Songs of Myself

Like a lot of other folks there are certain songs that transcend a flash of memory of time, place, or person; something above and beyond a simple moment in time.  Eagles New Kid in Town is one of those songs for me:  it was the first forty-five I ever spun as a professional disc jockey, way back in 1978. Fresh out of Brown Institute and just off a Greyhound bus to my hired-sight-unseen new gig in smallish-Nevada, Missouri.  New Kid in Town summed me up pretty well – then and now.

There are other  moments when even innocuous comments bring a song to mind, triggering the memory attached to it; something as simple as being asked to remember a piece of information, or someone simply sharing a reminiscence staring with ‘remember that time…’  can be triggers for me. One of my father’s favorite songs was Try to Remember – from his favorite musical, The Fantsticks. I inherited a love of the song long before my father died, certainly fantasticksplaybilllong before I could really grasp the songs many nuances.  Now?  I still love the song, but on a wholly different level.

Try to remember the kind of September
When life was slow and oh, so mellow
Try to remember the kind of September
When grass was green and grain was yellow…

That song – those lyrics – obviously meant something very profound to my father, and as the years have progressed, they have come to mean a lot to me as well. While I was a theatre and American songbook geek from a young age, Try to Remember has never been out of place on my mental playlist ( I even owned the 45!). The connection between me, the song, my father – any combination thereof – has never waned.

Try to remember the kind of September
When you were a tender and callow fellow….

I do remember being that fellow; quite fondly, in fact.

What these particular ‘connection’ songs have in common is that they are linked to something ‘back in the day’ – coming of age, big moments, that sort of thing. My situation with New Kid in Town I think is fairly unique; I’m not sure many of my friends have a song so inextricably tied to the first real job they ever had. And not just the first real job or first day on the job – my first day in a new, small, town, my first five minutes of my career. I can still remember Rick, the guy who trained me, setting me up to take over the control board coming out of news and a commercial break; “So whattaya want for your first record on the air? I’ll cue it up!” There on top of a stack of 45’s on the counter, next to some news copy and baseball scores, was New Kid in Town.


New Kid in Town 45There’s talk on the street; it sounds so familiar
Great expectations, everybody’s watching you
People you meet, they all seem to know you
Even your old friends treat you like you’re something new

Johnny come lately, the new kid in town
Everybody loves you, so don’t let them down….

Songs like these usually resonate because they are tied not only to a specific event or person, but to a time when your life was simpler, things were more black-and-white. While I could rattle off a short but fairly impressive list of such tracks, I can honestly say it has been many years since there were any new entries into the canon of soul-shaking songs.

Until now.

Interestingly, it is a not a new song, nor is the situation it is tied to all that new or unique. On the contrary, it has been a favorite of mine for years, but not on the level that it is now. It is a song I have always loved, but something 100_5066has subtly, but profoundly changed.

The song is White Christmas.

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the treetops glisten and children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow

A native Minnesotan who spent most of his life in the Midwest, I am quite familiar with white Christmases; in fact, I far prefer them over other Christmases. A little over seven years ago, my family and I moved from rural, southwestern Minnesota to New Orleans, Louisiana. New Orleans rarely sees more than a few wisps of snow every couple of years, and I think they have approximately two Christmas snowfalls in recorded history and certainly in no abundance.

This will be my eighth Christmas as a New Orleanian, and fifth Christmas –and second in a row – that we haven’t been able to make it home during the holiday season and will be spending the holidays in the land of twinkling-light bedecked palm trees. Not my ideal, and we will certainly be missing family, and yes I will even miss the twenty-hours 100_5072-e1388166919353of driving to get there, though I will not miss the twenty hours driving back, if that makes any sense. None of this is terribly new, or unique.

But then again, it is. Damned if I know exactly why.

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write…

The day after Thanksgiving, I was working on a variety of projects while listening on-line to a radio station that was kicking off the holiday season with non-stop Christmas music for the day. Nothing unusual; I really enjoy Christmas music and can always find someone playing the marathon thing to kick off the season. I was bouncing in and out of my desk area all day Friday, catching a piece of a song here or there, snippets of a few favorites that caused me to sit down, listen to the rest of the song, check some emails. I even heard a couple of different versions of White Christmas as I kept going about my business.

After lunch, I was sitting down, catching up on some email and Facebook notes about Black Friday craziness, and that when I heard it – or rather, heard him: Bing , singing the original. And I just sat there and listened, like I never had before.

I have heard Crosby singing White Christmas for all of my fifty-six years; literally a thousand times, I’d bet. Watching the movie White Christmas is an annual family tradition and I know the stories behind the song, why it was such a he hit with GI’s overseas during WWII, and I have always loved it and really don’t even mind most (and even really like some) of the cover versions I have ever heard throughout the years; the song is that good.

But now, just now,  it is something very different.

I am certainly not going to try to compare myself to some far-from-home G.I. freezing-in-a-Normandy-foxhole for whom the song transported – however temporarily and imaginary – to home, family, community. I am simply a WC Crpsby 1Midwestern-expatriate who finds himself living in the deep south of New Orleans – still an oddly foreign environment in many regards even after seven-and-half years of residency.

Hearing Bing croon White Christmas the other day was almost like hearing it for the first time; this was no superficial nostalgia or sappy sentimentality come home to roost – it was something else entirely…something I can’t really put my finger on. I can’t just be the missing snow, sleigh bells, glistening Christmas trees – I have been doing without those things (for the most part) for eight Christmases now. No family, friends to be with – no grandson? True; not something I am looking forward to, but not something I haven’t dealt with previously. And again, this is not melancholy or depression it’s all about a singular song, one that I have known well all my life but one that now means something different, something so much more.

…may your days be merry and bright, 
and may all your Christmases be white…

I get it now, like I never have before.

As an English teacher, I spend a lot of my time trying to get my students to grasp the tricks to comprehension; reading between the lines, the nuances of ideas inferred, feelings implicit. I could possibly take a tip from the Apostle Luke, who once said, “Physician, heal thyself.”

Maybe I have already begun to do just that, even without really knowing what, precisely, ails me.

Please excuse me. I need to go listen to some more Crosby.