music

Exit 172. But it isn’t pretty.

As a new Christian and a youth group leader in the ’90s, I listened to a lot of Christian music.  Since 2001, when I was no longer working with youth, that has tapered off, to the point that I do not recognize many Christian songs anymore other than the ones I hear at church.  There are a number of reasons for that.  I don’t have a social group at church that purposely introduces me to new Christian music.  I have also matured to the point of realizing that some Christian music just isn’t very good.  I can’t reverently express to Jesus how much I love him when singing or even hearing others sing phrases like “Heaven meets Earth like a sloppy wet kiss.”  (Besides, didn’t you people tell me back in the Josh Harris era that kissing was bad, because it leads to temptation and babies and stuff, so I shouldn’t even think about kissing until my wedding day?)

But, as unfortunate as this is, another part of the reason I haven’t been as much into Christian music is because sometimes I feel like I can’t relate.  A lot of Christian music is just too overly sappy.  Sometimes I’m feeling angry at the world, and there is very little angry Christian music.  I’ve even been told my some ill-informed Christians that the reason for the lack of angry Christian music is because anger is not a Christlike emotion.  (Right… I’m sure Jesus was feeling all happy and cheerful when he turned over the tables.)

The other day, I was in the car, and I heard a song that I realized sums up my history and experience with Christianity pretty well.  But it isn’t pretty.  And it isn’t a Christian song.

This isn’t a new song; it was released in 1991.  It isn’t a new song to me either; this was a huge hit when I was in high school, and it was on MTV all the time back when MTV still played videos for part of the day.  But apparently it has taken me over a quarter century to really appreciate the song.

New blood joins this earth
And quickly he’s subdued
Through constant pained disgrace
The young boy learns their rules

Late ’90s.  I’m a new Christian, and that’s great, but I’m quickly scolded by peers for telling dirty jokes and having lustful thoughts.  I learn the rules… there are cliques within the group.  Sometimes, from my point of view, the people who go serve Jesus in other countries during the summer seem more respected than those of us who don’t feel that calling, for example.

With time, the child draws in
This whipping boy done wrong
Deprived of all his thoughts
The young man struggles on…

Early 2000s.  I’m in small groups at Church I With The Problems where pretty much all we do is confess our habits of masturbation and looking at porn and talk about ways to stop that from happening, or have long discussions about exactly what minute of the night we should leave our significant other’s house so that other people don’t see us there and think that we’re having sex.  When I share my thoughts that maybe there are more important things we should be concerned with, everyone just tells me I must not be mature in my faith.

They dedicate their lives
To running all of his

A few years later.  I’m at Church II With The Problems, where everything I say or do feels micro-managed, and every slightly socially awkward behavior or comment is treated like a sin I have to repent from.

He tries to please them all
This bitter man he is

After I move in 2006, I spend the next decade trying to live the good Christian life, but only becoming more and more bitter, as I see others who didn’t live the way I was taught find happiness and success, and my own life leads me to be more and more of an outcast.

Throughout his life the same
He’s battled constantly
This fight he cannot win
A tired man they see no longer cares

This has been going on for many years.  I’ve been looking for a place where I can find other people who live the way I’ve been trying to.  But I can’t win, I’m not going to find one, because I’m not 20 anymore.  There isn’t a youth group for 41-year-olds.  I don’t know how to live in my current situation, and I’m becoming more and more tired and bitter about it.

The old man then prepares
To die regretfully
That old man here is me

And this is the direction my life is heading if nothing changes…

What I’ve felt
What I’ve known
Never shined through in what I’ve shown
Never be
Never see
Won’t see what might have been

What I’ve felt
What I’ve known
Never shined through in what I’ve shown
Never free
Never me
So I dub thee Unforgiven

Unforgiven… ironically, that is the complete opposite of the gift that Jesus Christ gives us.  Am I unforgiven?  Have I not truly received the grace of Jesus Christ?  I don’t think so.  But I might be looking for the wrong things.  I might be trying too hard to do all the socially acceptable right things instead of just living in the grace of Jesus Christ.

