In six songs, tell us about your life.
By now most of you know the drill, but if you are a new visitor, welcome! We challenged our guests to tell us their life stories: “The project is simple, though maybe not easy: Tell us a story–your story–in six songs. And then for fun, wrap up your life in a bonus seventh song.” The series runs every Monday through September. We are currently booked to capacity–thank you!–but before the series wraps-up, we will plan a special event where everyone will be welcome to join in. Until then feel free to check out our past volumes and enjoy this week’s stories.
Our special guests this week are:
Liz from Living With Autism and Teresa from Grateful Rider. I met Liz last year after she stumbled across my “Grace” post. I clicked with her poet’s soul immediately, and I still marvel at how lucky I am to call this brilliant, soulful and artistic lady, a friend. I’m very grateful to WordPress for allowing our paths to cross … and I am glad to have crossed paths with Teresa too! She and I have a lot in common, (recovery, the South, and a love for animals) but I think we truly bonded over our shared love for Lyle Lovett; we’re both still peeved at Julia Roberts for breaking his heart all those years ago. (Let it go…I know…but still.) Please take some time to get to know both Liz and Teresa. You’ll be glad you did!
And . . . Join me in congratulating Liz on six years of sobriety! While Liz doesn’t self-identify as an alcoholic, she writes candidly–and oh so beautifully (Caroline Knapp, anyone?)–about the reasons she quit drinking six years ago, including health, care-giving, anxiety and what she called her ‘freight train’ days, in her July 19 post: “Autism and Alcohol: reflections on an anniversary.”
Drinking and smoking were part of an identity I had constructed; this was about being young, free and creative. I don’t think it ever occurred to me that I might be using it to assuage anxiety or relieve stress.
It’s one of the most beautiful pieces I’ve read in a long while; I know you’ll agree.
Enjoy this week’s “Life in 6 Songs” everyone!
Liz (from Living With Autism)
Song #1 (and tell us why briefly):
“Cracklin’ Rosie” by Neil Diamond
I’m going to kick-off as the 1970s open at an (English) football match. After she left my dad, mum started taking me to watch Sheffield Wednesday on Saturdays; this was something she had done with her dad as a child and I think was a way of reclaiming her identity. Going to football matches was not something I wanted for my life, however; the only thing that made it bearable that summer was Neil Diamond’s “Cracklin’ Rosie” playing over the loud speakers at half time. Something in the lyrics made me long to escape: Ain’t nothin’ here that I’d care to take along (maybe a song). I would be 18 before I could get away, but when I did, it was in a battered Renault 4 I named Rosie.
“Isis” by Bob Dylan
When I left, at the end of the 70s, I was escaping a man as much as a place; looking back I am amazed at my younger self for having the wit and strength to run. What the relationship had gifted me, however, was Bob Dylan; while my peers had been pogo-ing to The Stranglers and The Damned, I’d been listening to Dylan’s back catalogue and poring over his lyrics. I would carry this legacy of music and poetry for the rest of my life. For years I assumed Johanna (after “Visions of Johanna“) as a middle name and I would call my son Dylan partly as homage. My son is 20 now and severely autistic without speech; I blog about living with autism at dylanandliz.wordpress.com. I could easily write my life in seven Dylan songs but have limited myself to just this one: for my daughter, Isis.
“Shipbuilding” by Elvis Costello
At the start of the 1980s a friend played me Elvis Costello’s Get Happy. I loved the album’s energy and Costello’s clever word play; with Steve Nieve on piano, EC and the Attractions were something special. Costello did self-deprecation and joy but didn’t shirk from social commentary; Thatcher’s Britain may have been politically and economically challenging but it was exciting musically. I couldn’t find a clip I liked of “New Amsterdam” - my iconic Get Happy song – so here’s a version of “Shipbuilding,” from slightly later in the 80s, showcasing the dazzling Nieve.
“I’m Lucky” by Joan Armatrading
As well as getting happy I got lucky in the early 80s, winning a one year scholarship from London University to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. As I walked through the departure lounge at Heathrow airport in September 1981, Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me“ was playing over the speaker system. Human League were from Sheffield; I had danced with them at the Crazy Daisy (a city night club) as a teenager. Now they were famous. When I arrived at UMass no one had heard of Human League. I had to re-tune my ear that year; my new friend Roberta and I listened to Joan Armatrading’s “I’m Lucky” over and over in her room (I can’t find an 80s clip but this is a good one).
