Music can take us to magical places. A dirt road, the Hyatt Regency, the steps of a garage and behind the wheel of a Jeep Wrangler.
“Ants Marching” by Dave Matthews Band takes me back to a Dallas hotel room, a giggling pre-teen girl at my first national cheerleading competition. I remember my friend Keri pulling up the sleeve of her grey Army shirt (those shirts were ‘in’ that year) and showing her toned bicep while the band jammed in the background.
“Boot Scootin’ Boogie” by Brooks & Dunn takes me back to the Christmas I got my first CD player – it held three CDs at once! I can smell my bedroom, the new plastic of the player and the case when I hear Ronnie twang, “The dance floor’s hoppin’ and it’s hotter than the Fourth of July.”
“Ghetto Supastar” by Pras Michel, Mya and O.D.B. puts me in the driver’s seat of my mom’s convertible Cavalier, flying down the dirt road to our house with my best friends in the car. We were laughing hysterically from just rolling a yard with toilet paper in the dead of winter. We were silly high school girls, shivering, singing along, “and we’ll rely on each other.”
A friend introduced me to “Dashboard Confessional” right before we started dating. I missed the “emo” phase that went along with that music, but it still struck a chord, and he and I bonded over the lyrics of “So Impossible.” Suddenly I’m back in my garage, that day we first met without the group of friends we usually hung out with. I can feel the butterflies in my stomach.
Then there’s “Free Fallin’” by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. When I hear that familiar melody begin, I’m suddenly back in my yellow Jeep, top down, arms raised, tears streaming down my face. I’m the 18-year-old girl again, with only 10 days until high school graduation, who’d just been pulled out of class and told her aunt had died in a car accident.
Most details about that day are fuzzy, and I can’t tell you why that song was in my car. But I played it over and over as I drove to my house, back out to get lunch and get away, and that night on the way to hang out with my then-boyfriend.
I sang it for days.
Songs have been written about the way music takes us back, but music has also taken me forward. That trip to Dallas cemented my love of competitive cheering. That first CD – which I still have, by the way – contributed to my obsession with music. That winter night on a dusty road is a memory shared with one of the most important women in my life today. And, that day in the garage was the first step toward falling in love with my husband.
It doesn’t matter a song’s true meaning; sometimes there’s no connection. “Free Fallin’” was simply a release at a time when I desperately needed to scream with anguish, and singing at the top of my lungs was an acceptable substitute. It was the beginning step in a long grieving process.
And now, Tom Petty and crew are headlining Gulf Shores’ Hangout Festival in May. Just days after the 13th anniversary of my aunt’s death, I’ll sing along, arms outstretched with sheer joy, to a song that now links me to my aunt. Because somewhere along the way, something magical happened: it turned into a tribute to her. She was by no means a Petty fan, but I know she’d appreciate the happy gesture. And, while I’m not a Petty fan, either – I only know their radio hits – it’s one of my most anticipated shows this year.
Music can take us back, but it also moves us forward. But for a few glorious minutes in May, it’ll let me free fall.