But that is not who God made me to be.  I don’t want to fit in that box.  But I need to figure out how to do that.  I need to look to Jesus, not church culture.

And if I’m now hearing God speak to me through Metallica lyrics, I suppose I’ve taken a step out of the box already.

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Exit 166. And know they love you.

The title of this week’s post, of course, is a line from this song.

I’ve known of this song for decades.  It’s older than I am.  It’s one of CSN-and-sometimes-Y’s most well-known songs.  I heard it on oldies and classic rock radio growing up, and I think they used a mediocre cover of it in a commercial for potty training pants or something like that at one point.

But I had never really thought deeply about the song until I heard it a few days ago and, well, started thinking about it.  The first verse and chorus seem pretty straightforward.  Teach your children well.  But then the second half of the song always confused me.  I had no idea what they were saying.  You have Graham singing the melody, but then David and Stephen are harmonizing on ENTIRELY DIFFERENT LYRICS at the same time.  I’ve always had a hard time understanding songs that do that.  I’m trying to listen to the lyrics, so it would be nice if everyone was singing the same thing at the same time, although it is kind of a cool effect.  And then the final chorus, now it’s “teach your parents?”  The title of the song is “teach your children,” so why the sudden reversal?  Was that just something that the guys thought of when they were on drugs?  And what the heck does “God knows the fears that you held the screw by” mean?  I can’t be hearing that line right.

So I looked up the lyrics.  It’s actually “can’t know the fears that your elders grew by.”  And all of a sudden, the song makes a lot more sense now that I know what they’re saying.

The song was released in 1970, during the Vietnam War.  Much like today, tensions were running high in society, particularly regarding the generation gap between the baby boomers coming of age, many of whom were being drafted to fight this war, and their World War II-era parents.  These parents and children grew up in very different worlds, and what worked for one generation does not always work for the next generation.  The same thing is happening today.  The young adult millennials who are at the forefront of today’s social and political activism grew up in a completely different world from the world that Generation X and the Baby Boomers grew up in; they can’t know the fears that we grew by, as Graham Nash sang.  The Soviet Union collapsed 26 years ago, so people in their 20s and younger do not understand why communism and socialism are viewed so negatively by those old enough to remember the Cold War.  Older people tend to criticize the younger generation for spending too much time staring at phones, laptops, and tablets, instead of interacting with others, fearing that the younger generation will produce more and more people who can’t function in society.  While some of these concerns are justified, it fails to take into account the fact that society is different today, and social media often strengthens friendships and relationships in a world where people cannot always be with their friends and loved ones face-to-face, so this also serves a useful purpose, particularly for people who are not always comfortable in face-to-face social situations.

I overheard a conversation recently about how, within the culture of Christianity, Baby Boomers often put down Millennials as being lazy and undisciplined, and that this is doing a disservice to the Church as a whole.  Millennials grew up in a different world, in which many of them did not have both parents at home like the Baby Boomers did, so their needs are different than those of older generations were at their age.  The Church wants to give them more discipline and structure, but they really need to be loved.  All of that seemed to fit well with my thoughts about this song.

Yes, society is divided along generational and cultural lines.  But we all have something to learn from each other.  And we all have something to teach each other.  We have something to contribute to our collective children, and our experiences can teach something to our collective parents who did not live in our world.  We’re all in this world together.  We don’t always understand each other, but making our best attempt to is an important first step.  So, if you want to make the world a better place, be open to learning about others around you, and teaching them about you.  Others usually aren’t as different or hostile as you’d think sometimes.

Just look at them and sigh, and know they love you.

Exit 154. I don’t want to be the kind of guy that old country songs are about.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have a very large and diverse music collection.  I haven’t taken the time to learn my way around streaming music services, for a variety of reasons, but that’s another discussion for another time.

Earlier this month, I made an overnight trip to visit some relatives I don’t see often, which resulted in me spending a lot of time in the car with my six thousand plus songs playing on shuffle, and this song came on.

