Top 5: Here’s the Lifeline

Monday over at Echoes in the Wind, whiteray wrote about songs and album he turns to “for comfort or just escape.” Interesting topic, I thought as I read, although I had neither the time nor the inclination to blog about it myself.

Tuesday, every time I opened my e-mail, there was another significant news nugget in it. It wouldn’t necessarily be accurate to call it all bad news—“unsettling” is better. It’s news with the potential to lead to change. Some of it could be bad change, some could be good, but all of it is potentially life-altering, depending on how things turn out.

Wednesday I had an appointment out of the house, a meeting I wasn’t looking forward to. On the way, uninterested in whatever they were talking about on the sports station, I hit the CD player, having forgotten what was in it. It turned out to be several songs from 1976—“Get Closer,” “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” “Welcome Back” and others—and I suddenly understood what whiteray had been writing about.  Those songs lightened my load immeasurably. They didn’t fix anything—the meeting didn’t go well and the news remains unsettled—but I found all of it easier to take. And on the ride home, I started percolating some other songs and albums that I’ve turned to for similar comfort or escape over the years. Here are five of ’em, in no particular order:

“Time Passages”/Al Stewart (1978). Not the whole album, but the title song, which promises us that there’s a place we can go where everything that’s wrong will be made right again. “The Sad Café” by the Eagles has a similar effect—which is really what this whole damn blog is all about.

City to City/Gerry Rafferty (1978). “Right Down the Line” ran the charts along with “Time Passages,” and it’s only a small exaggeration to say that the two songs got me through my first semester at college when it looked like nothing else would. But the deeper wisdom in this album took me years to hear—about finding one’s place (“Baker Street,” “The Ark”) or finding it again (“Stealin’ Time”), about the irresistible lure of home (“City to City,” “Home and Dry”), about the need to let go and move on (“Whatever’s Written in Your Heart”).

“Memory Motel”/Rolling Stones (1976). Last October I described this song as being about “a road that never seems to end, one that takes us further and further from the days and the people we remember best.” But “Memory Motel” is also about making the best of whatever road we’re on.

Sleepless/Peter Wolf (2002). I have never cared for the description of rock as “music to kill your parents by.” The best of it actually affirms life in all of its ragged, disorganized, making-it-up-as-you-go-along glory. Sleepless does this by embracing a myriad of influences: rock (the magnificent “Growin’ Pain” and “Run Silent Run Deep”), R&B (“Never Like This Before,” “Homework”), country (“Some Things You Don’t Want to Know” and “Nothing But the Wheel,” which features Mick Jagger and sounds like a Stones outtake, but is in fact a country song through and through), and some profoundly gorgeous pop songs (“Hey Jordan,” “Five o’ Clock Angel”—the warm electric piano that opens the latter is a marvelously comforting sound to me).

Stones in the Road/Mary Chapin Carpenter (1994). I’ve written several times about how the radio talks to us—how certain songs speak as if they were written for us alone. This album is full of ’em—“Why Walk When You Can Fly,” “This Is Love,” and “Jubilee” among them.

What all of these songs and albums have in common is a deep understanding of the patience it takes to live every day. Life is a long haul, and expecting the things we want to come to us right now right now RIGHT NOW is a prescription for frustration. But even when I don’t feel like patience is what I really need, it doesn’t matter, because this music still helps me through. I can hear that these people get it, whatever “it” is. They’ve been there, wherever “there” is, and they know what to say to me right now—which is mostly just to hang on. And I let them say it, over and over and over again. Or as MCC puts it in “This Is Love”:

If you ever need to hear a voice in the middle of the night
When it seems so black outside that you can’t remember light
Ever shone on you or the ones you love in this or another lifetime
And the voice you need to hear is the true and the trusted kind
With a soft, familiar rhythm in these swirling, unsure times
When the waves are lapping in and you’re not sure you can swim
Well here’s the lifeline