Tuesday, June 28, 2005
A handful of songs that have deeply influenced my life

1. "Night Train" by Oscar Peterson

My Dad was a pianist. Not by trade, though he regretted this at times. He was also an asshole. (was. he's changed.) But once a year he would be in a good enough mood, with just the right amount of imported beer in him, and he would play the piano just for fun. And we all sat stock still when we heard him sit down at the piano. We knew all was peaceful for the next 30 minutes. If no-one interrupted him that is. His favorite song to play was the jazz tune "Night Train," a la Oscar P. To this day, this song has supernatural powers over me.

2. "Amazing Grace" by John Newton

This song also has supernatural powers over me too, but for no specific reason. Except, of course, that it's so goddamn beautiful. I only learned within the last couple of years that it was written by a white slave trader, about slavery. He composed it after he stopped trading, and after becoming a Christian minister. Later, he spoke out against slavery.

I've always loved the song, but when I was living in Minneapolis, when I was 21, I formed a particularly special bond with the song. On Wednesdays, after driving a school bus all day, I used to walk over a huge bridge over the Mississippi River to the West Bank to hear an amazing band called "Fat Lip." My best friend and I had discovered the band because the lead singer was an amazing karaoke singer, so good that we stalked him a little. He used to sing Joe Cocker songs and pretend he was bombed, staggering and falling over while he sang.

So he and his band would play every Wednesday, and Tim and I attended religiously. Seriously, it was like church. Except that we would eat popcorn and smoke and get drunk. They are still one of the best bands I've ever heard, and they weren't well-known. They did a lot of original songs as well as some inspired covers. Pinball Wizard and Amazing Grace, for example.

They normally liked to save Amazing Grace until the very end of the 3rd set, on account of its intensity and all. But I would always beg them to play it earlier. I had to leave before last call because I had to get up at 5 AM to drive my bus. So they would play it in the middle of the 2nd set, and they would dedicate it "to the bus driver, so that she can go home and get some sleep and not plow into a building tomorrow, asleep at the wheel." And Tim and I would cry, because their rendition of Amazing Grace was the closest we ever got to god.

3. Mozart's Requiem Mass

No long story. Just a very very moving piece of music. One that I would like played at my funeral. Fully scored, of course.

4. "Let It Be" by Paul McCartney

Ditto. Very moving. Play it at my funeral. Maybe have a woman sing it though. Sheryl Crow, perhaps. Or Sarah MacLachlan.

5. Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata"

God, I love this piece. Note to future suitors: play this for me (or a little Chopin will do) and I'm half in the bag. Or: someone should play it live at my funeral. What the hell.

Actually, fuck that. I want to hear it too! Hmmm.....I'm going to have to hire someone to put on a concert for me before I die.

6. No Doubt's "Tragic Kingdom" album

In April of 1996 I was emotionally thrashed. The most betrayed and ruined I've ever felt as an adult. I already liked the No Doubt songs I'd heard on the radio, and one day I said to a co-worker, "I'm going to go buy this CD tonight, and it's going to change my life. Everything will be different and better tomorrow." I was shocked at how true it was. That CD was some kind of life raft for me.

7. Mozart's Concerto in A for Clarinet

I played this as a kid, and won a few contests and auditions with it. I loved it. I never was into the actual sound of the clarinet, which was a real shame because I was so good at playing the damn thing. The thing that I've been best at in my life so far was playing the clarinet. I didn't have to practice, but I kept getting better. I couldn't lose, and the accolades, yow. What's not to like? And this piece could make even the clarinet sound beautiful. Some parts of the piece are really fucking hard, but I got good at them and even came to look forward to those parts in the score.

I spent my twenties trying to learn to be mediocre and be ok with it. I was through with overachieverness and having to win all the time. When I hear classical music that I played as a kid it freaks me out. None of my current friends know about that part of my life, and I feel a little undone when I hear those pieces, like that youthful performer is going to burst out of me and insist on winning again. It's a beautiful piece, this concerto. Especially the Adagio. I made a judge tear up once, when I played the Adagio. And then when I was 16 or 17, with my brother accompanying me on the piano, I won second place only, playing the concerto. So I retired it.

My personal demons about being a musical performer are so intense that I can't/won't play at all as an adult. I dropped out of the conservatory of music I was attending at age 19 and never really played much after that. I finally sold my clarinet when I was 27 because it was just gathering dust and making me feel bad. I cried when I handed it over to its new owner, a cute band director, and it was absolutely the right decision.

Uf, this got a little meloDRAMATIC. Youch.
Well. Music is a huge part of my heart and soul, and its roots run deep.

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The views expressed here are my own and do not represent in any way my employer. Or my school. Or even my friends. And heaven knows the views here aren't representative of my family. Ha! This is a personal blog and it only represents me. And on some days, even that is questionable. So there.

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