I’ve got a number of music apps on my phone. Google has one. That’s where I have “Awesome Mix Volume 1” and a number of other purchased items that somehow made it over from one of itunes. (I’m still not sure how that happened, but I’m okay with it.)
Then there’s Pandora. I do a lot of my work listening on that one. It’s fun for exploring all sorts of music. For example, between “British Folk Radio” and “Pete Seeger Radio”, I’ve managed to take a liking to …wait for it…sea shanties. It’s also pretty fun to sit at my desk and listen to old labor anthems.
Then there’s Amazon Music. I’m still not totally sure how this one works, but I was rocking out to it yesterday.
I have to say, something felt off. I was driving along listening to Bruce Springsteens’ Born in the USA album. It felt a little fake in a way that the sea shanties and labor anthems did not.
Wait…let me backtrack. It’s not the music itself. I would never, ever, disrespect The Boss. It was the context. It felt weird listening this music that screams blue jeans, pickup trucks and cassette tapes while driving along in my office attire, seated in the heated leather seat of my VW Passat listening to the music playing on my phone, connected via bluetooth to the car’s audio system. It’s music that needs to be played with open windows, so I rolled down my power windows and opened the power sunroof.
I sang along to the familiar tunes. It was fun, a throwback to my youth, though even my secure middle class upbringing in L.A. was somewhat out of sync with the middle American tone of the lyrics. That’s not a new thing for me. I liked hair bands, but never had long hair or dressed in leather pants. (You’re welcome, world.) I like folk music, but my background and experience is anything but. I love the music of protest, but as political as I am, I’m hardly a revolutionary. I’m used to the disconnect.
But this was different.
Somewhere, a part of me wanted to handle that plastic cassette, maybe even using a pencil to rewind it, to insert it into an old stereo, to close the door and press, really press, the play button. (None of this touch screen business.) The music needed that accompaniment of the clicks and whirs of the moving parts of the cassette deck or the walkman or the boom box. It needed to played loud and proud, spilling out of open windows on a summer evening, bathing the neighborhood in a musical glow that complements to warm light of a setting sun.
Has anyone else felt this about music? It’s like sometimes, the music is about more than the sound. The right song, especially (but not exclusively) the ones from when we’re young, can be a total sensory experience. Maybe it’s the smell of a barbecue or the taste of salty air on that beach. Maybe it brings back the feeling of that first time you danced with that special someone or pushed your body farther than you could in a workout. Maybe some vista, or some face will always come to mind when that song comes on.
For me, when I hear Darlington County or Working on the Highway, I’m right back to riding with my church buddies in my youth director’s old Sentra up into Angeles Crest for a day of hiking. No Surrender takes me back to ninth grade and the frustration with the rules that caused me to contemplate quitting the magnet school so I could join the swim team (long story). Even Bobbie Jean causes me to think of a close friend who disappeared from my life somewhat abruptly and to wonder how things turned out for her.
And the album as a whole transports me to a far away place, one that is beyond my own experience, but exists in pictures vividly painted by The Boss’s lyrics. It’s a place of baking sun, dusty fields, and silent factories. It’s a world of roaring engines and loud, clunky tape players playing rock music out of open windows for all to hear, far removed from heated seats and touch screens.
So what’s the point of this reflection? I doubt that I’ll ever have the life experience underlying Springsteen’s songs. I can’t honestly say that I identify with the heartbroken singer in Downbound Train or the unemployed veteran from the album’s title track. Yet the music still stirs something in me, even 30 years later. And maybe that’s the point, the value. Even if I’m not living the lives depicted in those songs, they take me back to times in my own live. They remind of those carefree days filled with that burning intensity of youth, that boundless possibility that awaits those who dare to let themselves feel it.
And you know, that’s not a bad thing. And if it makes me, in my settled years willing to be a little less settled, a little more willing to take a chance, even it that willingness is tempered by things like responsibility and experience and rendered “acceptable”, then it’s all the better.
I’m not talking about a specific decision on the horizon–there is none that I’m aware of–or a midlife crisis or anything like that. But, if hearing songs about passionate, hungry everyday people inspires me to reach down into that well that is a younger, hungrier, more passionate me, I’ll take that.