My iPod is on shuffle right now. I’ve been meaning to make more play lists and download more music. One of these days I’ll find the time. Maybe.
Right now Under My Thumb (The Rolling Stones) is playing. And as always when I play music (an addiction), I’m transported back to a distant time and place that still feels close. And so in this moment, I am 15. I am on New York City’s upper west side at the apartment of a congressman’s son. The congressman and his wife are out of town for the weekend, and their son, Billy, is throwing a party. I am there with about 50 “friends,” wearing the black mini skirt dotted with little yellow tulips (the one I sneaked out of the house in my Greek slouch bag since my father made me change to something more demure). I am wearing a yellow poor boy top and some strappy sandals that I bought at Chandler’s Shoes on Fifth Avenue (also spirited out in the slouch bag since the heels were too high for my father’s approval). My boyfriend’s band (Manchild in the Promised Land) is playing at the party. My boyfriend, Jimmy, is 17 and singing Under My Thumb, and strutting like Jagger. He has silky long black hair, and I am the envy of all the girls at the party. I am a curiosity as well since Jimmy is quite the “bad boy” and I am Sandy Ollson to his Danny Zuko. I don’t get the misogynistic lyrics of Under My Thumb. I am clueless, and totally smitten. He plays My Girl and points to me. And just as he finishes the song, the police come into the apartment with tear gas and we all scatter, running outside, a sea of tie-dye tumbling down small hills in Riverside Park, eyes burning. And with all that, I still get home in time for curfew. A few months later, Jimmy shipped off to Parris Island and then to Vietnam, and with fiction taking over 30 years older, I finished the story as it might have been, but wasn’t.
Now Mr. Chow (Acoustic Alchemy) is playing. I recall the jazz dance class when I first heard the gongs that begin the melody. It was shortly after the birth of my third child in 1987, significant because the two older kids were in the babysitting room and the infant was in the corner of the studio. At one point, I had to stop dancing to nurse him, watched the class sweeping, dipping, turning as I rocked back and forth with my infant. With Lay Lady Lay, I am in my bedroom at 17. It is my senior year of high school, and the song is a notably different Dylan. I am picturing myself going off to college, and wondering what kind of woman inspires a man like Dylan to write a true ballad…a love song. The Spinners are singing Could It Be I’m Falling in Love and I am back at The Forge, a nightclub in Miami. I am 22 years old, and I am dancing under a disco ball with my live-in boyfriend who wears a Nik Nik shirt opened halfway down his chest. My daiquiri (a departure from my typical beer) is back at our table. I love to dance, and I love the music, but I am wondering how my folksy flower-child self landed in Miami’s disco scene. I don’t know it, but soon I will be back in my hometown New York City with my 12-string, selling the jewelry that the boyfriend who became my first husband gave me, trying to make ends meet with a job that pays $98 per week and a rent that is $330 per month.
John Fogerty, Huey Lewis, and Jermaine Jackson are back-to back… how odd since they all sang to me and my kids in the 1980′s as I shuttled them to the town pool. Strains of Centerfield, Heart of Rock ’ Roll, and Do What You Do as I unloaded our folding beach chairs and bags filled with changes of clothing and snacks. The two older kids danced with knees bent and butts dropped as I swayed the baby on my hip, emptying the tailgate with one hand.
Here comes Galileo (Indigo Girls) played on my daughter Ellie’s mix as we drove the way back from Mt. Holyoke where she would go to college, and I can still feel the emotion well up inside me as I thought in just a few months I would no longer awaken her sleepy head with a kiss in the mornings…And shuffle now to Bombs Away (Bob Weir), the song I heard over and over again when I first dated my husband, and the lyric screamed out after years of lost loves “I guess I’m back in love again. Well hey and around we go…”
My husband and I don’t play enough music together anymore. He plugs in the iPod headphones on the subway, and we play music together on the rare occasions that we drive out of the city: I am the deejay surfing the iPod and he is the driver. Last weekend, on a trip to visit our kids for Mother’s Day, I played Johnny Mathis for him — oddly enough, How Do You Keep the Music Playing. For me, the drive became a musical odyssey, not just a road trip.
Here comes White Rabbit, so by the way, why do we watch the talking heads (yes, intended double entendre) on CNN after dinner, and listen to Larry King over Grace Slick? Where’s theÂ generation who kissed, bopped, twisted, hustled, and slow-danced with arms slung around each other in a still-life embrace? Not that I want to go back to tear-gassed parties and tie dye. I just want to turn off the TV, crank up the iPod, and basically retrieve the time when melodies were a soundtrack for a less complicated life.