A column about history, culture, policy, and things in between.
Readers of this column (both of them) know that I am an audiophile, with eclectic taste in music.
For me - music is the greatest art form. I consider it so for many reasons, not least of which is the power it holds. Great music can do so many things to our hearts: enlarge, enoble, soften, and break. It can help bridge political and generational divides. And it can stamp with indellible permanence specific scenes and experiences upon the anvil of our consciousness.
All of us know songs that instantly make us think of a specific place, time, or person in our past. Amongst some personal examples of this power are Andrea Bocelli's achingly beautiful Time to Say Goodbye. I cannot hear it without recalling the most transcendently great performer in the history of team sport - Wayne Gretzky - and his last skate around Madison Square Garden in April of 1999. The song played as he circled the rink, and hearing it immediately conjures that scene. I can see the spectrum of emotion on his face in the final moments of his incomparable career; gracefully waving to the crowd, and to his lovely wife Janet sobbing uncontrollably in the stands. Another one is Song for America by Kansas - hearing it instantly transports me to Glacier National Park. I taste the salt of sweat sluicing down my face under the blazing Montana sun, as we made the arduous ascent to Gunsight Pass. Robbie Steinhardt's exultantly soaring violin places me right back on that summit, and recalls the feeling of triumphant joy as we stood upon it, gazing back down the valley thousands of feet below. But most personal of all, I will never hear the fabulous song Wish List by Pearl Jam, without instantly recalling a glorious spring morning in 2008, driving our daughter to school; both of us delighting in the beauty of Eddie Vedder's song.
Wish List opens with a gentle but insistent strumming of Vedder's rhythm guitar, a dragging tempo that is joined shortly by his breathy, almost whispered vocals. The lyrics share a spectrum of emotions and desires on the part of the singer; evocative, personal, and rich in imagery. In verse two the lead guitar joins, reminiscent of church bells on a clear Sunday morning. Vedder's singing gains an edge and the song, like water flowing through a gradually narrowing channel, all but imperceptibly gathers pace and volume. His rich, smokey baritone, honed in the bars and clubs of Seattle, lifts the listener and carries us along, as he sings, "I wish I was a messenger, and all my news was good - I wish I was the full moon shining off your Camaro's hood". Then the song pauses, pulling back from the expanded pace, drags briefly again, and lifts us up and into one of the most magical instrumental segments in pop music. Four guitars - each distinguishable from the other yet combined into a richly inseparable fabric of sound - are anchored upon the understated percussion; the lead guitars dancing on the foundation of the rhythm like so much moonlight on a mill pond. It is an interlude that testifies to music's power to elevate us to higher plateaus of thought and emotion, and gives audible definition to the difference between a musican and an artist.
Listening to the song instantly focuses the lens of my memory to that morning in 2008. I see her in profile grooving in the seat next to me, fingers clicking and shoulders gently swaying to the song's redolant chords. I again hear her say, "Dad - I think Buddy would like this song"; a reference to her younger brother's emerging sense of music; that younger brother who now, despite being several inches taller, will always look up to her. I remember feeling my love for her as an almost tangible tremor in my chest, as she told me of her pending day, and Vedder sang, "I wish I was the pedal brake that you depended on"..........
And through the prism of whatever wisdom God, and my advancing years have granted me, I now see with savage clarity the jumble of claptrap that once constituted my own wish list. In place of such transient twaddle now stands a simpler, far more treasured list. Of those items, one is that I might retain strength in adequate measure such that I can once more make that ascent to Gunsight Pass, this time with our son leading the way, me trailing in the measured tread of his ever lengthening stride.
But most of all in this year of graduation, I wish I could hit the "replay" button on the last four years, and return to that golden spring morning of 2008. I wish I could repeat the days that saw our daughter grow from delightful young teen to the emerging young woman that now stands before our grateful and moistening eyes. I wish for every soccer game, every track meet, every dinner, every Canasta game, and yes, every moment of struggle. I wish for the talent of an Eddie Vedder such that I could write a song just for her. And as I listen to Wish List, a different saline taste is on my tongue; the taste of tears rather than sweat.
Where did they go - those years? How did they vanish so quickly, like morning mist in those Montana valleys?
I wish I knew.