Late Saturday night, feeling distracted and unsettled, I picked up the remote and started clicking through tv channels.
I was stopped by Austin City Limits on PBS, James Taylor singing and jamming with his band.
My heart immediately lightened as I listened to the music.
You’ve got a friend.
It’s the early 70s and I’m riding in the backseat on the long drive across the state to drop my brother and his friends at a church retreat before my parents and I spend a few days exploring Jekyll Island. I’m too young to join the teens at camp – our five-year age difference puts my brother in high school while I’m only in elementary school.
I want my brother and his friends to think I’m cool and interesting, but I’m shy and tongue-tied. As usual, I’m the invisible little sister. The quiet one. The weird one.
I listen to the radio as the road unfolds in front of us for hours.
Music is one of my best friends.
It’s our song, she tells us as we sit around the table at Pizza Hut. One of our songs, I mean. He said it reminds him of me, and I said it reminds me of him. And it does, It really describes how we feel. We make each other smile, you know?
She’s talking about James Taylor’s Your Smiling Face. We’re in high school, a group of girlfriends out for pizza and a movie. The rest of us nod knowingly. We’ve seen our friend and her new guy, the two of them smiling and laughing together, their blond heads close.
I love the time spent with friends but the high school years are difficult for me, for many reasons, and I’m not-so-secretly looking forward to the next phase.
As I watch James Taylor on Austin City Limits, Carly Simon comes to my mind…
It’s 1987 and I’m in grad school, immersed in writing a paper that’s due the next day. I study and work best with music blasting and my thick hair piled on top of my head, which means the radio is blaring in the 1-bedroom off-campus apartment I share with my black cat. I move back and forth between the typewriter on the old wooden desk I refinished several years earlier when I was a freshman in college, and the papers and index cards spread all over the floor.
Coming around again.
Carly Simon’s latest song is playing and my body sways to the music as I sort through notes for the paper I’m writing. I moved out on my own when I was 20, living in a tiny apartment in my hometown, finishing college and working various jobs. But grad school is my first time living in another state, away from family, moving there alone with my sweet kitty.
I have a blond-haired guy of my own now, we’ve been together for a few years, and things are rocky with us at the moment. But although my romantic life is shaky, my social life in general is full and fabulous to an extent like never before.
Do I realize that I’ll always think of my grad school time – even decades later – as one of the best times of my life?
I love this movie, I say to my husband as we snuggle on our couch watching Sleepless in Seattle on video. It’s the mid-90s, we’ve been married for several years by now, and we recently left apartment living to purchase a house. I didn’t marry my blond-haired guy from earlier years; my husband’s hair is dark-almost-black, one of the few physical indications of his Creek ancestry.
Carly Simon sings In the Wee Small Hours while Meg Ryan, as Annie, gets out of bed during the night and goes downstairs, her thoughts on Tom Hanks’ character, Sam.
I nestle into the cushions even more, cozy and content in my own home, with my own love, watching the movie.
Listening to James Taylor also makes me think of Carole King…
The songs on the Tapestry album are embedded in my life’s personal soundtrack. They are interwoven with my years, part of the literal tapestry of my life. I played my LP so much it was scratchy; I played the cassette so often it was worn.
I think of those songs, memories of decades flashing through my mind, while I watch James Taylor sing on the screen.
I feel his music lift my spirits even more. And not only that, the music grounds me. It brings me more fully to center, more completely into my body.
Even as the memories pass through, I can feel myself in the present and enjoying the moment.
Enjoying the music.
By the end of the show, my mood was in a much different place than when I first picked up the tv remote.
Music can do that.
Music is powerful.
And so are memories.