Traveling Through Time on a Playlist
A riff, a lyric or a chorus can transport us to a time long gone, to a place far removed, as we choose.
- story by Rheta Grimsley
I filled my glass, put my feet on the leather ottoman bought on the cheap 30 years ago at a Jackson department store, and mentally strapped down for serious time travel. The shuffle feature made the trip more kaleidoscopic than chronological.
Bob Dylan, for instance, carried me ‘way back to Loachapoka, Ala., where oddball friends often gathered on old bedspreads in tall grass to solve the world’s problems. My back pages are in braille, a stubble of memory and meaning that feel good to touch.
Aretha took me to a dorm room in Auburn where a steam radiator hissed and, without irony, we sang “Natural Woman” while wearing electric rollers in our hair and cold cream on our unlined faces. Collegiate independence came with a safety net – “I’ve overdrawn my checking account, Daddy, and I don’t know how it happened.” – a sweet spot in life.
The inimitable John Prine put me on the pristine banks of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River on an early June raft trip. We weekend adventurers ended each night around a campfire listening to Prine’s soft picking and the recitation of Robert Service poetry.
Before that trip, I didn’t know anything about either Prine or Service, two poets you discover you need while negotiating what Lewis and Clark called The River of No Return. Try bookending Prine’s “Souvenirs” and Service’s “Yellow” and your boat will float.
Music is lightning. Every listen might just bring to your life something you didn’t know you couldn’t live without.
Speaking of rivers, Emmylou and Mark Knopfler sang Hank’s “Lost on the River” and reminded me that I come by my passion for music honestly. My father played Hank again and again on the first piece of furniture he ever bought: a Crosley record player, one with a lid that had to be cleared of Mother’s knickknacks to use.
Hank has been to my life what calcium is to women; you need more and more Hank the older you get.
I was enjoying myself immensely, feeling better and wiser with each selection, when suddenly Patty Griffin weighed in with her “Mother of God” song. “I live too many miles from the ocean,” she sang, “and I’m getting older and odd….”
I’m definitely getting older and odd, but thank goodness the first part of that lament doesn’t apply to me any more. I no longer live too many miles from the ocean.
Each time I go to the grocery or the bank I make a point to get at least a glimpse of the Gulf, the reason I’m here, the reason almost all of us are here.
I try to remember what a great gift it is to live on the edge of the sea, whence we came. Life and politics and aging may make us blue, bring us down, and send us running to the stereo and our most dependable old tunes.
But as long as I have what Jimmy Buffett called “Mother, Mother Ocean” a few steps away, there should be a smile buried somewhere in my wrinkles and a song in my flinty heart.
Read more about award-winning author Rheta Grimsley Johnson on her website - you'll also be able to order her books!
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