Most of you know by now that I believe life does have a playlist…. and I have music going probably 90% of the time I’m conscious 🙂 often to Chris’ dismay…. I’m truly not as bad as my father who would sometimes have the big piece-of-furniture stereo, the radio and the boombox (ok — he was a cool old dude) going at the same time.

Naturally, both girls have been indoctrinated into a musical lifestyle — the older falling asleep to classical (Beethoven and Schubert) since birth, while the youngest dreams with ‘Trane and Ellington. And when they’re awake — wow! Our days are filled with everything from Beethoven and bluegrass, to showtunes, to Disney divas, to hip-hop, to jazz and new discoveries all the time.

Imagine my delight when I ran across Daniel Levitin’s book, “The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature.” Levitin is a musician, a record producer and a researcher. He posits that our heritage, our societies and ultimately our brains themselves organize music into six archtypes: friendship, joy, comfort, knowledge, religion and love.

Friendship songs are those that bring us in communion with our time and place. Think the protest songs of the ’60s, school songs — “Rocky Top” for anyone who’s ever spent 10 minutes in East Tennessee during football season…

Songs of joy are probably some of the earliest manifestations of what we think of as music. Levitin uses the Police’s, “Do do do da da da,” to illustrate the sheer pleasure of making songs. Think of songs like “Come Dancing,” “Come on Eileen,” or even the old WWII classic, “Mairzy Doats,” that exist just to make you happy.

Think of the lullabies someone crooned as you snuggled close and you find the edges of comfort songs. It doesn’t have to be traditional. Think of all the hurtin’ blues songs that make you smile as you listen. For me, it’s Hank Williams. My Daddy was home and all was right with the world when he came into the kitchen singing “Hey, Good Lookin‘” and twirled Mama into his arms. And when I was sick, he propped his leg up on the bed rail, balanced his guitar on it and sang, “Half as Much.” I have no idea why that song had healing powers, but to this day my breathing slows, and I feel peaceful as I hear it.

Knowledge songs can be as simple as “abc, as easy as 123,” or teach cultural norms with a backbeat, think “You’ve got to be Carefully Taught” from South Pacific. Lisa Yves has a great take on this — she takes jazz standards and uses new lyrics to teach. Check out “Roy G. Biv,” “Alphabet Scat,” or “Counting to Ten.” Of course, my favorite on the album (Jazz for Kids — Everybody’s Bopping) is “Bird & Diz,” basically it’s “Salt Peanuts” about the great jazz performers. Of course, I’ve been teaching them how to spell, “r-e-s-p-e-c-t” since they were babies.

Religious music isn’t hard to find. Since the beginning of ritualized religion, we have channeled our interactions with the Divine through melody. There are moments when formal, sacred songs transcend — hearing my daughters and the junior choir sing “Dona Nobis Pacem” or attending a performance of the Messiah and being there for the simply splendid “Hallelujah Chorus.” For me, oftentimes songs become sacred through connection — Delbert McClinton’s “Sending Me Angels” sees me cradling a new baby, marveling in awe and gratitude, while “Shed a Little Light” from James Taylor is a sermon in a song….

Now, “all you need is love….” Love songs are pervasive. Getting next to you, with you — this is musical communication at its most perfect. There are the overt songs like Sting’s “I Burn for You,” that slam into you with the same fierceness found in hip-hop, classic rock and Ravel’s “Bolero.” Then there are the more subtle rhythms. Bruce Hornsby and Dire Straits have songs, “Harbor Lights” and “On Every Street,” respectively. Their lyrics aren’t conventionally romantic, yet OMG. The instrumental bridge in the middle of each song taps into some primal longing, some need to be with…. it just shivers me, but isn’t that the point?

Like anything, Levitin’s work will only improve with more research — but I think, at least in one music junkie’s opinion, he has created a dynamic framework for future discussions.

Today’s playlist was easy. It’s the songs the girls have chosen motivate them when they need some musical courage. Two songs they always have to have — they call them the “baby kicking songs,” because they each chose to kick for the first time to music — go figure 🙂 One kicked for I’ve Got to Stop Thinking About That (James Taylor) and the other to I Can’t Get No Satisfaction (Rolling Stones).

motivate: Always Look on the Bright Side of Life (from Spamalot, the musical); High Hopes (Frank Sinatra); Centerfield (John Fogerty); Getcha Head in the Game and Bet on It (from High School Musical); Basketball (Kurtis Blow); Sneakernight (Vanessa Hudgens); Someday my Prince Will Come (the Cheetah girls); Istanbul (not Constantinople) (They Might be Giants); Don’t Worry about a Thing (SheDaisy); Keeping the Faith (Mary Chapin Carpenter); Keep your Mind Wide Open (AnnaSophia Robb); Cruella deVil (Selena Gomez); Real Gone (Billy Ray Cyrus); Crazy in Love (Beyonce); I Don’t Dance (from High School Musical 2); How Your Love Makes Me Feel (Diamond Rio); Me vs. the World (Halo Friendlies); Ready for a Miracle (LeAnn Rimes); and Beautiful (Christina Aguilera)

The truest expression of a people is its dances and its music. Bodies never lie –> Agnes deMille

Take care,

5 thoughts on “life’s playlist

  1. Say, didn’t this guy leave out “drug related songs?”

    Of course anyting from Pink Floyd, except the crap from “The Wall.” Eric Burden’s “Sky Pilot.” King Crimson’s “In the Court of the Crimson King.” Most anything from Nick Drake and The Replacemants. Neil Young’s “Tonight’s the Night.” And of course the “good high” of Sandy Denny’s “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?”

    Yeah, that catagory needs, must, has to be included to make the book complete.

  2. But wouldn’t that be in the “religion” category? At least, when the Spinners were dancing outside the Grateful Dead shows — that’s where they were aiming….

    Take care,

  3. Ahh yes, but they were on a different plain. Not one that has any religious conatations. Simply a brownie, mushroom, or sugar cube. That’s were I was aiming anyway!

  4. but, isn’t altered consciousness by its very definition an ascent (or descent, depending on the POV) into the “other” — so while whether or not you experience any more than a “good buzz” — aren’t you opened to any possibility ….?

    Take care,

  5. No, it merely (probably) means as you say a “good buzz.” I am open to new possiblities, at least I was when I was younger. The possibilty of a “better buzz” without an ascent or descent to anywhere except may the 7-11 for Hostess Twinkies.

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