Saturday, February 22, 2014

What's Your Playlist?

Image from

I love NPR for so very many reasons, but I have a fresh new reason to add to my list.

In January, NPR's Protojournalist requested this of listeners: Tell Us the Six Songs of Your Life.

The idea, they explained, is this:

If you could tell your life story — chronologically, up to now — in six songs, what would they be?

They just posted Part 1 of the responses, culled from over 1000 entries, on their website. You should really check it out.

NPR logo from

This idea of music transporting us back in time and place to the original imprint of song to circumstance fascinates me. My roommate and a very best friend from boarding school that I recently re-connected with after 24 years was in town again last night. I went to see her at work. Her work just happens to be Tour Manager for the Grammy-winning band Imagine Dragons. After experiencing the excitement of the band opening to a sold out crowd at the American Airlines center in Dallas, we ended up backstage in her office, reminiscing and listening to music from a tiny but powerful speaker connected to her laptop and her iTunes account. She would play a song, I would guess the artist and title, we would sing along, I would remember another song and that would lead to another. And another. There is a certain thrill to remembering all the lyrics to an obscure Run DMC rap or a George Michael song that you thought you'd long forgotten.

You know what's coming next, don't you? This idea that NPR floated so appealed to me that I couldn't even help myself from thinking about what my own playlist would look like and sharing it on this here blog. So here it is, a life story in 6 songs.

1) K-K-K-Katy by Billy Murray

This song was evidently very popular in World War I. It is the first song I remember anyone ever singing to me. My father's parents - especially my grandmother - would belt it out whenever they visited. Occasionally, my father and mother would sing it to me - I think at my request. Surprisingly, I don't remember ever feeling embarrassed about it. I was proud of my name. Somehow, in my young mind, I combined the line "When the moon shines, over the cow shed..." with this Mother Goose rhyme:

Hey Diddle Diddle
The Cat and the Fiddle
The Cow jumped over the moon
The little Dog laughed
To see such a sport
And the Dish ran away with the Spoon

Those closest to me still call me Katy. And I let them, in large part because of this song and the good memories it holds.

2) The Sting Theme (Joplin-The Entertainer)

One of my first memories is being a passenger in my dad's Cadillac, him driving and me getting to spend the day at work with him at his law office in Houston. He had an 8-track player in the car, and the soundtrack from the movie The Sting was on heavy rotation. I was all fancied up, in a polyester dress with a white pleated skirt and powder blue top with a neck scarf. Black patent Mary Janes and white bobby socks were involved. I was very happy to have my dad to myself for the day and to be going in to the big city. I would later play the music at my first piano recital in elementary school. I still own the soundtrack on CD.

3) American Pie - Don McLean

Another 8-track player in a car - this time my oldest brother's Mustang, painted Aggie maroon (of course). I got to ride with him to football practice a few times to get ready for the Homecoming halftime show and he played this and lots of other great music. But American Pie stuck with me because it was so long and told a story. I loved it. I knew all the words then and I know all the words now.

I was the little girl who carried the bouquet of roses out to the Homecoming Queen and posed for pictures with the Homecoming Court, probably because my brother was a captain of the football team and I was a cute 8-year-old. I remember the dress I wore - a black pinafore with a red heart on the chest and a white blouse underneath. It was a hand-me-down from my older sister. I felt like a star!

I asked my brother about this recently - this very significant memory for me - and he had no memory of it whatsoever. Ah, such is life.

4) She's So Good To Me - Luther Vandross

My teenage years were spent in the 1980s and this proves it. I was very into R&B throughout high school and a regular listener of the Houston radio station Majic 102.1 FM. Come on now - they spell magic with a j. Cause they got soul. (They are still on the air.) Luther Vandross is the father of soul - his voice is unmatched. There will never be another Luther. I can neither confirm nor deny that I lost my virginity while this song was playing. And that's all I'm gonna say about that.

5) Simply - Sara Hickman

I adore this Texas musician. I went to see her in a very small venue in Austin shortly after moving there for grad school at UT. I had never heard of her before, but my oldest brother said she was awesome. So I went, not knowing what to expect. It was just her and her guitar. Her voice - oh my. And she tells the stories behind the songs she writes, which I love. Every concert is like an episode of VH1 Behind the Music. I've seen her half a dozen times.

Aquaman and I chose her song "Simply" as our first dance at our wedding. I love it still. It makes my heart beat a little quicker. And if you don't know Sara Hickman, you're really missing out.

6) Wildflowers - Tom Petty

There are so many Tom Petty songs that I could pick, but "Wildflowers" is my anthem. This album came out right before I finished grad school. Aquaman and I were each writing a thesis and planning our wedding. It was a bit stressful. But this album - it calmed me. He came and performed at Bass Hall on the UT campus and a dear friend hooked us up with tickets to the sold out show. It was lovely. We've seen him a few times since in concert, but it never compares to this first time. Tom Petty himself admitted to Wildflowers being his favorite album. I concur.

You belong among the wildflowers
You belong in a boat out at sea
You belong with your love on your arm
You belong somewhere you feel free

And that's it - my life story in 6 songs.

What's yours?