Music is an essential part of my life. I couldn’t imagine my life without music being a part of my daily routine. Ever since I got my first Walkman back in the mid-Eighties, not a day’s gone by where there hasn’t been music playing in the background, or even in the foreground. When I write, I write to music. Wherever I drive to, I drive to music; the radio in the car’s blasting something loud, and I’m likely singing along to whatever song’s playing, and I don’t care who’s looking at me. I’ll even air-drum along to a song. I’m quite good at air drumming, thank you very much.
I think it says a lot about your obsession with something when you set a task of compiling a list of songs that would make up the soundtrack of your life. Songs that span beyond the years I’ve lived. At one point, I came up with more than 75 songs. My Favorite Things by John Coltrane. Baby’s On Fire by Brian Eno. I Feel Love by Donna Summer. The Rockefeller Skank by Fatboy Slim. Rebellion (Lies) by Arcade Fire. All of which said something about my life, or specific stages in my life. 75+ songs would seem pretty self-indulgent, but that’s how much music means to me, and how I associate music with specific moments in my life.
But picking three songs is pretty difficult, because I know there are songs that I much prefer to these, but the three I’ve chosen for this exercise make a statement of sorts about my life. The three songs are as follows:
1. “Rock and Roll” by the Velvet Underground.
Lou Reed sings about a girl named Jenny whose life changes the minute she hears rock and roll music coming from her radio for the first time. “Her life was saved by rock and roll,” Reed wrote. When I first discovered rock and roll, at the age of 12, I discovered my one true religion. I also discovered purpose, a freedom from a drab pre-teen existence. “Rock and Roll” speaks about discovering something that makes you feel alive, whether it’s a song or lines from a poem or the first rays from the morning sun.
2. “Cure for Pain” by Morphine.
I was in my mid-twenties, clinically depressed, a stone’s throw from becoming a full-fledged alcoholic, completely wrapped up in this existentialist crisis that I’d concocted for myself, and generally behaving like an absolute asshole to anyone and everyone around me. I fancied myself as some sort of tortured artist who was risking his self-control for the sake of remaining authentic.
Christ, I was insufferable then. I wish I could have given that twenty-something me a long talk. Or a folding chair across the back of the head.
“Cure for Pain” was the song that I seemed to gravitate to quite a lot around that time. I didn’t realize how tongue-in-cheek that song was then, since I was so caught up in taking myself and my angst so seriously. I’ve rediscovered this song recently and fallen in love with it again, and embraced its sarcasm. It’s a song for people who won’t face up to their own bullshit, and think somehow it’s someone else’s responsibility to manage their drama. “Cure for Pain” is also the title for the novel I’m working on, about someone too wrapped up in their own drama to live in reality, that they have to escape into fantasy, but the fantasy is never what it’s all chalked up to be.
3. “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” by Nina Simone.
There are countless versions of this song – the version from the Animals is probably the most well-known – but it’s Nina Simone’s original that’s the one that floors me the most and the hardest. It’s a simple lyric, a plea from someone – a lover, a child, a friend, a parent – to not be mistaken for something they’re not, a plea that the person they’re speaking to see past the contradictions to discover the person they truly are. For me, it speaks massive volumes because it’s the one song that, for the most part, is the story of my life. It’s an acknowledgement of my contradictions, but that my intentions are good.
Baby, do you understand me now?
Sometimes I feel a little mad.
But don’t you know that no one alive can always be an angel?
When things go wrong, I seem to be bad.
But I’m just a soul whose intentions are good:
Oh Lord! Please don’t let me be misunderstood…
I’m not perfect, and I never said I was. I’ve always wanted to do the right thing, and sometimes I didn’t, but that doesn’t make me a bad person. That’s what this song says to me, about me.