(The song is “The Girl From Yesterday” by the Eagles, with the late Glenn Frey on vocals.  Apparently, this is one of their lesser known songs, and there is no official YouTube video, so if in the future someone is ever reading this, and the link doesn’t work anymore, let me know and I’ll try to fix it if I can.)

I started listening to classic rock radio (among other things) in my late teens, the early 1990s.  The Eagles, one of the most recognizable bands of the genre, broke up in 1980 after an argument between Glenn Frey and Don Henley.  After both of them had successful solo careers in the 80s, the Eagles got back together in 1994, toured, and released an album with four new songs (including this one) and some live songs from their tour.  I got that CD as a Christmas present my first Christmas home from college.

But for a while, this was my least favorite song on the album, and I would often skip it.  It took a while to grow on me, because it was too country for me.  The Eagles have always been known for blending rock and country music influences, but as I’ve written about before, I didn’t like country music until much later in my life, and this song is about as country as songs come.  The topic of the song is pretty stereotypical of country songs as well: a woman whose man left her, and she is never able to get over him or accept the fact that he is gone for good.  (This song did grow on me before the rest of the country genre as a whole did, but I don’t remember if there’s any big story to that.)

It was in 2005, during my travels across the USA and back, that I realized that country music isn’t so bad sometimes.  A friend who I visited during that time let me copy a bunch of her country CDs to my laptop, and one of them included this song, which also came up on shuffle earlier this month:

Lyrically, this is another pretty standard country song: a guy is determined to get over a woman who left him.  I hadn’t heard this song in a while, and one line caught my ear when I heard it this time:

I heard that old Jones song just the other day
About a man who took a broken heart to his grave
But I’ll be dammed if a memory’s gonna lay me down

As one would expect, old country music isn’t my area of expertise, since I mostly ignored it.  I didn’t know what Dierks was referring to the first time I heard this song in 2005.  But I have learned a little more about old country music since then, and I’m pretty sure the “old Jones song” refers to this:

 

(Again, not an official video, let me know if it ever stops working.  The song is “He Stopped Loving Her Today” by the late George Jones.)

I don’t want to be the kind of guy that old country songs are about.  (Of course, in the case of The Girl From Yesterday, the genders would be reversed.)  I’ve spent decades carrying around the burdens of memories of rejection and relationships that didn’t work out.  They’re not coming back.  They’re not going to change.  It does me no good to keep carrying around these memories.  I don’t know how to do this, but I have to figure it out.  Maybe it means doing new things and spending time with different people.  Maybe it means I’ve come to some bridges that it’s time to burn.  But I will do this.  I will move on with my life.

Exit 150. You’re not real and you can’t save me.

The title is a quote from the 2003 song “Everybody’s Fool,” by Evanescence.

Another song from this album was much more well-known than this one, and as I’ve written before, that other song led to a bonding experience between me and one of my students that year who really turned her grades around after that.  But now, after a couple years of listening to that album and a lot more years of hearing songs from it pop up when I have my music on shuffle, I think that Everybody’s Fool has definitely emerged as my favorite on the album… although I don’t know that it matters at this point.

Anyway, the video depicts the character that Amy is portraying filming commercials in a variety of costumes that look very little like her real self, alternating with her real self struggling to come to terms with these fake images that she is known for.  Amy wrote the song as a teenager, after her younger sister began following teen pop idol type singers who use their fake images to sell music.  I don’t claim to be an authority on the meaning of lyrics written by someone else, but in these lyrics, the character appears to be singing to her fake self in the second person.

I’ve been there.  I’ve tried to be something I’m not, I’ve been tempted to be someone I’m not, and it never leads to good in the long run.  But the lyrics also resonate with me on a more literal sense, as if I could sing them to someone else other than myself.  I could just as easily be saying this to all the so-called “friends” I’ve had over the years who aren’t at all the people I thought they were when I first met them, who are constantly trying to be someone they’re not.  Or I could be saying this to all the misconceptions I’ve had about what life should be like, all the pieces that were supposed to fall into place in the magical fantasy land that I was told I would be living in.

