2016 has been a tough year for the music industry. We've lost some truly great artists - artists that have moved, influenced and defined music and musical eras. This year, which isn't even half over yet, we've said goodbye to top talents which have included Glenn Frey, Maurice White, David Bowie and now Prince. Most of us have never met these musical icons in person. We may have seen them perform in concert, or on MTV (back when it truly was about music and not what it is today) and of course, over the airwaves, on records, cassettes, CDs and now digitally.
For many of us music becomes a living scrapbook. Music is ever powerful and moving. Whether Bach, Beethoven, Guns'n'Roses, The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, The Rolling Stones, Madonna, Prince or Bowie. We've listened to them all. Songs leave an indelible benchmark on our memories. We forever remember who we were with when we heard certain songs. We remember these events as vividly as we remember tragedies.
I have a special place for the music I listened to during my formative years in high school when I was struggling to figure out who I was, and what the world around me was all about. There are songs that will forever link me to high school dances, parties, college, road trips, my wedding and even the birth of my children. There are songs I listened to (endlessly) after heart-crushing breakups, and songs I listened to that new boyfriends had introduced me to. And songs that we first heard on the radio, and on MTV. To me a great song is always a wonderful visit down memory lane. The music of the 1980s in many ways helped to mold the person that I was to become and I think that's why so many of my generation are so nostalgic about the wonderful, varied talent of that era.
David Bowie sends me back to high school with Let's Dance, Heroes and Major Tom. I grew up listening to Simon and Garfunkel. My mother had the greatest crush on Art Garfunkel, and then they came to Central Park in 1980 - I was just barely a teenager, and some friends and I wandered in to the smell of pot, and the hippies of all ages blanketed on the grass and camped out in trees. There wasn't one patch of grass or pavement that hadn't been covered by a person, blanket or chair. As the sun started to set the music came on and it was the most electric feeling I've ever experienced. You could hear their sweet sounds reverberating through the Upper East Side. A month or so later one of the local radio stations broadcast the concert. I sat, with my blank cassette tapes and my boom box, and recorded the whole thing.
My high school friends and I all drooled over Sting. The Police were a hot commodity and The Synchronicity Tour was about to unfold. We listened to Sting's wise words, lyrics that seemed to be pulled from the pages of classic novels and Greek Mythology. We knew every word, every pause. Every beat. That summer I had a job as a member of the kitchen staff at the small camp in the Adirondack Mountains I had attended for years. The Police were headed to Montreal to perform at the Olympic Stadium. That summer my boyfriend Loren and our Canadian friend Eric had managed to get us tickets. We drove to Canada and stayed at Eric's house and toured the beautiful city of Quebec then headed to the concert that evening. The Police were amazing, mesmerizing, magnetic. I learned in very recent years that the boys had borrowed a car, but neither had a license! I'm not sure I would have gone with them had I known... I think that's why they kept that small piece of information from me! Imagine getting into Canada now without a license?
A year later I was preparing to head overseas to spend my Junior year abroad. I had packed the comforts from home as well as a bunch of music. The boom box had been replaced by the Sony Walkman. I remember finally getting one - a real walkman (as opposed to the Panasonic I had been using) from my father as a gift. I remember that it was barely the size of a cassette case and how crystal clear the music was. He gave me several tapes to listen to as well. Synchronicity and Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA and Michael Jackson's Thriller were among them. I listened to Duran Duran endlessly because Loren had told me that I laughed like "Rio." I listened to those tapes nonstop as they served as constant, warm reminders of home as I was trying to settle in and acclimate to my new life overseas. I clung to this familiar music for comfort, and yet new music was beginning to make its way into my world.
We had MTV at home. We watched Blondie, The Flock of Seagulls, REO Speedwagon, The Cars, Phil Collins, David Bowie, The J Geils Band, Culture Club and all those who first broke on to the video scene... "Video killed the Radio Star." I was enamored with Belinda Carlyle of The GoGos. In the UK we had Top of the Pops, a bit less romantic and less sophisticated, it might have been the precursor to the many weekly music shows we now have. Through British radio and Top of the Pops I was to be introduced to all new sounds and lyrics. I was falling in love with Tears for Fears, Annie Lenox, OMD, Pet Shop Boys, New Order, The Thompson Twins, The Style Council and Sade, Adam Ant, Joan Armatrading and WHAM. What a wildly eclectic group of musicians. And while I haven't thought of many of them in years, there are still those I listen to on a regular basis. The soulful voices of Armatrading and Lenox... and when out of the blue a song from the 1980s fills the air waves a smile comes over me. Music has the power to evoke warm memories of fond places.
Even those quintessential breakup songs, with enough time passed, bring smiles to our faces. Because as we look back we don't think of the sadness and the tears, but the happy moments prior. It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Phil Collins, The Police, REO Speedwagon, Styx and Air Supply were often listened to in those moments of teen distress...
Then off to college and music would take on a whole new meaning shaped by entirely new experiences and a whole set of friends who would have a tremendous impact and remain with me for the rest of my life. We couldn't get enough Bruce, Prince and Whitney. Steve Winwood, U2, Madonna, Terence Trent Darby, even Milli Vanilli would all play reference into our lives. Each artist, each song, evokes an incredibly indelibly marked point and time in my life.
When I left college to settle into a new and unsettling life in the "real world" I found new music. Hootie and the Blowfish, The Counting Crows, Melissa Ethridge, Nathalie Merchant and 10,000 Maniacs, Edwin McCain, Sheryl Crow, Jewell, and Nora Jones would bring out my introspective side. It was also during this time I was first introduced to country music. I met and fell in love with Garth Brooks and Tim McGraw. I bonded with Faith Hill and Tricia Yearwood, The Dixie Chicks and Shania Twain. It was during this time I went from young, naive and inexperienced college co-ed to marrying and having my first child. It was perhaps the decade of the greatest growth for me. I transitioned from being an inexperienced 20 year old to a confident and self assured 30 year old. I can recite every lyric from every song ever written by Nathalie Merchant and Garth Brooks. When I think of Hootie and the Blowfish I will forever remember a road trip (plus ferry ride) to Martha's Vineyard when I was not yet in my mid-20s and how Shaun and I sang to Hootie the whole ride up and the entire way back from Woods Hole, Massachusetts. I was so young and yet I didn't know it at the time. Oh to have those carefree days again! A year or two later I would lose a friend to a plane crash one foggy day on that same Island. The morning I learned of her passing James Taylor's Fire and Rain came on the radio. How fitting. The song took on a whole new meaning for me. I will forever think of Mandy when I hear it.
There is music that reminds me of the births of my three children, and songs that played prominently the summer I filed for divorce - moments both happy and sad. And those tunes will forever stop me in my tracks and force me to slow down and reflect. That's what music does. It can raise the little hairs on our backs and it can bring tears. Music is all powerful.
It's always on in my home and in my car. During the day when I am home and working I often have one of the many Music Choice stations on in the background. Or perhaps I'm listening to a special Pandora station. Yacht Radio is a fairly new introduction to me, a favorite of mine as it plays many of those iconic 80s tunes. The soft rock station on Music Choice does too. Through Alexa I have all my Amazon Prime stations streaming... I can listen to Cold Play or Imagine Dragons or Kenny Chesney or The Beatles by simply asking aloud for the station to be changed. Music has been, is and always be intertwined with my own life. I think for this reason alone we feel such a sense of loss each time a great musician passes. Because when they pass, so in a way, does a small part of us.