Monday, June 25, 2018

On the Magic of Music

I just finished watching that clip of James Cordon's Carpool Karaoke with Paul McCartney and cried. I didn't know how much the music of the Beatles was a part of my growing up. How deep it went. Until now.

My parents were hippies. Well, at least the Filipino version (which is to say, as a mutt-like culture, it’s not surprising to embrace the wide-ranging diversity of American music. Keep reading. You’ll see what I’m talking about in a moment.). They didn’t do acid (at least, not to my knowledge, but who knows! They are never very forthcoming about anything that happened before I was born. Or, actually, even after. Unless I ask direct questions. To my dad. Which he may answer. Or not.) Maybe they smoked? I have no idea. All I know—from photos taken in Manila—is that they wore bellbottoms. My mom wore flowers in her hair. My dad’s hair was long, just below his shoulders, and he wore those thin headbands across his forehead. I always thought it made him look Native American. Were they politically active? I don’t know. I’d like to think so. For one, it might explain my dad’s tendency to “keep your head down” and to over-prepare for anything. (At the time, the Philippines was going through their own political unrest with Marcos’s rise to power, resulting in martial law, which was the driving force for their immigration to the US.)

Growing up, there was music in the house. All the time.

Peter, Paul, and Mary. Carole King. Simon and Garfunkel.

Anne Murray was my first concert. I was six.

Stevie Wonder. Donna Summer. Diana Ross. Heck, anything Motown.

Eric Clapton. Billy Joel. And of course, The Beatles.

I remember sitting on the floor of our family room, next to the stereo, playing records with my aunt, who just immigrated from the Philippines. I must have been around 8 years old. It was summer; back then, the days were long and slow. In our hands, we held the album sleeve, printed with lyrics, and we would just sing. Loud. All day long. “Heaven Can Wait” by Meatloaf was one of her favorites. (Yes, you read that right. Meatloaf. The guy who sings that all-time frat party anthem: “Paradise By The Dashboard Light”.) Diana Ross’s “Touch Me In the Morning” was my personal fave, though I kept wondering, why did she want him to touch her and then walk away? Did she not like him anymore? Also “touch” in my little-kid mind was just that: a hand touching her arm and then walking away. What did I know? The music lent itself to an upbeat feeling, so I really didn’t pay attention to the meaning of the lyrics anyway. If anything, maybe that was my first encounter with being in the present moment: “Nothing good’s gonna last forever / And wasn’t it me who said, let’s just be glad for the time together” and “But yesterday’s gone my love, there’s only now and time to face it.” Either way, I just know that the only way I could participate with the song was through singing.

Then, there was the Beatles.

one of the many albums in my childhood home

I remember how much my dad treasured these albums. How much care he gave them. He was so delicate when sliding them out of the album cover, then the sleeve. Gently setting it on the turntable and slowly placing the needle into that first groove, his face close to the vinyl, waiting for those first beats. 

I remember him instructing me to be extra careful when taking out records to play them. I was also not permitted to put the Beatles’ records on. If I wanted to listen, I’d have to ask him to put them on. He showed more tenderness toward those records than he did me.

While my knowledge of The Beatles was limited to my exposure as a child (I never really explored their music beyond what my parents listened to), I now know how much of their music is foundational within me. What I mean is this: music and memory are inextricable. When I watched that clip of Carpool Karaoke with Paul McCartney, the music brought me right back to when I was a kid. Back when I could spend an entire day sitting around, listening to music and singing along. 

If I took the time right now, I’m sure I could trace the formation of my current eclectic (I hate that word) tastes along the path of musical roots, in which the Beatles are inevitably embedded. But for now, I’ll give a sample of my favorite music to date, which will probably reveal more about my growing up than anything else (in no particular order): Dave Matthews Band; Prince; 90s alternative rock (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, et al); late 80s/all of the 90s rap & hip-hop (Public Enemy, Notorious BIG, Tribe Called Quest, MC Lyte, et al), R&B (Anita Baker, En Vogue, Destony’s Child, New Edition – plus all of their projects after: Bell, Biv, DeVoe, Johnny Gill, et al), Latin freestyle (Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam, Expose, Stevie B, et al). I high school, I also listened to house music & reggae (club reggae, that is) (songs like “Girl, I’ll House You” and “Percolator”), though I never ever made it into a club (my parents would’ve killed me – and I kinda liked living. Haha). During the college days, I also listened to Indigo Girls and Sarah MacLaughlin and Tori Amos. And pop music was always there. Always. One fave that comes to mind right now? Lisa Loeb’s “Stay”. (The video is typical 90s: just walking around in an abandoned building. Haha!) Man, I’m a total cheese ball! Hah! And just typing up this sample list makes me feel really mutt-like. Like a true Filipino. Haha!

But oh, the magic of music. How it can transport us back in time with just a few notes. And how quickly we flash right back into that moment. A moment, perhaps, that we had forgotten about long ago.

For me, hearing “Penny Lane” beamed me back to a moment when my dad sang this song. I don’t see much in the memory except for him singing, wearing a pair of jeans, eyes closed. Maybe he is remembering his own Penny Lane, a street in his childhood neighborhood, a place he will not return to for another 30 years. A place that will always be in his ears, in his eyes, and in his heart.

No comments:

Post a Comment