It never was and never will be.

You’re not real and you can’t save me.

Exit 130. An outside perspective.

A friend of mine who lived in California until about a year ago, and who has been known to call himself a music snob, recently made a Facebook post in which he said something like “Since nobody else is saying it, I will: Lynyrd Skynyrd was just okay.”  They’ve never been my absolute favorite, I only have a greatest hits album of theirs, but I still think they’re better than “just okay.”  I made some snarky comment, probably a little more rude than I should have been, about how nobody else is saying it because everyone else has good taste in music.

One of his other friends said that he is only saying this because he is not from the South.  He replied something about how sometimes you need an outside perspective on things.

And then I realized that he’s right.

Lynyrd Skynyrd formed in Jacksonville in the late 1960s.  I once heard someone say that Florida is the upside-down state, in that the farther north you go, it feels more and more like the South.  Jacksonville is about as far north as you can go in Florida, just a few miles from Georgia, and the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd has often been considered one of the major examples of the “Southern rock” genre, blending classic rock with blues and country influences.  My friend’s point was that Lynyrd Skynyrd is so iconic in Southern culture that many Southerners never think to question whether or not their music is actually good.

I’ve had a few outside perspectives in my life.  I started college the same year that a TV show called Friends premiered on NBC.  Friends was huge among my peers and classmates.  It was the show that everyone related to and aspired to, with their groups of people they hang out with at home and at the coffee shop, sharing each other’s lives and gossiping about their significant others.  But not me.  I tried to get into Friends, but I came from an outside perspective.  I didn’t have that kind of group of friends in real life; having friends in the first place was new to me in my late teens, and I still didn’t have much of a social life.  All six of the main characters of Friends reminded me of the kind of Cool Kids who bullied and rejected me all through childhood.  I don’t want to watch a show about them, unless it’s about them dying horribly painful deaths.  And I couldn’t even relate to the coffee shop thing, because from my perspective, coffee tastes like crap.  I always felt that my social life was stunted being a university student in the Friends era who did not drink coffee.

A couple years ago, I also remember having a conversation with an acquaintance in which I said that I don’t particularly like romantic comedies as a genre, although there are a small few that I’ve enjoyed.  (Like this one, even though it’s not real.)  She asked why, and I said because I can’t relate to romantic comedies.  She said something like, “Really?  I would think that love is something universal that everyone can relate to.”  Maybe everyone she knows, but from my outside perspective, love is something that only happens in movies and books and other people’s lives.  I’ve experienced all of the heartache associated with relationships with very little of the good times, and even the few good relationship moments I have experienced have not usually involved the awkwardly sweet giggling, long walks on the beach, or having sex with someone you just met a week ago that seem to characterize romantic comedies.

So maybe an outside perspective is necessary.  And a good thing, so that people who aren’t living breathing stereotypes don’t get forgotten.  And if my friend from the first paragraph is reading this, I’m sorry for insulting your taste in music.

Exit 119. What do these songs have in common?

“He Stopped Loving Her Today,” by George Jones (1980)

“Touch of Grey,” by the Grateful Dead (1987)

“Kokomo,” by the Beach Boys (1988)

“Cryin’,” Aerosmith (1993)

“It Won’t Be Like This For Long,” by Darius Rucker (2008)

“Get Back Up,” TobyMac (2010)

All of them were major hits.  Kokomo went to #1, the last of four Beach Boys songs to do so.  He Stopped Loving Her Today and It Won’t Be Like This For Long were both #1 on the country chart.  Touch of Grey, while only reaching #9, was the highest charting single in the Grateful Dead’s long career.  Cryin’, while not Aerosmith’s highest charting single, did reach #1 on the rock chart, and it seemed like it was on MTV all the time my last couple years of high school, during the era when they still played music videos for at least part of the day.  And Get Back Up, while not very well known in the mainstream, went to #1 on the Christian music chart, and it was around that time when I decided that TobyMac’s solo work wasn’t all bad like I found his early albums to be.

