Monday, March 30, 2020

Whose Music Woke You Up Today?

I listen to a huge variety of podcasts, radio shows, and read a lot online as well. So, forgive me for being able to relate the source of this advice because I'd like to give them credit. I'm not even really sure what the official topic of the show was. Still, one of the announcers was talking about the attitude of your day been determined during the first few moments after you wake up. What they recommended was listening to music when you first woke up for a few minutes before you throw back the covers and get out of bed to start your day.

From the time I was in junior high until I stopped living on my own, I owned clock radios that allowed me the choice of alarm, music, or combination of both. Because I was a typical teenager growing up, I used both and at full volume to ensure that I was up in time to greet my day. Because of the way the device worked, I had no choice as to what music would play much of the time it was something like a transmission repair commercial.

Now, I have several devices that can wake me up and do so to a specific song if I choose. I was an early adopter of the Amazon Echo, and now my house is populated with these devices as part of my smart home set up. Several months ago, I replaced my last clock radio with an Echo Show device.  It has many alarm options including things like the ability to play whatever song you want to wake up to or a selection of songs by a particular artist. Being someone who is always preferred variety, I choose to select the artist and have kismet determine the title.

I will say that I have chosen a wide variety of things to wake up to in the past few weeks. I went from Lynyrd Skynyrd to Linda Ronstadt to Santana and even the Mamas & the Papas. Then I played folk music for a few days, including Peter Paul and Mary, John Denver, Harry Chapin, and Jim Croce. Most of the time, I would wake up in the first notes and immediately recognize the song. Still, a few times, I've had to ask Alexa to tell me the title I was listing to. None of that matters, I am reconnecting with a lot of old music I had forgotten. The part that matters is the difference in the way my day has gone since then.
On the whole, I have felt more positive heading into my day – – which is saying a lot given the current condition of the world. Sometimes, I'm left with the tune running through my head, requiring me to feed my brain more songs by the same artist. Other times, I'm flooded by remembrances of events associated with the song. I let my mind wander off to people and places stowed in the deep recesses of my memory. I think all of this is a good thing.

Anyway, try it out for yourself. Many devices can help start your day with whatever music you want to awaken you. The only rule, if you can call it that, is that once the song starts playing, you let the entire tune play before you get up and get out of bed. Unless you're playing In A Gadda Da Vida or American Pie you only delay your day by three or four minutes – no biggie. Give it a shot for a week. See what it does for you.


Thursday, March 5, 2020

Croce, the Ultimate Singer, Songwriter, Storyteller

Shortly after I turned 14, Jim Croce died in a plane crash. I'm not sure if it was before or after that I first heard him actually perform one of his songs. I do know that the Muppets were the ones that turned me on to his music with their version of You Don't Mess Around With Jim. Actually, I'm using Muppets in the broadest sense because Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson were performing as The Country Trio. What I loved about the song was the storytelling. Not only that, the story was funny and had a good turn around at the end.

Something to ponder while watching this: The song is about a man named Jim, written by a man named Jim, sung by a character named Jim, performed by a man named Jim.

As I got older, I sought out more and more of his songs. Many of them were stories set to music in the most amazing way. Roller Derby Queen, Bad Bad Leroy Brown, RapidRoy (The StockCar Boy), Speedball Tucker, and more. Each of them filled with memorable characters and a quick glimpse into their life. As a wannabe storyteller who was learning to play the guitar, I found great joy in the music of Jim Croce. Then, as adolescence took firm hold, I began to find meaning in his other songs.

People sometimes call his music melancholy as if it's a bad thing, it isn't.  I've always maintained there's a bit of warmth to be found in melancholy existing nowhere else. Among these,  were leaving songs like Operator (That's Not the Way It Feels) and One Less That a Footsteps. There were also songs celebrating the happiness of love, like Time in a Bottle and I'll Have To Say I Love You In a Song. and the, dammit I'm being treated wrong by my girlfriend" songs like Lover's Cross.

What I really like about all of the songs, stories, and love ballads, was that they were within my vocal range.  Even though I wasn't trying to emulate Croce, when I sang them they didn't sound half bad. Also, because of the sparse music accompaniment (one or two guitars)  in his music they didn't sound hollow when performed as a solo.

Later, I discovered his posthumous album The Faces I've Been.  the double album was a collection of traditional folk, This Land Is Your Land, and segments of him telling stories. The man could tell a narrative story every bit as well as he could tell one in song.   it was the first time that I became aware of how varied his life experiences were and how they contributed to his music and stories. He held dozens of part-time jobs while trying to get a break. The result is in his music. I wore out two copies of that album before I switched it over to digital.

How did I end up with a blog entry gushing over a musician who's been gone since 1973?  Recently, someone posted an entry online about him and included a recording of him singing Operator. That song holds a special place with me, it was the first song I ever played and sang before a crowd larger than two or three people.

During my high school's Spring Concert in 1977, I got brave enough to walk on the stage by myself and perform that song. While I was reflecting on that bit of history another bit of history slapped me in the face. When I lived in Kokomo, in the spring of 1989, I performed a Coffeehaus at Dad's Deli. I played four or five original songs and told a few stories, but the last song I played was Croce's song Railroads and Riverboats, harmony performed by Melanie Kenner. As of today, it is the last time I've performed in public for more than two or three people.

Looking back on that realization, I think it is only an appropriate set of bookends that my first and last performances were both written by Jim Croce.

If you are not familiar with Jim Croce, I encourage you to look him up on YouTube or somewhere else and discover his music.

If you are a glutton for punishment, I have provided links to both live performances. Keep in mind both of these were recorded with a portable cassette recorder using the built-in microphone. When I had it digitized, they were able to clean up some of the noise but it is still rough.

Railroads & Riverboats