Tuesday, February 3, 2015

"The Soundtrack of our Lives" (is one way of putting it).

"Let Me Call You Sweetheart" was in my head one morning as my eyes carelessly landed on a photo of two beautiful 1940s-era women: my mom and Aunt Wally, photographed with their step-mom. It suddenly struck me like a thunderclap: these women, at the time the photograph was taken, were certainly familiar with the song playing in my head. "Sweetheart" was published in 1910, it's true, years before the beauties in the photo had been born, but its popularity had lasted for decades, certainly well past the 1940s. And for one mystical, magical moment, the somewhat knowing smiles of the women in the photo seemed to connect with me over that song, as if they knew what was playing in my head and were ready to sing along. I know my mom would have sung it with me at the drop of hat; I recall her often breaking into random songs, lovely songs like Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies," a beautiful tune that had apparently been stuck in her head for a few decades before she put it into mine.

Anyway, the reason "Sweetheart" was on my mind that morning was because John and I were prepping for a program to be performed later that day, an eclectic mix of songs for the annual luncheon of a large suburban historical society composed of members aged somewhere between the WWII and Boomer generations. We opened the program with "Sweetheart", continued with "Star Dust," "Night and Day", "I Could Have Danced All Night", "Moon River", and a few others. During the performance I could hear the polite but distinct rumbling of audience participation. These songs had apparently meant something to these people at one point in time. Songs are like that. One Chicago-area radio station hits the nail on the head when it refers to itself as "The Soundtrack of our Lives." When you're young, you almost believe that the popular songs you connect with were written, composed, sung, and produced just for you. Well, most young people don't actually consider production details but when the perfect blend of lyric and melody touches your soul in some way, that moment in your personal history becomes inexorably linked to a song. Your song. My mother had no doubt encountered Blue Skies on "Your Hit Parade." I listened to my songs via transistor radio, our basement juke box (yeah, we had an old juke box), and vinyl. The generation before either of us purchased the sheet music to "Sweetheart" to the tune of five million copies. But however accessed, music becomes part of one's life story, part of one's soul.

You hear the song later, the memories flood in, and you are transported back in time. And there, in that room with the polite sing-a-longers, John and I were like masters of time travel, humbled and honored to be the vehicle bringing back memories for people who had personally connected, at some point, to these stunning songs.

I had one last musical encounter that evening, the day's most powerful. Rewarding myself for the efforts of the day with a viewing of "To Kill a Mockingbird", I was suddenly almost brought to tears by the film's familiar musical motif. That melody not only embodied the bittersweet fictionalized memoir of Harper Lee's Jim Crow South but, perhaps because my day was already in nostalgia overdrive, it touched me with a longing for my own lost world, a world in which the music of multiple generations stirred powerful yearnings in my young soul.

"Sweetheart" may have filled my head that morning, "Star Dust" that afternoon, but the Mockingbird theme, somehow encompassing both, lingered for days.