But there is something more significant that these songs, among others, all have in common.

They were all performed by band members and/or artists who were at the time in their 40s.

I have turned 40 since I wrote my last post.  In the months leading up to this, I was feeling a bit down about approaching 40.  Typically, fortysomethings aren’t seen as young anymore.  I have friends my age who have adult children already, and I’m nowhere close to having children.  I feel out of touch both with the people around me, who tend to be a lot younger, and with people my age, who tend to have very different lifestyles, of the sort considered to be more mature.  Sometimes I feel like life is passing me by, leaving me with nothing but regrets.

But it does not have to be this way.

I don’t have to listen to anyone telling me what I should be like at this age.  I have a lot of people who care about me; my friends at my birthday party this weekend reminded me of that through their actions, as did the students and coworkers at the school where I teach on my actual birthday.  I still have a lot of life left, and more adventures to come.  And, as demonstrated by all of the musicians above, I can still accomplish great things beyond 40.  (While researching this article, I discovered that guitarist Bob Weir was only 39 when Touch of Grey was released, but I don’t think that takes away from my point, and the other four band members were in their 40s.)

Here’s to a great upcoming year.

Exit 113. All I can say is that my life is pretty plain.

Those of you my age may recognize the title of this post, from the lyrics of the song “No Rain” by Blind Melon.  If that title doesn’t ring a bell, then perhaps I should refer to it as That Bee Song.

I don’t have this song in my collection currently.  But I’m going to add it soon.  But why the big deal? you are probably asking, especially if you know me in person.  You rediscover one-hit wonders from your teens and add them to your playlists all the time.  Why is this one a big enough deal to blog about?

Two reasons.  First of all, because my brain is mush from all the socializing I did over this recent holiday weekend, and I can’t think of anything else to write about.  But more importantly, because this marks a major turning point in my feelings toward this song.  I’m not rediscovering this song; I’ve never forgotten it, despite the fact that, for the greater part of the last two decades, I have refused to listen to it and immediately changed the station almost every time I hear it on the radio.

If not for one specific incident, this song wouldn’t be a big deal, and I very well may have forgotten it in the almost-quarter-century since it was released.  One time, back when I was young and confused, a guy I knew went to a Blind Melon concert with a girl I really liked and didn’t have the guts to ask out.  And this guy was a jerk.  She could definitely do better.

That’s it.  After that happened, I refused to listen to this song.  Nothing ever happened between that guy and that girl, as far as I know, but for many years after that I refused to listen to this song, because I was angry that he got to go out with her and I didn’t.  It sounds petty and ridiculous, but… no, there is no but here.  It is petty and ridiculous.

Approximately eleven years after this incident happened, I was making cookies with the radio on in the other room, and I heard No Rain come on.  I instinctively started to walk away from the cookies, toward the room with the radio, so I could change the station.  But then I realized something.  I realized I was being absolutely crazy.  There was absolutely no legitimate reason I should leave what I was doing and go change the station, getting the flour that was all over my hands all over everything else in the process, just because someone I liked went out with someone I didn’t like, once, over a decade earlier.  Not listening to No Rain had become so ingrained in my brain that this was the first time I really thought about why I didn’t like this song, and how it really didn’t matter at this point.

For a while, I still didn’t particularly like the song.  R. Shannon Hoon, the lead singer (who, sadly, died of a drug overdose a few years after recording this song, only a few weeks after surviving age 27), has a weird voice, and on those occasions when I would hear No Rain come on the radio (which usually happened in the car, when my hands weren’t full of flour) I would still change the channel.  But I’ve heard it twice in the last couple weeks, all the way through, and I got to thinking about how I still associate this song with something that happened more than half a lifetime ago that still has nothing to do with me and is insignificant in the long run.

