’s a song filled with promise and hope. And it still lifts me up when I need to be lifted.
My Shangri-La beneath the summer moon
I will return again
Sure as the dust that floats high in June
When movin’ through Kashmir.
Well, this whole exercise got a bit deeper than I originally intended. If you’re still with me, thanks for sticking around! If you liked this, let me know and I’ll do a few more. Lots of songs out there that mean the world to me. What are yours and why?