Every once in a while I experience a fresh burst of heartache when I listen to a song that Jim can’t hear.
Before there was Pandora (in her modern incarnation), I had someone who took my tastes in music and life and sheparded me into a wider world that stays with me as surely and indelibly as images do. Another ever-expanding gift, as when he handed off the camera to me.
For my 30th birthday, which my husband attended in the customary corporeal way, he burned me a CD–a precursor to the gold one he left for me to find when I was very nearly ready to hear it.
Jim had an incredible, encyclopedic knowledge of music. In college he occasionally jockeyed discs–when they also existed in the traditional way (though I understand vinyl has made a comeback, and I still have his boxes of records among the very few things he carried).
(He would have been equally as unnerved as I had he survived to the day one of our teenage children informed me that Nirvana now occupies the radio genre of “Oldies” music. Sigh.)
Until the very end he followed and appreciated music of all kinds–even, to a degree, country music. It was a remarkable feat when one of our daughters took it upon herself to produce a collection of his favorites to play at his Closing Ceremonies. From Bob Dylan (father of The Wallflower’s Jakob) to the Biff Jackson Group (whose motto is “Quality Through Volume”), decades-long friends with whom Jim played one last time on the same snowy winter day he must have known would be his last time at the wheel.
The CD he made for my birthday included some musical amalgams outside my imagination: not, strictly, covers, but companions, unexpected unions which honored the heart of the original but extracted rich new facets of both chords and lyrics. More marriage than replication.
Bruce Springsteen accompanied The Wallflowers on “One Headlight.”
So long ago, I don’t remember when
That’s when they say I lost my only friend
Well they said she died easy of a broken heart disease
As I listened through the cemetery trees
Luciano Pavorotti joined Bono in soaring interludes of U2’s “Miss Sarajevo”.
Is there a time for keeping your distance
A time to turn your eyes away
Is there a time for keeping your head down
For getting on with your day
My husband was able to compile such esoteric musical wonders considerably before the internet placed them at our fingertips. (How fitting that the physical monument to him is a bench dedicated “in musical memory” of the Portsmouth Clipper Band’s supreme chaperone.)
I, on the other hand, only just figured out how to put together a playlist of my own favorites to listen to during my prize-winning longest-in-the-country commute to work.
My new 78-song playlist contains a cast of bittersweet familiar characters, quite a few of them singing songs which were not yet a glimmer in their artists’ eyes when Jim’s playlists ended.
I have subconsciously coupled some of Jim’s enduring favorites, which along the way have become mine. My personal soundtrack includes two Richard Thompson covers: REM does a surprisingly upbeat “Wall of Death,” and Greg Brown does a haunting acoustic “Vincent Black Lightning.”
Alphabetically, I discovered I have four “One” songs, including the eponymous U2 version included on my 30th birthday CD, the original “One Headlight,” “One Last Time,” and Springsteen’s “One Step Up.” Our youngest child introduced me to “Sunburn,” which appears in her own breathtakingly clear cover of a lesser-known Ed Sheeran song.
I’ve moved far away from you
And I want to see you here beside me, dear
When things aren’t clear …
Memory was painful
Whenever I was away, I’d miss you
And I miss you
Among its more peculiar trivia, my commuting playlist contains three different songs which prominently feature train tracks, and two with references to bearded ladies (one of whom does a double back-flip).
My compendium includes the heart-filling and mind-blowing duet by performers Jim never had a chance to hear, but attuned me to savor: Lin-Manuel Miranda, covering Ben Platt on “You Will be Found,” harmonizes with Platt as he covers Miranda’s part in “The Story of Tonight.”
Only very recently have I come to appreciate Jim’s genius in sending gentle signals for both me and our children to get out of our comfort zones, at our own paces, to adopt and adapt to shining examples of how to live life lyrically, whether the song is “just” a song or the music is a metaphor.
If Johnny Cash can cover Nine Inch Nails, I can certainly get past my routine and set out into the world, to places I would have rather seen with him but can still take in for both of us.
I still hear Jim speaking words he never spoke and lyrics which were as yet unwritten and unsung when he died.
And the inestimable John Hiatt keeps rendering both our old lives and my new life in song.
And if I told it true, all these memories of you, well that’s why I play the game
Friend of mine said a long time coming, like it never came
I’ve sang these songs a thousand times, ever since I was young
It’s a long time coming and the drummer keeps drumming, your work is never done
I still see you there in that silver-blue air and I never have moved on
Friend of mine said a long time coming, I’m just a long time gone