voices and sounds

Some of my first memories are accompanied by music, whether radio, acoustic guitar playing neighbors, or my radical 1985 boombox with an equalizer (I really didn’t know what the hell that equalizer business was supposed to do when I was only 9 years old but I attempted to look smart all the time by moving the knobby thingies up and down).  We are a musical family (if trying to learn how to play an instrument and giving up out of total frustration and lack of patience are any indication – however, that’s just me) as my father was in a high school rock band (think Creedence Clearwater Revival meets Led Zeppelin) and my older brother is a self-taught guitarist.  I was told I had the talent but only if I would let it be brought forth, if I would allow my hands to learn the black and white keys of piano.  Sadly, I was too proud to take up an offer for free lessons and instead decided I could learn Fur Elise on my own.  Well, I did.  Then I got an A+ in music class and went back to slacking away my time wishing I could play an instrument with ease. 

Yes, I’m an idiot.  And it was the Nineties.  It was kind of my job as an angsty teenager to blow a lot of opportunities that may have served me well in the future.  But I wasn’t a think-aheader kind of person.  I’m still not, but at least I know this flaw about myself now and can stop myself from blowing opportunities that may serve me well in the future.

 See how grown-up I sound?

So, anyway, back to the memories.  One of my first is of me as a very young  girl trying to help my father in the garage. That day I learned the hard way that my awkward little 4-year old hands didn’t move quickly enough with the tools and I was eventually thrown out.  Except I didn’t leave right away because Journey was playing on the stereo.  I can’t remember what song it was but I thought right then and there that Steve Perry was one of the greatest singers ever!  (Embarrassingly enough, I once thought the same thing about Mark Slaughter although I’ve come to realize that I might just have had a thing back in my childhood for lead singers who could hit the high notes.   That’s the best excuse I have and I’m sorry.)

Music is a big part of my whole being.  I think it’s a big part of all of us, in different ways and for different reasons.  When I’m not listening to something on my car stereo or TV (I get XM radio through both), I usually have a song in my head.  I am constantly and annoyingly tapping my fingers to some bass beat or drum sequence and can recognize a lot of songs by just a couple of notes.  My external appearance is nothing spectacular.  I’m not pierced or tattooed and my hair is a doo-doo brown mop of mess on my head.  I’m pretty sure nobody would suspect from the looks of me that I own a Switchblade Symphony album or that Cypress Hill’s albums were the soundtrack to my teenage years.   Well, I do. And they were.  And here are some of my other favorite memory-inducing albums of all time:

Purple Rain by Prince

  (Dear Grandma Charlotte, Thank you for buying this for me when my parents would never allow me to buy it for myself.  You were awesome. Love, Dena) I was 10 years old when my grandmother asked me what two things I wanted most for Christmas that year.  One was a keyboard (that’s how we rolled in the 80s, kids) and the other was this album.  Grandma Charlotte tricked me on Christmas morning when she wrapped up the cassette tape with another, Madonna’s Like a Virgin.  I thought my parents were going to die.  Happily, they let me keep them both.  My grandma died in 1989 and I still have that very same cassette tape.  It’s not going anywhere.

Murmur by R.E.M.

  I cannot express in words how much I love this band.  R.E.M. was my very first concert, the Monster Tour, and is singlehandedly the greatest concert I’ve ever attended.  I could not believe I was breathing the same air as Michael Stipe (strangely enough, I felt the same way last November when I shared the same arena air with my black political boyfriend, Colin Powell).   Dead Letter Office is another one of my favorites, but Murmur was my introduction into high school and into alternative rock.  To this day, I still love every second of this album.  As disorganized as it may sound in parts, these guys knew what they were doing.  R.E.M. is my security blanket, in a way.  When I’m in unfamiliar land during a road trip, I just throw in some R.E.M. and all the comforts of home are right there in Michael Stipe’s voice, all screechy and twangy and off-key.  I want to have his babies.

Loved by Cranes

I was introduced to this band via an online friend in the 90s.  The suggestion to listen to this album was made because of my love for the Cure and the Sundays.  Allison Shaw’s voice does to your ears exactly what jabbing a sharp, pointy, metal poker into your ear canal would do to your ears.  It makes them bleed profusely, however, while you are waiting for your windows to shatter due to the severity of her voice, you kind of fall in love with her.   Cranes performed in Orlando about 10 years ago and I almost convinced some friends to go with me.  Then they heard her voice and decided they couldn’t suffer through the live show.  That’s a shame.  This is a really decent band and this album helped me through some lonely times in my twenties. 

Deep by Peter Murphy

First of all, I could stare at this man all day.  He’s beautiful, in a more refined David Bowie-esque kind of way.  And his voice is so reassuring.  It’s dark pop and poetry to my ears.  I spent a lot of time listening to this cd, wishing I was somewhere else and trying to absorb all of the world’s pity, even if it was meant for other people.  While this album reminds me of a dark time in my life, I can listen to it now and appreciate how incredible it really is, especially for helping to dig me out of my emotional hell-hole that I had created for myself. 

I & Love & You by The Avett Brothers

Here is a pair of brothers with guitars and pianos and some downright awesome jam-band sounds.  My daughter fell in love with them before I did because I was not totally sold on the whole country-sounding roots of their entire musical operation.  But after listening more closely to what this band has to actually say, I’m brought to tears. This is hands down one of the most beautifully written and masterfully played albums.  You can really feel what the Avett Brothers are singing about and playing for and that is exactly what I’m trying to learn about myself at this point in my life.  They are true storytellers.  

This list should not be used to totally define me.  I would have you know that I still hold a copy of Debbie Gibson’s Out of the Blue and I’m a sucker for anything recorded by Weird Al Yankovic.  But just as I can tell you that Jesus Jones’ Right Here, Right Now was playing in the basement during my favorite kiss or that John & Yoko’s (Just Like) Starting Over still makes me want to lace up a pair of old school roller-skates and circle the rink in tears while clutching Bubblegum, my favorite teddy bear, I hope the kids these days will get past the single track on their iPod and really listen to an entire album, from track #1 to the very end. 

We all celebrate life and we all have periods during which we suffer through it.  But the voices and sounds of an indescribably spectacular album only have to mean something to you, nobody else.    I’m not embarrassed by any of the music I’ve just listed above (if I was, do you think I’d really admit to owning a Debbie Gibson album?  Or three?)  I guess because I feel so utterly lost at times, it’s the familiarity I crave. With an open mind and open ears, I can usually find it in music.


About Dena

I'm a suburban Clevelander by way of Oklahoma City, by way of North Florida, by way of Southern Maryland, by way of Upper Michigan, by way of Northern Italy, by way of Lower Michigan, by way of Texas. Because of living in so many places, I have something in common with almost everyone I meet. I love reading, writing, and American history (especially reading or writing about American history). I'm interested in culture of place, historical trauma, and writing about the kinds of histories most people don't know about.
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