A Happy Pill
The other night, I drove to KY to see a concert by Tanya Tucker, who is one of my all-time favorite singers. I get car sick if I attempt to write or read in a moving vehicle so the few, very brief times my sister and I ever rode a school bus, I would sit in the first seat (dead giveaway that I was either a nerd or an outcast—or both), lean my head against the glass and whisper-sing “Delta Dawn,” “What’s Your Mama’s Name, Child?” and “Strong Enough to Bend” all the way home. The very title of “Strong Enough to Bend” strikes a deep nerve in me. She recorded a song on her box set that was titled, “Chasin the American Dream,” which is about how very hard it can be to have no choice but to pick up roots and move, again and again. It made me burst into tears the first time I heard it as a teenager. Her story-songs deeply reverberated with me and I took great comfort from them. I also liked her as a person. Wild and completely unpredictable, she made mistake after mistake but, in the end, what never changed was her complete devotion and commitment to her family. The entire story of her dad believing in a kid’s ability to sing enough to move their entire family and drag her down Music Row until he found somebody who listened moved me–as a child and now as an adult. She has followed her dad’s footsteps, moving herself and her children to California because her eldest daughter wants to act. I like her. And driving four hours for a two hour show only to then drive four hours home seemed totally worth it. I was sure I’d get to hear a good show. And I did. But I also got a lot more.
Music might as well be a happy pill in my world. All I have to do to feel better is turn on any CD, it doesn’t matter who it is. I once walked around all day, every day, humming or singing in my head, “she’s got an itsy, bitsy, teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini that she wore for the first time today” for, like, a whole month straight. Songs like “Sacred Ground” by McBride and the Ride and “Young Love” do more for me than take up three minutes of time: instead, they revive a wearied spirit, take me back to happy places in my youth. Trisha Yearwood’s “The Song Remembers When” is on practically every CD I have ever burned because it has so much truth in it. A melody can make the air smell different, time slow down and stress melt.
I was a freshman in college and volunteering as a university Ambassador, which basically meant I gave tours of the campus to prospective students, and their families. One day, two boys were in the group I was leading. They asked me to go for a ride, show them around Nashville. By all that’s holy, I should have said no as I had never met them before and gave no one a clue I was going. But, back then, I didn’t think about things like that. So, off I went for a sight seeing tour with two high school seniors. Along the way, they turned on country music and I sang along. Out loud. As self conscious as I am (I was even more so back then), I will sing to any song I know, and I don’t really care who’s around to hear. Because it makes me happy. It lets me forget. Well written lyrics remind me that someone else thinks the same things I do, I’m not alone. And a song with a strong beat makes my body itch to dance, even though I have absolutely no rhythm at all. Singing in the car is totally therapeutic: way more effective than any psychiatrist could hope to be.
Coming home from the concert, I rolled the windows down and decided to leave the music off until I could reach the interstate so that I didn’t get lost for lack of paying attention. It wasn’t long before music found its way to me. Locusts and crickets were chirping loudly, the wind whooshed by. Then I recognized the strong smell of pine. The pine trees were everywhere, and so voluminous that their smell filled my car. It wasn’t the only thing seeping into my space: peace was as well. Night time is not silent; it’s actually quite loud, especially out in the middle of nowhere in Kentucky. The sounds aren’t random though: if you really listen, it’s got a beat and a melodic rhythm. It made me think of birds that would chirp in the morning and the water in the creeks and rivers that would gush over rocks. It made me remember that music has always been here, it’s a gift from God. No wonder, then, it has the power to dry tears, smooth worried frowns and inspire smiles instead.
I saw a great show by Tanya. But had the performer been someone I didn’t know, I’d still have recognized the emotion evoked by melody and tone. I’d still have rocked my head in unison and clapped to the beat. Music affects us because it rings with truth and connects us with others. When the singer is Sugarland and the song is a rockin beat that talks how “I’m not perfect, but I’m worth it,” I sing it with conviction and left feeling just a tad bit stronger. When it’s Patty Loveless asking, “How can I help you say good-bye?” I cry because I remember how painful letting go of those I am can be. And when it’s Tanya singing about a tree that’s “Strong Enough to Bend,” it’s like a friend reminding me that I am strong enough, I won’t fall. Even when the music was simply the sounds of nature, it whispered to me of peace and encouraged me to take a break, to stop worrying about reality and lose myself in a few minutes of quiet melody.
It’s a real shame I can’t in any shape or fashion create music. I took violin lessons but probably couldn’t remember a lick of it now. I can’t really sing (I simply don’t care). And, despite my formidable writing abilities, I can’t write a song to save my life: when I try, it all sounds contrived and all my melodies have already been used with other lyrics. Such a shame. Or is it? Actually, I’m quite happy with my utter lack of musical genius because it leaves me with no choice but to just listen and enjoy it. We sing songs at bedtime. My youngest daughter is particularly fond of “God Bless the USA” and “Twinkle Twinkle” while my oldest loves “Shake Me, I Rattle” and “Step by Step.” I love this tradition. No matter how tired we are, we fall asleep in the comfort of familiar lyrics and the peace they inspire.