“Kitchen Man” by Bessie Smith
At the end of my year at UMass I got a job with a social change organisation in Boston. The work was hard but I loved the camaraderie and joy of late night dancing at the 1270 on Boylston Street (a gay club in those days and perhaps still). (Ed. Note: Looks like it closed in 88, Liz.) That was the summer of love as well as revolution; music, dancing and partying on the beach. By the end of it, I’d fallen for one of my co-workers: we quit our jobs, loaded our few possessions into his Volvo 65, and set off for California. Of all the songs we listened to, this is the one that brings it all back.
“Wild is the Wind” by Nina Simone
No I couldn’t stay, I was told; I’d been given the scholarship with the expectation that I would return. I had a hard time raising the money for the flight back, never mind saying goodbye. The night before I left, in a restaurant in San Francisco, I heard Human League playing on the radio; so they had made it. Back in London, embarking on graduate study, I met a musicologist; that relationship had a profound effect on my musical landscape, introducing me to Bach and Scarlatti. Listening to classical music altered the way I thought about music generally; I realised that what I was really interested in was the way women sing the blues. This, in turn, would influence my writing and my development as a poet. How to choose between Nina’s “Lilac Wine,” “Four Women” and this?
Bonus Song #7 (If you could wrap up your life story in ONE SONG, or if you have a personal theme song, or even a song you want played at your funeral, what would that song be and why?):
“Wickerman” by Pulp
And how about this for a bonus? At the beginning of the 90s work had taken me to the south coast where I met Dylan’s father. When the relationship broke down I accepted a temporary post in Sheffield to be near family while Dylan was young. Another child, a marriage, an autism diagnosis and divorce later, those three temporary years have become 20. Some days I remember that I didn’t mean to be here – what happened to “Cracklin’ Rosie”? Mostly, I can’t imagine myself elsewhere. History repeats itself; I found my way back to where I started and in the process discovered why mothers leave marriages and daughters leave mothers. One of the delights I have taken in my return is the music of my home city; here is Jarvis doing it proud. “Wickerman” features my childhood landscape where, against all expectations, I live happily in the valley of the ridiculous toy horse.
Thank you for reading and to Christy for hosting. (Thank you, Liz! Readers, don’t forget to check out Liz’s beautiful post: “Autism and Alcohol: reflections on an anniversary.”)
* Liz blogs at Living With Autism. She is from the UK.
Teresa (from Grateful Rider)
“Only The Good Die Young” by Billy Joel
I lived an adventurous, outdoor horseback riding life as a young child, an unencumbered outdoor lifestyle.
Introduced to alcohol and by 15, I was a blackout drinker.
Then my battle cry became “only the good die young,” as I justified my behavior and choices.
After all, “Only the sinners have fun.”
“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by Eric Clapton
Just because I needed to believe something better existed than what I was living.
Mozart’s “Requiem D Minor“
Couldn’t look in a mirror. Hated to hear my name.
Sleeping on a loaded revolver.
Wrote thank you notes to all who had been so kind to me through my difficult childhood.
It played over and over.
I could not, not drink.
“We Are Family” by Sister Sledge
A group of drunks loved me back to life.
I discovered my Family of Choice.
We sang this song on the bus rides to meetings from the treatment center.
“Ordinary Miracles” by Barbara Streisand
I could not believe how sweet life became. I could cherish a smile from a stranger, find delight in the smallest unexpected places.
This song absolutely touches my soul for its celebration of the ordinary things I hope never to take for granted.
“Natural Forces” by Lyle Lovett
Living a life in recovery has enabled me to make deliberate choices, to not sit on the fence and be passive about my world. So after 24 years, I chose a divorce and my horse. Grateful for choices, strength, and wisdom.
Yes, home is where my horse is. God willing I will always have a horse to ride and love and a dog to trot along beside me.
Bonus song #7:
“You Put the Flame On It” by Charles Bradley
Thank you so much Christy for hosting this fantastic journey through our lifetracks, and thank you for inviting me to share mine. (Thank YOU, Teresa!)
* Teresa blogs at Grateful Rider. She is from the coastal south of the United States.
Thanks again for being our guests, Liz and Teresa!