And, even though I’m still not a big fan of Mr. Hoon’s voice, it really isn’t a bad song.  It’s exactly the kind of nostalgic one-hit wonder that I’ve been listening to a lot in the last few years, with the kind of beautifully sad lyrics that I can really relate to.  So, now, every time I hear this song, it will be a reminder that the world didn’t end for me on that day decades ago when I found out that my crush had a date with a douchebag.  I’ll probably ever completely forget about this, since that’s not how my brain works, but I don’t need to let the past weigh me down anymore.

Exit 67. Thinking out loud.

I suppose a lot of blog posts are thinking out loud, at least they would be if they were spoken instead of written, but in this case I’m referring to the song.  “Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran is a major hit song released in late 2014.  If you haven’t heard it, find a radio station that plays contemporary pop hits, and leave it on for approximately 5-10 minutes, and they’ll probably play it.  Or if you went to a wedding in the last few months, it was probably the couple’s first dance.  If you still don’t know it, here you go.

My first thought hearing it was that it sounds pretty much the same as Let’s Get It On.  My second thought was that it’s kind of nice, for a sappy love song.  I don’t have the strong emotional reaction to sappy love songs, because I can’t relate, but this one is catchy, and sweet.  Then one day on the way to work a few months ago, the song came on the radio, and I suddenly heard it in a different way.  I was going to write about it, but I never did.

I recently attended a wedding reception where this song was the first dance, and the circumstances reminded me of the thing I never wrote about.  This couple, now in their mid-20s, had been friends since childhood, but they didn’t discover feelings for each other until just within the past couple years.  And under those circumstances, the line from the song that made me see it in a different way months ago hit me all over again:

“Right where we are.”

The song is all sappy I’ll-love-you-forever-even-when-we’re-old-geezers stuff, but then the end of the refrain says that “we found love right where we are.”  The “we” of the song didn’t have to go out searching, love was there all along.  My friend who got married has lived in four (I think) states over the seven years I’ve known her, but her husband is someone she knew when they were both growing up right here in Sacramento.

Might that still happen to me someday?  What I learned about finding love from college Sunday schools doesn’t work in middle age, as I’ve said before.  Trying to make that work isn’t going to do me any favors, and neither is nostalgically wishing for that kind of relationship.  I have to work with what I have, right where I am.  Is there someone or something that I’ve been overlooking for years?  Or is there someone here who I haven’t met yet because I’m looking in the wrong place and trying to make square proverbial pegs fit into round holes?

(Oooh… ending on a question… that’s a new one for Highway Pi.  Crap, I ruined it, because now I’m not ending on a question anymore.  Or am I?)

Exit 63. God cares much more about the condition of your heart than the position of your arms and legs.

Last week, my church hosted a major week-long event for children. On Sunday morning, the usual worship team was joined by a group of children and preteens leading the congregation in two of the songs that they sang during last week’s children’s camps, with the young people leading the hand motions. That got me thinking about something. I spent four years (1997-2001) volunteering with the junior high youth group at the church I went to at that time. It was a lot of fun. It was good to relate important spiritual lessons to the world of young people, and to see them react to it and make positive changes in their lives. I enjoyed the games and activities we’d do with them, and I’ve stayed friends with a few of those kids, now in their late 20s and early 30s, over the years. But there is one thing I never particularly cared for when it came to youth ministry.

I hate doing hand motions to songs.

I don’t know why, but I have a theory. Hand motions are usually associated with music for children. Younger children like the hand motions because it gets them involved with the music. It’s fun to them, and it engages them in a way that the sound and lyrics alone may not. Older children like the hand motions because it reminds them of their childhood. It’s something fun they did as kids that they don’t do as often anymore by the time they start to hit puberty. But I was never involved in a church group as a kid, so I didn’t have that nostalgia for the hand motions of my childhood Sunday school class because there was no such class in my past. As an adult, I prefer to reflect quietly on the lyrics.

