Over the weekend, I started unboxing thousands of cd’s that have been stored in our garage for six years. We kept meaning to bring them in a few a time and rip them to a hard drive so we could be listening to them, but that never happened.
The boys are finally old enough that most of their toys stay in their rooms now. The cabinets in the family room were full of puzzles missing pieces, cars missing wheels, play tool kits missing all the screws, and a random assortment of game pieces to no one game.
So I brought in the cd’s. Well, technically, Kevin brought them in because they were super heavy and also: roaches. I unloaded them into the cabinets.
Nothing brings me back to a specific time, place, and memory like a cd does. Not smell, taste, pictures, people, nothing.
I picked up my first Lois disk and closed my eyes. I’m sitting at Martin’s at the bar, drinking Rolling Rock, wishing I had a different life, talking to Joe Holland. Joe was the bartender. He fascinated me. He wasn’t a musician (that I remember), but he had more knowledge of bands and musicians – most of whom I hadn’t heard of before – than anyone I knew. He turned me onto Lois. She was unpolished. Raw. Quirky. I wanted to be Lois, but Lois was already Lois. I was still just me, and all Joe ever wanted was to just chat.
The songs I wrote were always too much. Too much information. They tried too hard. Lois just came in and out in a simple phrase and some crappy guitar work that may or may not have been tuned in the past five years. And it was stunning. I didn’t understand how to make it be so effortless.
This week, I’ve been listening to Jonatha Brooke. She’s not effortless. She’s complex with layers of harmony, hemiola, and harshness. When it first started playing, Colin asked, “Mama! Is that you singing?” and I couldn’t hide what a compliment that felt like. It took a couple of cycles, but by this morning, I was belting it out line for line, note for note:
It’s the little failures every day that take you far away
Take you far away from here
Fail to notice, fail to speak, fail to tow the line,
Fail to keep the coast clear
SHAME ON US
Cathartic in my 20’s, cathartic now. Shame on us, indeed, America. The lyrics pour out of my mouth and bring back the sting of every relationship gone wrong. But they also bring back the power I felt back then to control my own life. I was fierce and unwavering. Rigid even. I was strong and opinionated. A feminist even then.
I don’t know that I’ll write songs again. I’m not sure what I have to say these days would ever make any kind of decent lyric. Of course, this is coming from me, who once wrote a thoughtful pop song about my period. Really though, most of the time I feel done with songwriting until I pick up a cd from twenty years ago and it all comes rushing back in. I pop it in the car’s cd player, and my voice soars along with the songs that I didn’t write, but that wrote me instead.
And Annie, you think the whole world’s been cruel
All the stars took advantage of you
Your mother was cold and your daddy’d no love
So you stomped your feet till they noticed
You stomped your feet till they put on the kid gloves
Now they’re walking on eggshells, they’re walking on glass
Sing hallelujah each time that you pass
And someday you’ll pick yourself up off your ass and go
I’m finding comfort in singing the songs I sang when I felt powerful, young, and ready to take on the world. Because this week I just feel beat down. I’m reminded of all the times I was told I was too sensitive. Sit down. Be quiet. Let me handle this. This week has brought back too much of the oppression of being a woman. Allow me the pleasure of drowning it out with song.