A (Musical) Retrospective for a New Year: The Recent Past (pre-2013)

When I first came up with the idea for this little retrospective-of-sorts, I figured it would be maybe two posts…three tops.

I’m on #5 now, and I think I’ll have at least one more to go.  I can’t help myself!  Putting these together has been a lot more fun than I anticipated.

Useful to me as well, actually.  Thinking back in this manner, especially aided by the music, is clarifying a few things.  This is good for me.


So, here are the posts as they stand so far:

Prelude to a (Musical) Retrospective (this is the introductory post that explains what I’m trying to get out of this, and why)

A (Musical) Retrospective for a New Year:  The Early Years

A (Musical) Retrospective for a New Year:  High School and College

A (Musical) Retrospective for a New Year:  Wrong Turns Past

And now, to continue…


I had strange babies – at least when it comes to their musical tastes.

I mean, I think they were cool myself!  But if you are inclined to gauge normality by what commercials and parenting magazines (and in-laws) say is “the way babies are,” then my babies were very, very weird (particularly my daughter, as you will see.)

Neither of them liked “kid music” – not of any sort.  This has continued actually until just recently (they’re now 7 and 4.)  And yet even now, though she’ll pass the day singing the Winnie the Pooh theme song, my daughter (the 4-year-old) most definitely prefers the playlist she’s pulled together from my music for her go-to-sleep songs.

This is the one that did the trick tonight (on the heels of some Norah Jones):


Henry, my son, was (and remains) a tremendous Cat Stevens fan.

I discovered this one very fussy night when he was a baby.  I couldn’t soothe him and I was going crazy.  To soothe MYSELF, I at long last put some music on – just to put something into the air that wasn’t crying and crying and crying and crying.  (His crying, not mine – though I think I was pretty close to joining him by this point.)

I randomly put on Cat Stevens’ “The Wind.”

[WOW.  I haven’t heard this in awhile.  It takes me right back!  Crazy.]

Well, when Henry heard this song, he didn’t just slowly calm down and finally drift off to sleep (which would have been awesome.)  He actually abruptly stopped crying, listened for a few seconds, and then dropped into a deep slumber.

It happened so fast, I thought there was something wrong with him!  (There wasn’t.)


So, I thought this was probably coincidental – or at best just a lucky fluke (the music distracted him from the crying jag long enough for him to realize he was tired, or something.)  I remember laughing about it with his dad: “Ha ha.  He probably liked the song.”

Little did we know!

The next time there was a crying jag, I put the song on, just for the hell of it.  I wasn’t expecting anything to come of it.

But there was an instant response, just like before:  immediate calm listening, followed directly after by sleep.

So this was getting interesting!  I started actively testing songs, seeing what happened with different styles and when he was in different moods.

Between his dad and me, we eventually gathered a list of about ten songs that pretty reliably made him happy (I still have it somewhere.)

This one, for example, was good for the beginning of get-down-for-nap times, when he wasn’t too excited about the idea yet (good for a little dancing):

He also liked this one:

And pretty much any other Cat Stevens – “Trouble” in particular:

But nothing ever could quite match “The Wind.”  That one was MAGIC.


My relationship with Henry’s dad wasn’t the greatest throughout Hen’s infancy/toddlerhood.  (I laid out a bit about the pre-Henry period for us in my last post.)  But we were so busy with work and school and parenting stuff, we simply didn’t have time or energy to give it a lot of attention.  We existed in this haze of sleeplessness and stress – with occasional cute-baby moments to provide some sunshine.

We were existing alongside each other but (and this is screamingly clear in hindsight), we weren’t together.

This was the treading water period.


Hindsight is so clear regarding so much of this stuff now.  I can see so many things, looking back, that I was just completely blind to at the time.

“Blind” probably isn’t the best adjective.  It’s more, I think, that I didn’t want to see it.  It was “blinders” rather than “blindness.”

But same results.


I know that I for one attributed our continuing relationship difficulties to the greater stresses of our situation (conveniently forgetting that they’d existed well before we became parents or I took my crummy job or he started his PhD program or we moved so far away from our families/friends.)

This isn’t a subject I can broach with him right now or a time period I think it’s wise to bring up with him at this point (some “books” we leave closed and shoved to the back of the metaphorical closet, as an aid to preserving our current friendliness.  Past resentments and bitternesses are much better left in the past.)

But if I WERE to ask him about it, I’m reasonably certain he would say he was thinking along similar lines:  We just had to get through this rough time and then everything would (miraculously) be fine.

It’s because this is where our heads were at that we could be so blindly over-optimistic about the state of our marital future, as to decide to have another baby.

As I said:  blinders.


When Mae was born, we didn’t even try kid songs.  We went right to the Cat Stevens/etc.

She liked that stuff.  I don’t think there were any of Henry’s favorites that she didn’t like…but she certainly didn’t like them as fondly as he did.

So we started wondering if maybe his taste was just really unusual for a kid, and we tried some of the standard kid songs on Mae.

She didn’t like them any better than he had.  In fact, she liked them LESS and would actually fuss more WITH them on!

But this was interesting now.  We moved on to other types of music, experimenting.

And what did we finally come up with?  What ultimately pleased and soothed Baby Mae in her fussy moments?

Stuff like this (and I’m not kidding):



She was a big Counting Crows fan, actually.

Her favorite song though, hands-down, was this one:

“My Sharona” didn’t have quite the same magical power as “The Wind” did for her brother – but it could fairly reliably calm her down when she was really fussy.


It was after Mae was born that everything imploded for her dad and me.

She was born in February 2009.  It was June 2010 when I finally admitted to myself that the marriage was, beyond a shadow of a doubt, done.