Different styles of worship can be a major point of contention between different churches and denominations. There are some whose worship imitates pop and rock music, there are others who sing everything a cappella because they believe that drums and guitars are from Satan. I’ve seen it sometimes up close, too. For example, I remember at Church I With The Problems hearing a talk about being obedient to God in worship. The (pastor, or worship leader, or whoever it was giving the talk, I forget) specifically mentioned a song that includes a line about “standing on holy ground,” and he said something to the effect that if you are not physically standing when you sing that line, then you are being disrespectful to God. The same goes for another song with the line “we lift our hands”; if you are not actually lifting your hands at that point, you’re not worshiping right. I’m sorry, but I don’t agree with that. Come on, people… It’s just a line from a song. I believe that God cares much more about the condition of your heart than the position of your arms and legs. Don’t get me wrong. If you want to mimic any physical movement described in the lyrics, if that helps you feel closer to God, then by all means, do it. There’s nothing wrong with it. But don’t assume that I don’t love God because I don’t. Sometimes I sit in quiet reverence because I’m tired, and my feet hurt, and standing would be less physically comfortable, which would distract me from the lyrics and keep me from feeling the presence of God.

Let’s think about this, folks… getting on my case for not standing or not doing the hand motions… where else have we heard about people who got worked up over someone not following their religion’s minor rules, while completely ignoring the condition of their hearts? Maybe the Pharisees of Jesus’ day? (See, for example, John 9) And didn’t Jesus reserve some of his harshest words for people like this? Fortunately, I haven’t had any incidents at my current church regarding me not standing when most others are, or not doing the hand motions with the children. Hopefully it’ll stay that way. So go ahead, encourage your children to do the hand motions, but don’t make a big deal of it if they don’t.

(By the way, to the worship pastor who said yesterday that all the cool people are doing the hand motions: If you’re reading this, I know you didn’t mean that seriously, and I wasn’t offended at all by it, and your daughters did a great job with the hand motions. Like I said, I haven’t had anyone give me a hard time at our church for this reason, and the things that I heard at Church I With The Problems weren’t directed at anyone personally either. I just wrote about this because it got me thinking yesterday.)

Exit 58. 1987 was the best year for music in my lifetime.

Ever since I was in my early 20s, when the technology to do so was new at the consumer level, I’ve made mix CDs and playlists of songs that have some common thread holding them together.  I suppose the technology itself wasn’t exactly new, since mix tapes existed for decades before mix CDs.  But my most prolific time of making mix CDs seemed to rise with the purchase of my first computer with a CD burner, in early 1999.  Some of my mix CDs are songs that were all popular during a certain time period, some of them have some lyrical theme in common related to things going on in my life at the time, some of them all fit a certain mood, and for some of them, the common thread is something much more nerdy and less related to the lyrics.  For this last group, I’m thinking specifically of a mix CD I made consisting only of songs in the key of E flat major.  But I’m getting sidetracked.

One mix CD I made in 2006, which fits into the first of the above categories, is titled “1987 Was The Best Year For Music In My Lifetime.”  This is a rather bold proclamation to be made from the title of a mix CD, but almost a decade later, I still believe this to be true.  I know I have some friends who disagree with me.  One of them in particular has challenged me on this point numerous times, with him arguing in favor of a different year, and I know that once I share this post on my Facebook, he’s going to read this and bring up his argument again.  Hi, Dave.  I never disagreed with you about the year that you say being a great year for music, but I’m going to stand by my choice of 1987.

Often, one’s choice for the best music ever is related to nostalgia for one’s past, for a simpler time full of memories.  The interesting thing about my opinion on this matter is that 1987 really was not all that good of a year for me.  I was 10 years old for the majority of the year, turning 11 in late summer.  I finished fifth grade and started sixth.  This was the year that I was pulled out of mainstream public school, away from any chance to live something resembling a normal pre-teen life, and placed in an all-day special education class for students with behavioral and emotional disabilities (I’ve explained this before).  I went from being teased and bullied constantly to being ashamed of who I was and embarrassed to talk about school.  Nostalgia is in play here to some extent, because even despite all that, life was simpler then, and childhood had its share of fun moments.  But the lack of consistently positive memories from that time period seems to suggest that the music stands on its own.  Let’s take a look at some memorable albums of the time.

