One of the reasons I love Stevie Nicks

Some songs stay with me forever. If my high school Latin teacher had set the conjugation of verbs to music, I’m sure I could recall more than amo, amas, amat. Incredibly, even the most complex melodic lines have a kind of “right to residence” in my memory. Stevie Wonder’s Sir Duke is an excellent example. The instrumental introduction is a breathtakingly intricate melody, yet I can summon it in a nanosecond. Pretty remarkable when you consider that I can’t remember what I had for dinner last night.

The lyrics stay as well. Words to popular music from the thirties, forties and fifties that my mother used to play on the piano are fixed in my memory despite the passage of more than five decades:

I cover the waterfront, I’m watching the sea; will the one I love be coming back to me?

 On a day like today, we’d pass the time away writing love letters in the sand.

Night and day, you are the one. It’s only you above and under the sun.

Songs that stay in my memory speak to something that I have felt or expanded my perception of the world around me. Music provides something intangible and difficult to describe – it accesses or enhances or highlights something true, something which, if not universal, is at least broad spectrum.

My musical tastes tend to be pretty diverse. There aren’t many musical forms that I find completely unappealing. A few years ago I would have said that rap was well out of my area of interest, but then I heard Now That You’ve Found Love by Heavy D and the Boyz and a chink appeared in my anti-rap barrier. Then I saw Mos Def act in a movie and a television show and found him so appealing that I wanted to understand his music. While I still wouldn’t seek out rap on my radio dial, I am willing to dip in from time to time.

Likewise, I also felt that opera was little more than dying set to music, but the ubiquitous presence of Pavarotti’s Nessun Dorma (and Paul Potts’ performance on Britain’s Got Talent) a few years back broke down yet another barrier of musical snobbery and I have found other arias to love. My willingness to explore opera even prompted me to drive with my wife to New York to see Baz Luhrmann’s production of La Boheme more than a decade ago. Okay, it wasn’t Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and I didn’t do much toe-tapping, but I was engaged (Catherine Martin’s remarkable staging helped).

Country/Western? Well…I suppose anything is possible, but I’m not holding my breath.

While there has been a wealth of music that has delightfully accompanied my journey through the years, other songs (fewer songs) have actually defined it, stated it more clearly than I ever could. There was a time in my life when Billy Joel’s I Go to Extremes explained me better than I could explain myself. There has been music so profoundly moving that I would want it at my funeral as a sufficient statement of my psychological, spiritual, and relational reality – the thrilling pipe tune The Black Bear, Judy Collins’ My Father, Caoineadh Cu Chulainn (look it up), Come Thou Font of Every Blessing, Eva Cassidy’s Songbird, Love Divine All Loves Excelling, Loreena McKennit’s Dante’s Prayer… actually, forget the funeral; I’ll just provide a ninety minute playlist and people can gather for the soundtrack of my life then go out for pizza.

The playlist will have bookends, though. It will begin and end with a single song: Stevie Nicks and Kenny Loggins’ Whenever I Call You friend. The song contains one line that dragged me through incredibly difficult times and to this day orients me toward the future. It was an antidote to resignation, a reminder, an encouragement, a challenge. The majority of the song was fine, cheerful but forgettable. But that one line, nearly shouted in Stevie Nicks’ gorgeous gravelly voice soars above the refrain like a cosmic descant of determination. That line carried me through dark days and nights and still has the power to dispel my fatigue and discouragement. It’s the line I would leave behind as an anthem of resolute intention, a challenge to live and engage in the face of overwhelming odds and soul-stealing despair. You won’t find it in any hymnal or collection of sacred music, but to me, it was a reflection of something divine, something life giving and spirit affirming and I would leave it behind for others who have faced their own dark nights and difficult roads:

In every moment, there’s a reason to carry on.

Thanks, Stevie. I did.