And like the birds fluttering in to populate quiet cities with their delicate song, the ghosts of former lives find me humming in the garden. Today The Hooters and Steely Dan have come to roost. The other day it was 38 Special and Brittany Spears.
Why these decades-old earworms, like so many unwelcome visitors? When I should be alone with my thoughts, why does Missy Elliot want to come out and play?
Under normal circumstances I can tie it to something environmental, but now I have no doctor’s office lobbies or convenience stores to blame. I haven’t unconsciously heard it in a bar, restaurant, shop, or gas station. Nor a retirement party, block party, or at a friend’s house.
Songs lie dormant in the recesses of my mind, lyrics filling space that could be better used. I can’t tell you my son’s social security number, but I could probably sing you a Kool & the Gang song start to finish. I love Robin, but I hate Celebrate. My skin crawls at parties when it plays.
I default to NPR. I so rarely listen to music in my car in the morning that once when I was driving a carpooler and loaded up tunes, she remarked, without a hint of irony, It feels like we’re going on a road trip! (In fairness, the sun was shining and I was speeding.)
Perhaps like the caffeine I use sparingly, music has a strong effect on me. It hasn’t lost its power to boost my mood or set a scene. It’s not playing constantly in the background, and my background is a lot more quiet than it used to be.
I used to use singing as a way to tamp down insecurities and negative self talk. Any time I would start to ruminate on something stupid I said at a party or the office, I would sing something quietly to myself that prevented those negative thoughts from nesting.
This much is true. This much is true. I know this much is true.
Music is a welcome distraction from the death and despair of the pandemic. Maybe I need to spend more time dancing with DJ D-Nice so that a more colorful and current wave of tunes accompanies me on my unplugged neighborhood walks.
I don’t want to discover new music now, lest it always have the taint of death and quarantine when I hear it later.
Maybe that’s why Feist and Wilson Phillips and Bananrama bubble up from the recesses of my brain. They are not tied to any distinct memories, happy or sad. They were only background music to me, never anything more.
They are not like the Jane’s Addiction that fueled my college parties, nor the Ani Difranco and Portishead that carried me into adulthood. Not the Radiohead that accompanied me through the beautiful unknowns of my pregnancy, nor the U2 that has heightened so many milestones.
Likewise, the music that helped heal past pain is not emerging now. No Alanis Morriset breakup therapy or post-9/11 Springsteen. No Common, though he nursed me through Trump’s election. It is too close to my father’s death to even consider listening to Bowie’s Dark Star, or Queen, or the Brother Ali we enjoyed:
Whatever comes up comes out. We don’t put our hands over our mouth.
My pop exposure has risen exponentially in the past few years. It’s mostly Robin’s fault, but I like to blame the suburbs. I don’t mind most of it, but there is very little I actually like.
Maybe in some future pandemic, I’ll find myself in my recliner humming Billie Eilish or marveling to the others at the nursing home that though I never even liked Justin Timberlake, I still remember all the words to that dance, dance, dance song.
For now, since nature abhors a vacuum and I am unable to quiet my nerves with birdsong, perhaps I’ll sink into Apple Music.