Doing the time warp

I started this month planning to write about songs I love, but now I see that music has other plans for me.

Instead, I find myself today with a tune knocking around my head that I loathed for many years. Truly loathed. And now? While I can’t say I adore it, I have a real and ridiculous fondness for it that would have surely shocked my 17-year-old self.

Back in my last few years of high school, I was part of a pack of friends who’d gather most weekend afternoons at once house or another to play—ahem—role-playing games. You know, Dungeons and Dragons and that sort of thing. It was me and a group of four or five guys (I was an honorary guy for most of my pre-college career).

Saturday nights would find us around a kitchen table, its surface strewn with thick rule books (spines worn and cracked), pads of lined paper, stubby no. 2 pencils, bowls of snacks, and a hoard of candy-colored, many-sided dice.

Our favorite game at the time was called Top Secret, a spy-themed game where we performed various dastardly-but-imaginary missions. We’d play for hours and then there’d be a break—a sort of seventh inning stretch for the non-athletic—where the guys would wander to the living room to watch the latest episode of “Doctor Who,” a show I just couldn’t generate any enthusiasm for.

As nerdy and boyish as I was, there was nothing about the low-budget science fiction show that I could admire. There was something so sad-seeming about it to me: dismal, dingy and cold.  Just the theme music was enough to put me off, and when I’d hear those first twangy, strumming notes bounce their way into the kitchen, I felt the show’s dismal dinginess seep towards me and I’ve to distract myself by studying the game’s rule book or anything else I could find.

That was then. Today I’m a mom, distinctly not one of the guys, and “Doctor Who” has been refreshed, brightened, and polished into something so glossy it barely resembles that ramshackle early version.

And now I watch it. We watch it together as a family. We laugh over it and cry over it and scoff at it and love it. And I find myself singing that darn theme song over and over, as I feed the fire, do the dishes, sort the laundry, write this post.

And I find myself doing that strange sort of mental time travel, warping back through the years at a speed faster than starlight, to that young self who never imagined herself a wife, a mother, or a “Doctor Who” watcher. And then bending back through galactic clouds to this overcast December day, sitting across from a girl who is now 17 herself, and who cannot for the life of her imagine what her 51-year-old self will be like.

I feel weightless, a bit, or groundless, like I could take off at any moment and find myself riding a comet, or swinging on that slim crescent moon I saw last night, or waking up in a distant galaxy, humming a tune I don’t know and can’t forget.

Don’t fence me in

Sometimes I don’t know myself. [Make that most times, but you know what I mean.]

For instance, ask me what type of music I love, and I’ll give you a tidy list that includes American and British folk and folk-rock; jangly-guitar alternative; Motown and the Philadelphia sound; traditional country (Patsy Cline, I’m talking about you); and the grand embarrassment that is 70s top 40. All of these make sense to me: they sketch the edges of who I think I am, who I imagine myself to be (blue jean wearing, animal loving, rural living child of the 60s).

But it’s not so easy to pin anyone down by the music they love (or the books they read or the foods they eat or the company they keep). And if I reach further I find out that I love, among other things, Italian cafe music, Afro-Cuban music, salsa, R&B, the blues, The Moody Blues, and, yes, even a smattering of blue-eyed soul  (I blame Simply Red).

Which brings me today’s song (thanks to H, who introduced it to me a month or two ago and so now it’s in my head most every day) by Pentatonix, a five-member a capella group (Penta, get it?).

I can’t stop listening to it. There, I said it. It’s playing on repeat as I write this. I’m doing that chair dance thing again. I’m impressed that it’s a capella, but that doesn’t enter into the fact that it sticks like honey to my brain.

That’s the thing about music love. There’s no explaining it. You love it or you don’t. It’s beyond words. It’s what’s on your lips when you wake up even in the dark, and it helps ignite the light of the day.

p.s. If you want more Pentatonix, you can’t go wrong with their covers of Hallelujah, Jolene (with Dolly Parton), and the wonderful Winter Hymnal.

A tune in my heart

Our excellent friend Kevin writes about all sorts of interesting things on his blog, Keeping Score. He’s a terrific writer, smart and with a generous heart. I enjoy reading whatever he writes, but I particularly love his end-of-year posts, where he shares his favorite music from the concluding year. He doesn’t just list and link the tunes, he gives us a little bit of insight into what he loves about each song, and that just makes each choice a bit sweeter.

Inspired by Kevin, and by the ongoing dreariness of the overcast weather and my generally overcast temperament this time of year, I’ve decided to post a song here each day from now until the new year.

They won’t all be new songs; in fact most of them will probably be old, but I’ll try not to bore you with too many repetitions, and I’ll do my best to follow Kevin’s lead and let you in on why I’ve shared each song.

Today’s song, for instance, “Call Off Your Dogs” by Lake Street Drive.

I heard it for the first time last night on my drive in to town to attend my monthly book group meeting (our next book is Zadie Smith’s Swing Time, if you want to read along).

I had the car radio on with no particular expectations because we have very poor radio choices around here, but two seconds into this song I was hooked. It was obvious why: it hearkens back to the music of my youth, with a frothy 70s groove. It reminds me, maybe, of E.L.O and long, carefree summers. It’s the kind of song that begs to be turned up loud and danced to.

I cranked it as I drove along the river in the drizzle. I couldn’t open the windows, but if you passed me you’d have seen my head bopping and my smile huge, all thoughts of rain and darkness banished for three minutes and 29 carefree seconds.