The death this week of Etta James has set me thinking about how important her music has been to me – pretty much all of my life. In the shifting landscape of the personal anthem, her voice rang through time and again, with everything from “At Last“ to “Damn Your Eyes.”
Of course, the logical progression from there was to consider my anthems over time. I have a huge music collection – it has always been like that. I had it on vinyl, on 8-track tape, on cassette tape, on CD, and now on mp3/mp4….as it gets easier to store, the collection becomes even larger and wider ranging. It gives me such pleasure, and has marked my life in ways that it seems unlikely I will ever risk amnesia – the music is always tied to events and people, and closing my eyes to listen brings back memories in amazing detail. Although it may bring me a lot of pain at time to remember some things, the pain is always, always tempered by whatever wonder or happiness that preceded it…I know, it is complicated 🙂
I was in the 4th grade when Nat King Cole died, and I thought music was over. I consoled myself with Ray Charles and got over it pretty quickly, but Nat is still dear to my heart. And so it goes with all of the great or obscure musicians who have found a way to articulate moments of my life. Sort of makes me wonder what “Unforgettable” or “Mona Lisa” had to say about my pre-teen existence, but then, it might have been “Route 66” – which might help explain The Wayward Pioneer…
So what follows is a part of the list of those who have been “Killing Me Softly” in my life. I’m going to give myself 5 minutes – see who comes to mind.
Etta James, George Benson, Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, Billie Holliday, The Hollies, The Kinks, Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, Richard Elliott, Sting, Seal, Janis Joplin, Bonnie Raitt, Elvis Presley, Fleetwood Mac, Fred Eaglesmith, Elton John, J.J. Cale, Natalie Merchant, Eric Clapton, Mozart, John Hiatt, Johnny Cash, Ry Cooder, Hank Williams, Sr., Vivaldi, Patsy Cline, Joe Cocker, Aretha Franklin, John Coltrane, Van Morrison, Roberta Flack, The Script, The Beatles, Andrea Bocelli, Joan Baez, Alberta Hunter, Robert Earl Keen, Frank Sinatra, Matt Nathanson, Little Willie John, Diane Schuur, The Eagles, Sarah McLachlan, Grover Washington, Jr., Gregg Allman, Buddy Holly, Louis Armstrong, Bob Dylan, Jimmie Hendrix, BB King, John Phillips Sousa, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Wilson Pickett, Hope Waits, Enya, Dave Brubeck, KD Lang, The Chieftans, The Sons of the Pioneers, Stan Getz, Dr. John, Bach, Cat Stevens, Train, The Doors, Robert Johnson, Fats Domino, Aaron Copeland, Joni Mitchell, John Lee Hooker, Tracy Chapman, Sam Cooke, Willie Nelson, Bob Marley, James Taylor, Carole King, Steelers Wheel, Blondie, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Nina Simone, Hootie and the Blowfish, Guitar Slim, Little Feat, Red Norvo, Linda Ronstadt, Stephen Foster, Crosby, Stills and Nash, The Fine Young Cannibals, Bruce Hornsby, Steve Winwood, U2, Talking Heads, Antonio Scarlatti, Phil Collins, Peter, Paul and Mary, Roy Orbison, Carlos Santana, Muddy Waters, Stanley Jordan, Antonio Vega.
Ok, time’s up. I think I need to think next about what songs specifically had significance, but that is a nice winter’s project…a life playlist. It could be the soundtrack for my funeral at some point…but it looks like that might have to be at least a week long event. iTunes will let me know…at the very least I can sing or hum along while I drive – bearing in mind that there are some songs where you just shut up and listen – and often times, it will be for Etta James.