30 Days, 30 Songs: Days 19 and 20 – Life thoughts, and meanings

Welcome to my new musical series for 2021, “30 Days, 30 Songs.” Follow me this year as I blatantly steal this Instagram challenge all in the name of good music and good fun. Every other week, I’ll cover one or two or more topics from the list (see here for a refresher), allowing them to percolate over musical memories, nostalgia, and whatever else comes to mind in the moment. And now, gimme a beat boys to free my soul, I wanna get lost in this rock and roll!

Day 19: A song that makes you think about life

A song that makes me think about life is “That’s the Way I Always Heard it Should Be” by Carly Simon.

Can’t ever go wrong with Carly Simon, eh? No, no you can’t. And the brilliance of her voice and this song just go hand in hand. Many songs resonate quite differently with me now than they did “back then.” Case in point is this one. A song that I heard countless times on the radio and never though much about. But these days, it seems like THE song that describes so many of the people around me – the married ones, myself included.

Stop me if I’ve told this story before, but when I was in high school, I knew a girl who aspired to be a housewife and mother. That’s it. No career, no nine-to-five with Dolly Parton and the gals, no external ambitions. (Or, at least, that’s how I saw it.) She wasn’t a friend friend — I was more friendly with her older sister; her acquaintance came by design — so she never talked directly to me about her notions of adulthood. I only heard what she told to others in classes we had together. But her “life plan” has stuck with me, because…well, I don’t really know why. Maybe because it was so very far off from my own “life plan,” not that I really knew what that was at the time. But, I do know that being a wife and mother certainly wasn’t in it.

Hearing this Carly Simon song conjures up those weird, old memories about what I imagined life would be like “when I got older,” and how I would absolutely rebel against the system, because, that’s what felt right for me. But, times change and people change, as they have a tendency to do. When we’re young, we’re told all sort of things about what was are supposed to become, supposed to do, supposed to be. Really though, nobody can direct your life other than you. And honestly, maybe part of me was simply jealous of the girl who wanted to only become a housewife, because she was so very certain of it, and I was little more than clueless.

Day 20: A song that has many meanings to you

A song that has multiple meanings to me is “Music Box” by Regina Spektor.

“Music Box” is one of those songs that I’ll interpret differently depending on my mood. It it about life? Death? Work? Taxes? (What?) All of the above?? None of the above??? I really don’t know. If I’m feeling rather dour, there’s something about this song that fills me with a sense of existential dread, kind of like that all of this means nothing feeling. There a feeling of being trapped and, as Spektor clearly states ” a yearning to get out.” But getting out seems impossible, so instead, I drown.

It’s quite the pick-me-upper, yes?!

But if I’m in a good mood, I focus more on her bright voice and the poppy music rather than any sort of actual crisis. After all, “life inside a music box ain’t easy,” and that’s true with most anything. But there’s always a way to pick up, recover, and move on, even when the worst comes crashing in. I don’t know how or why life works that way — the mechanism is far from perfect, though — but when it does, things are or can be okay.

And that’s saying something considering that I’m a pessimist at heart.

If I’m in a neither-here-nor-there mood, a song like this makes me think about songwriting and composition generally. There’s something of an art to conveying a story through metaphor and vagueness. That whole “saying something with nothing” eludes me. (I mean, I can be vague with the best of ’em, but that doesn’t make me a great storyteller.) So it’s fascinating when someone’s able to do it with such trippy grace. “Music Box” is sweetly sinister and oddly obtuse. Nothing wrong with that on sunny morning.

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