26 February, 2009

Me Music Part I

I don't know if this is something unique to me and my overwhelming narcissism or if most people think about themselves this much, but I have a tendency to adopt songs that speak to me, that mean Me to me. They are my identity songs.

Throughout high school and into college, my identity pretty much escaped me. I adopted songs but they merely defined the amorphous shadow that teenagers still in flux tend to be. From Bruce Springsteen to The Beatles to Depeche Mode, I found plenty of songs I identified with, but no songs that necessarily identified me.

Once my identity really started to solidify and I looked more and more like the person I have eventually become, a completely different kind of music than I had previously enjoyed stepped forward and actually has taken quite a predominant role in molding my adulthood. Thus, no surprise, many of the songs of this genre have become the music I want to walk down the street to.

If I had to choose one definitive action that turned my ears to this other sound, I would have to choose my ill-fated membership to Columbia Records. Don't laugh, this is real, and you know you had the same ill-fated membership!

After college, I moved back to San Francisco and in with my Mom. Most of my college friends had moved on to Chicago but I wanted to finally live in San Francisco as a sentient being, having been whisked away to Tulsa, OK in the middle of the night when I was a mere four months old. Okay, maybe whisked is a little dramatic and perhaps it was in broad daylight, but the fact of the matter is, my whole childhood in Tulsa was spent yearning to be in San Francisco. And after college, I had my chance and I took it.

I quickly became seduced by repeated tear-outs in magazines and newspapers offering 13 CDs for a penny. A Penny! Good lord, do you KNOW how valuable an offer that is?! I was on my own (separated from my peers) and bereft of their combined music collections and had spent my teenage years becoming dulled to my Mom's music collection. God damn, I needed fresh blood! So I sent in the card with 13 CDs checked off and anxiously awaited the new infusion of tunes.

When choosing my 13 CDs, I ran out of must-haves around #10 and began just picking things that seemed like they might have promise. Deadicated: A Tribute to the Grateful Dead was one such choice. I hadn't been a Grateful Dead fan at all; I strongly dislike the song Truckin' which of course is one of the few Dead songs that made it to radio. I was generally meh about Touch of Grey when I saw the video on MTV. I had nothing really pulling me toward the Dead other than a need to fill out my 13 CDs for a penny, so I checked it off.

Most of the CDs I received in that shipment are gone now: given away or traded for better ones. Deadicated, The Smiths' Greatest Hits and the Indigo Girls' self-titled album are the only three that remain. Oddly enough, The Dead and The Girls are two that were throw-away choices for me - I really wanted The Smiths' album because it reminded me of high school.

Turns out, I thoroughly enjoyed the entire Deadicated CD and gained a healthy new respect for the band. The one song that stood out to me, the one I fell in love with before ever even hearing The Dead sing it, is Cassidy. The poetry in Cassidy simply knocks me over.


I have seen where the wolf has slept by the silver stream
I can tell by the mark he left you were in his dream
Oh, child of countless trees
Oh, child of boundless seas
What you are and what you're meant to be
Speaks his name, though you were born to be
Born to me, Cassidy

Lost now on a country mile in his Cadillac
I can tell by the way you smile he is rolling back
Come wash the night time clean
Come grow the scorched ground green
Blow the horn and tap the tambourine
Close the gap on the dark years in between
You and me, Cassidy

Quick beats of an icy heart
Catch-cold draws a coffin cart
There he goes and now here she starts
Hear her cry

Flight of the seabirds
Scattered like lost words
Wheel to the storm and fly

Faring you well now
Let your life proceed by its own design
Nothing can tell now
Let your words be yours, I'm done with mine

Flight of the seabirds
Scattered like lost words
Wheel to the storm and fly

The song is about Neal Cassady who was on his way out of this world ("There he goes...") and Cassidy Law, the newborn daughter of one of the Merry Pranksters, on her way in ("...and now here she starts") and is absolutely brilliant poetry that just makes my head and heart soar like the seabirds.

The irony is, of course, that this throw-away CD choice put a musical fork in the road that I have followed wholeheartedly ever since. Two months after I moved to Chicago, after two years in San Francisco (I whisked myself away, this time), I went to my first Dead concert: 7/9/1995. When tickets went on sale, I hadn't yet found a job and the money I'd moved out there with was dwindling away much faster than I had expected, so of course I made the extremely logical decision to buy a ticket and join my friend who had jobs. I'm nothing if not logical.

After the amazing concert, I experienced a flood of understanding that in this universe music would be enormously significant to me and that this band was The One and I should endeavor to see them as much as humanly and financially possible. Unfortunately, my first Dead show was the last Dead show with Jerry. I had a job by this point, less than a month later, and I remember leaving for the day and walking home crying to So Many Roads playing on repeat.

I have only heard Cassidy live one time, despite the number of Dead and Dead side project shows I've seen. For our wedding party, my husband asked the two guitarists/singers entertaining everyone if they would learn to play Cassidy for me. They played a wonderful rendition that brought happy tears to my eyes and loved the song so much, they continued to play it for themselves at future shows.

(to be continued ...)

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