Toto’s “Africa” was my favorite song for almost a decade. Sadly, looking at this video today makes me realize that mullets, beards, and racist undertones had a place in music videos at one time… this was the beginning of the video era and these snippets of visual songs were a vehicle to tell mini-stories. Fortunately, the video does nothing to kill my nostalgia… even though I do laugh at the shots of the band performing on a stack of giant-ass books. From approximately 1982 to 1990 this song was the one I would respond to when asked “what is your favorite song?”… this song… through a major generalization of using the name of a continent (Africa) to describe a specific place… a specific feeling… a specific story. Africa was Toto’s Narnia… their Wonderland… their mythical land where hot African librarians sported glasses and tight, pulled-back hair.Toto may have had distinct feelings for Africa… I had feelings for the tone, pace, and (what I assumed) meaning of the song. This song made me think of far off places and the idea of traveling for love… no specific love for a woman… but the place or idea of traveling representing a woman and the love for that travel.
Since my first run-in with music… music that I found for myself or introduced to by others… I have matured and found that music not only moves the mind to places never visited but moves the mind to places visited, remembered, felt, and craved. Human experience, as long as we have moved on two feet, has been filled with the peace… the pain… the joy… that music has wrought. I no longer have a favorite song when it comes to music. I do, however, have a collection of songs that are always listening to when they are played. There is no turning of the knob, no pushing of “forward” on the iPod… these are the songs that move me whether I am happy or sad… drunk or sober… in the midst of joy or the bowels of depression… or in the midst of a bowel movement. These songs are the ones that are part of the funeral fantasy… the songs one imagines being played as friends, family, and lovers mourn your passing with rivers of tears and the laughter of good times remembered. These are the songs that sing to my soul… these are the songs that make me wish I had some musical talent or the ability to string words together… running together in beautiful melodies… to express the inner part of my being. These songs make me shout in jubilation and cry in soul-shaking tremors.
“Tear Stained Eye” by Son Volt. Son Volt is the sister to Wilco… both bands have former members of Uncle Tupelo. Uncle Tupelo was what many critics have called as the band that made “alt country” popular… there was even a magazine devoted to alt country music in the 90s entitled No Depression… a name of an Uncle Tupelo song. “Tear Stained Eye,” and Son Volt in general, is the Uncle Tupelo/alt country sound at its maturity. This song is about the 1993 flood of St. Genevieve, a Mississippi river hamlet that is about 70 miles south of St. Louis and had been settled since the 1700s. This song is also… to me… about lost love… about handling life’s tribulations… lamenting the loss… and learning to grieve. This song soars in my head and causes my own tear-stained eye when played… “like the man said, rode hard and put away wet, throw away the bad news, and put it to rest. If learning is living, and the truth is a state of mind, you’ll find it’s better at the end of the line.” This song is best listened to when one has consumed 3 bourbons and sitting around a campfire.
“Anodyne” by Uncle Tupelo. Again with the alt country genre… and really a very basic song with simple lyrics and rolling guitars… a flat-top steel cries throughout the song. This, like “Tear Stained Eye,” is a real lost love song… “you threw out the past when you threw out what was mine…” Best consumed sober and traveling over a country road… the sun setting behind you… light bright in the mirror and shadows playing before you on the road. Songs that provide good driving atmosphere are ones that stick in my head a lot…
“No Headstone on my Grave” by Esther Phillips. Originally written and recorded by Charlie Rich (another artist that is on the list of all-time best for me)… unfortunately there is no Internet link that allows me to provide the version sung by Ms. Phillips. Charlie provided the words and meaning… Ms. Phillips adds the soul. She cries… she wails… she feels this song. When she says “… just put me down and let me be… ” you know she means it. Ms. Phillips was known for her proficiency in cursing and heroin use… Ms. Phillips knew how to party. Ms. Phillips knew pain and loss too… it bleeds out in her version of this song.
“Feel Like Goin’ Home” by Charlie Rich. I don’t know if Charlie Rich is referring to dying and going to heaven or the literal idea of going to some proverbial home. I know this song has been part of my life since the early 90s when I stumbled across it while going through my mom’s record collection… she is a huge fan of the Silver Fox (Charlie Rich). This song gives me the feeling of how home… wherever that may be… is a refuge… a place of friends and family. This is Charlie Rich playing solo on a piano, and like Ms. Phillips… Charlie Rich is singing from the heart… truly art and truly moving.
“Why” by Annie Lennox. In 1995, I was a young 2nd lieutenant in the 1st Armored Division stationed in Germany and preparing for peace enforcement/keeping duty in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The end of a three-way civil war (Bosnian, Croat, and Serb) was nearing its end due to NATO bombings and the world’s public opinion. UNPROFOR (United Nation’s Protection Forces)… pronounced Oon-pro-fore… had been attempting to stop the madness of this war since 1993… completely failing with the Sebrenica massacre as the glaring example of UNPROFOR’s impotence. As part of my unit’s training for the Balkan deployment, British army officers, and former UNPROFOR members, briefed me and my fellow artillery officers. Part of their presentation to us was a quick video of their experiences in Bosnia… these experiences were displayed in extreme and graphic detail. This video of their experiences was set to this song by Annie Lennox. This song may be about not understanding the loss of a lover… for me this song will always be about the depravity and evil of men’s souls. I hear this song and I cry… unfortunately this song and UNPROFOR video were not graphic or extreme enough to prepare me for the reality of my stumbling across the killing fields of Bosnia.
One would assume that I am a dour and sad person considering my go-to list of songs are slow and sad… but just the opposite. I am a happy and somewhat mentally healthy individual… but the poet and sentimental person in my head is moved by this music. I appreciate when artists… especially musicians through their voices… soaring among the clouds of life… lift me as I travel through my days..