Michael Jackson’s untimely demise has got me ruminating on the meaning of music. I got so emotional about his death and wondered why? One reason is truly that so much of his music plays in the background of my life. I started to think about this from the perspective of a genealogist. We’re so used to recording the facts of a person’s life…..shouldn’t we also include the music that defined that person? Doesn’t that give you some insight into that person? When I do video interviews, I always ask about what music, what movies, what tv shows that person listened to or watched. The cultural zeitgeist of the times we live in inevitably define us in numerous ways. So I became intrigued with this concept and thought I’d list a little “discography”, if you will, of my life so far.
My very earliest memories of childhood Christmases was the Jackson 5 Christmas Album. My brother and I couldn’t wait to hear it every year, so much so, that at some point, the 8-track tape (am I dating myself?) actually broke! We got another copy pretty soon, and even today I know every song by heart. On I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, I used to love to hear Michael say, “I’m gonna tell…I’m gonna tell my daddy!;)
I was a child during the 70s, when as a young girl I recall my mother constantly playing R&B and soul albums. It’s funny how in my memory, that period is defined by whatever albums my mom owned and played at the time. My most vivid recollections are of Natalie Cole, the Commodores, Minnie Riperton, and the Stylistics. My aunt Denise had some jeans where she’d written “Brick House” down one pants leg with a magic marker. I had no idea what that was, but I wanted to be a Brick House too.
The 80s, I maintain, was a good decade musically, but an awful decade fashionwise to “come of age”.All those MC-hammer pants, and shoulder pads, loud colors, big gold jewelry…..think Dynasty meets Fresh Prince. Oh, the horror of it all…LOL. As a teenager, I had the biggest hair you’ve ever seen in your life! But I digress. This was a wonderful era for music, and of course Thriller was sort of a bookend for the decade coming out in 1982. These were big albums in my memory:
We bought Michael Jackson and Prince buttons to wear on our jean jackets. And Hall and Oates, oh my goodness. Culture Club. Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?…..We listened to bands like Duran, Duran and Journey too. I remember Air Supply. Madonna ruled the 80s. Anita Baker and Luther remind me of my first boyfriend who broke my heart, and I used to walk around crying singing those songs convinced I would never love again. And Keith Sweat, who could forget him? HAHAHA.
I would be remiss without mentioning the fact that my generation saw the birth of hip-hop music, which was a thing of beauty in the 80s (no cursing and misogyny back then). I will enjoy telling my kids about the birth of that style of music, just as I can imagine the previous eras that saw the birth of the blues, rock and roll, bebop and other truly American art forms. I still have an autograph from L.L. Cool J I got when I was 14 years old when he came to the local music store on my street. I thought I was just going to DIE from the giggles.
My best friend and I wanted to BE Salt n’Pepa, and we would frantically dance around the living room trying to look cool. My first concerts were to go see these hip-hop artists at the Capitol Center in Maryland. What terrific memories those years are for me. Wow. We used to rewind and listen to the songs so we could memorize the raps. I also listened to alot of go-go music, being from the D.C. area, which is sort of our homegrown local music.
I could go on and on, but I think you get the point I’m making about the place of music in our lives and our ancestor’s lives. Certain artists and songs just bring back all sorts of memories. I got happy just writing this post, remembering all this stuff. The last 10 years or so have seen my tastes veer distinctively towards classic jazz and old school R&B (classic sign of getting old, right…LOL). So, think about what songs would be in your life’s playlist, and write them down. And write down why. Ask your parents and grandparents. Years from now, this’ll be great conversation for your descendants. If they don’t know the artist, it may prompt them to look them up, and say to themselves….who was this James Brown person anyway?