I was driving home on Friday for a wedding, and like I used to in countless drives up and down interstate 64 with my dad… to football games or to soccer tournaments, I listened to some great albums in their entirety. I pulled up an album on my iPhone, and just let it play. And then, did the same with another. And then, when that finished, I pulled up John Mayer’s album, Continuum, and listened to it all the way through.
And as I drove down I-64, and listened to John Mayer’s bluesy guitar-playing and outlook on life, it felt like I was back listening to Eric Clapton or Van Morrison or some other classic music in my dad’s car.
On those trips to tournaments or to Virginia football games, I’d sit in the back of my dad’s dark green Acura legend, and we’d cycle through Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, the Beatles. This was years ago, when CD players were relatively new in cars. And not only did the Legend have a CD player, it had a 6-disc changer. But the changer was in the trunk (weird, I know), so it had to be loaded up with music at the start of the trip. And as it was many years until I worked up the courage to even ask if we could add in another disc to the mix, I grew up listening to the same albums, all the way through, for years.
If you’re familiar with those old cd-changers, playing them on “random” isn’t nearly as useful as playing shuffle on your iPod. On an iPod, songs can shuffle without much time in between. But with a disc changer, those CDs have to be shuffled in and out between songs, so you have 10-15 seconds of silence. And so we didn’t shuffle. We just listened to those six CDs, all the way through, again and again. If the trip was more than six CDs-worth of time, or we weren’t "making good time," when that sixth CD finished, it’d click right back to the first one.
Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Jimmy Buffet, Al Green, the Eagles. In later years, my dad went through a Sheryl Crow phase. I think for a while there was some Santana throw in the mix, and of course some Bruce Springsteen, Rolling Stones, and The Beatles. Oh and then there was the U2 binge, and the Sting phase. There was the occasional Beach Boys record thrown in there. But the ones I remember most, the ones that were the staples, were the Van Morrison and Eric Clapton (and Cream) records that cycled through again and again. I sang along to I Shot the Sheriff, and Layla became (and still is) one of my all-time favorite songs. Brown-eyed girl was MY song, and Moondance became the song I now want to be my first dance at my wedding one day. I knew the ins and outs of all the guitar licks, and I knew which song came after which. I knew the lyrics enough to sing along, but most of the time I just chose to listen.
It was those road trips that first taught me to listen to whole albums. Don’t get me wrong. I love a good playlist as much as the next girl, but I also love putting a record on, and listening to it all the way through. There is something found and heard in an entire album that is lost in singles and mixes. And yes, fewer and fewer artists are putting together entire records these days, but for those that do, it’s worth the time and the attention given to enter into the music. It’s worth walking through the experience from beginning to end. There are songs that are richer in the context of the album they inhabit.
We didn’t talk much on those car rides (unless it was after a soccer game, which would necessitate analysis of what went wrong and what I could have fixed and how our team could have played better and how wrong the coach or the ref or that annoying parent was). Those sessions of post-game analysis were decidedly not my favorite. And so when the conversation stopped, and the play button was pushed, the music offered an escape. The guitars and the bluesy voices provided a retreat from the analysis and the conversation I didn’t really want or know how to have. And yet it filled a silence that I didn’t particularly want either.
And so as I drove home on Friday, and I put on John Mayer’s Continuum, and listened to it as I drove, it felt oddly familiar. I wasn’t in the back seat, and I was now singing out loud with some of the songs. But it was still the same road, the same bluesy music. It was still the same feeling… of entering into a journey, and feeling the emotions and the tone of the music. It wasn’t an avoidance of silence, but an occupying of it. An aloneness being made more homely.
Continuum is one of my favorite albums. I go back to the songs again and again, but I forget that listening to it all at once is a more complete experience. And I forget that in 2006, it was a perfect anthem for Generation Y, and now, eight years later, it fits neatly into a Millennial’s worldview, a mixture of apathy and idealism, of hope and disbelief.
And so as I drove, I sang along with Mayer, wanting and waiting for the world to change. I recognized his wrestling with belief and cynicism, and felt too the weight of the world weighing us down. And then when track five came on, and Mayer sang about the heart of life… I cried. I wanted to believe the lyrics, and I did, but I was also so well-acquainted with all the cynicism and jadedness that came before.
Pain throws your heart to the ground
Love turns the whole thing around
No it won't all go the way it should
But I know the heart of life is good
I’ve written recently about being weighed down by the world. By the sorrow and pain of both friends and strangers. And now here I am, singing “I know the heart of life is good.”
But do I? Do I know that? Can I really sing of cynicism and disbelief and then sing that life is still really good? I think that yes, I can.
But I don’t know that I can arrive there all at once. I think sometimes I have to move through the valley emotions to get to an honest place where the mountaintop declarations actually mean something. That process often happens for me in writing, in journaling, in prayer. But as I was reminded in the car on Friday, it also happens through music.
Music makes room for me to explore the heights and depths of life — to move through them, like walking a path. Albums that are unified in tone and honest in their emotional exploration help me to arrive at that place of tension, and be ok with it.
And so as I’m moving through this continuum, from one end of the spectrum to the other, I find that at the end of the journey, I’m sitting somewhere in the middle — paradoxically holding in my hands the idea that life is all at once really, really, hard, and really, really, good. And I actually believe it.