  • “Bad,” Michael Jackson.  How does one follow “Thriller?”  It’s almost a lose-lose situation.  Thriller was so monumental for so many reasons that Michael Jackson was bound to face criticism no matter what came next for him.  The time between Thriller and Bad was also when revelations about his plastic surgery and bizarre personal life came to light.  I’ll admit that back then I wasn’t a fan.  I loved Thriller, I had Thriller on vinyl (well, it belonged to my dad, I think) in elementary school, and I played it often, but by the time Bad came around, I was a little sick of Michael Jackson.  The music eventually grew on me, though, and for me it has retained its timeless quality.
  • “The Joshua Tree,” U2.  Like “Bad,” I never owned this album until adulthood, but I knew many of the songs from MTV and radio.  U2 was already a household name by 1987, and this album was the finest example of the kind of music that got them to that point.  They would have one more great album a few years later (“Achtung Baby”) before getting really weird in the mid- to late 1990s, then a couple more decent albums in the early 2000s before getting really weird again.
  • “Hysteria,” Def Leppard.  One of the most familiar and memorable albums of the Hair Band era, with many hit singles.  I remember Dad having it on tape; I don’t remember if I ever listened to it all the way through.  Back then, many albums I would only listen to for the songs I knew, and I knew a lot of songs on this album, mostly from MTV.
  • And an honorable mention: “Slippery When Wet,” Bon Jovi.  This was actually released in August of 1986, but its song “Livin’ on a Prayer” went to #1 in early 1987 and is one of those songs that defined a generation, some would say.  We listened to this album on many childhood car trips, and it was one of my brother’s favorites in particular, at least the way Mom tells the story.

A number of older artists from the 1960s and 70s released new material in 1987, often for the first time in many years.  This sort of thing happens all the time, but it seemed to happen more often than usual in 1987.  Aerosmith released their “Permanent Vacation” album, the beginning of their second heyday that would last through the mid-90s.  The “Rumours”-era incarnation of Fleetwood Mac released one last album before parting ways.  The Grateful Dead released an album of songs they had been playing live through much of the 80s but had never recorded; one of these songs, “Touch of Grey,” would become their highest-charting hit ever, over two decades after the band’s formation.  George Harrison’s “Got My Mind Set On You” became the last #1 single by an ex-Beatle.  And, four years after their ugly breakup, two of the four members of Pink Floyd, with a third as a studio session musician who would later make a full return to the band, reunited to record the album “A Momentary Lapse of Reason,” including the beautiful hit single “Learning to Fly.”

Some bands with memorable careers had their breakthroughs in 1987.  A strange yet catchy band from Georgia known as R.E.M. had been around for a few years but first started to get mainstream attention with songs such as “The One I Love” and “It’s The End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine).”  Guns ‘N Roses burst onto the Hair Band scene with their “Appetite for Destruction” album.  Whitesnake, a household name for almost a decade in the UK, had two very successful singles in the US: “Is This Love” and “Here I Go Again”; the latter was actually a re-recording of a 1982 song of theirs that did not get much attention on this side of the Atlantic.

The year was also full of memorable songs from artists whose careers may not have been specifically associated with anything from 1987.  “Just Like Heaven,” by the Cure.  “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” by Whitney Houston.  “La Isla Bonita,” by Madonna.  “Alone,” by Heart.  “Need You Tonight,” by INXS.  “Paper In Fire,” by John Mellencamp.  “Notorious,” by Duran Duran.  And 1987 was also full of a lot of memorable one- and two-hit wonders.  Rick Astley.  Crowded House.  Cutting Crew.  Icehouse.  And the list goes on.

I’ll just leave you with a YouTube playlist.  Join me in reliving the music of my preteens.  (The first 17 songs, up to Sweet Child O’ Mine, were the original mix CD I made in 2006.  I have added to it with songs that I did not have in my personal collection yet in 2006.  And a few of these were actually released in 1986 but reached their highest US chart position in 1987, as I’ve said before.)