I can say “June 2010” so precisely because we had a very nasty fight on my birthday (which is in mid-June) – and that was, as it turned out, the final straw for me.

Sometimes you don’t know just how close you are to reaching your capacity for something until suddenly you’re just THERE.  That’s what happened to me that day.  I knew I was very unhappy, I knew I was running on fumes.  But that day used them all up, all at once.  There was nothing left after that.

I’d done everything I could think of for such a very long time (YEARS) to fix things, and had hit brick wall after brick wall.  There was nothing else to do.  There WAS no fixing it. And I knew that I couldn’t live within it as it was for the rest of my life.  It was over.

Once I let myself acknowledge this, there was no NOT knowing it.


The next months were very, very hard.  But I’m not going to take up space here to talk about them.

Partly because to write more about this time (Summer and Fall 2010) would only be to rehash a previous post (this one.)

Plus, it’s kind of depressing – and I don’t honestly feel much like “going there” right now.  It was most definitely the lowest period of my entire life.

It’s also (along with the rest of the marriage-ending issues) one of the most analyzed periods of my life.  If I’m writing this current post series to gain insight for the new year (which I am), there’s not much new to be gained from going over this period again, I think.  (I’ve wrung it pretty well dry in the last few years.)


But for the purpose of the continuity of this discussion here, I will say briefly that by Fall 2010 I was at a really, really low point.

Musically…I wasn’t actually listening to anything at all, outside of what I played for the kids.  I wasn’t even reading any books.

Romance novels…I read those.  Light stories with happy endings were all that I could handle.  I was having panic attacks and stuff.  It was really awful (there’s no other way to describe it.)  And I was feeling very alone.

And then I accidentally came upon a song that reminded me that I wasn’t – and that changed everything for me in this very profound way.  As art can do sometimes.

My other post is about that.


From then on, music became my primary source of solace.

I started making playlists and saving them to my computer – partly to amuse myself in a dark time, but mainly to create little emotional supports for myself.  Depending on my mood, there was a list I could pull up and feel that amazing solidarity that I’d felt when I heard that Bright Eyes song (as described in that other post.)

I was writing a lot through this time as well, and reading others’ writings, and these things helped me immeasurably in sorting out my feelings.  But there’s something so powerful in a medium that doesn’t require language for expression.  I’ve always been especially drawn to very lyric-centric music too – and that combination of words and sound is so potent.  Music, in my experience, is feeling-based in a way that writing alone isn’t.


I don’t know how much of my feeling like that is due to the fact that I’m not a musician.  Maybe some of it.  Because I don’t play music, I don’t think about how a song is constructed, or how it could have been done differently.  I do tend to do this in writing.  Not that I can’t deeply experience another person’s writing – but there’s always this other intellectual level to it for me that I can’t not feel (“this is amazing!  how do they DO that??”)

I don’t analyze music like that because I can’t produce music in any way (I can’t even sing on key.)  So I just absorb it.

That’s powerful:  that liberation from intellect…that total immersion in feeling.


I eventually started making monthly playlists.  It was a fun little exercise, and a way to sort of evaluate where I was and how far I’d come that month.  I’d see which songs I wanted to pull into the next month’s playlist and think about why, and see which new ones I felt like adding, and ponder what that meant.  It helped me to ground myself, and to think.

I can sum up the content of most of these playlists:  they are extraordinarily heavy on introspective lyrics, quiet music, with mellow and often sad explorations into life and emotions.

They also tend to be folk-ish, acoustic-ish, rootsy things (though it’s not limited to this.)

It’s Bright Eyes (a LOT of Bright Eyes.  Anything Conor Oberst writes basically, not just Bright Eyes stuff. He’s such a ridiculously powerful songwriter.)

Here’s one of my favorite Bright Eyes songs.  It took a few listens before I could hear this one without crying.  The part that got me every time is the part where he says:  “Don’t worry so, because I’ve got your back.”  It carries that idea on a little bit from there.

For me, it was that idea that, at the root of a romance or a partnership, you’re not alone because the other person is there to sort of look out for you and be there for you – that was extremely painful for me.  What’s the point of being in a relationship if you don’t have that?  How, without that, is partnership superior in any way to independence?

I didn’t have that in my partnership when I heard this song for the first time – and realized (wrenchingly) that I never really had.  Nor, at this time, did I have independence. That was rough.

I also liked Mumford&Sons a lot.  This one, for example (“…where you invest your love, you invest your life”):

And “The Cave”:

I liked The Mynabirds.

Additions of the likes of Leonard Cohen came in eventually.  (I LOVED “Crazy to Love You.”  But this whole album is great.  He’s amazing.):

Iron&Wine, too:

I went through a strong Jenny Lewis phase (I really liked her first solo album, Rabbit Fur Coat.)

Here’s one from that:

I loved Okkervil River’s “Your Life is Not a Movie or Maybe”:

And when we actually physically separated and I moved in with my parents (which is what ultimately happened), I couldn’t listen to anything at all for about two weeks except Maria Taylor’s album, LadyLuck.  Any other music literally made me feel sick inside.

I’m not sure what it is about this album.  It doesn’t seem, at first listen, that it should be so powerful.  But it is – in this very subtle way that’s tremendously empowering.

It chronicles the aftermath of a breakup – but it’s not really about that.  It’s about how hard it is to act for yourself…how painful and scary it can be.  (Especially when it’s not just you who’s involved.)  The takeaway is that you have to trust yourself and trust that you can “follow yourself” to the places you need to get to.

This was a really important album for me; it helped me a lot.

Here’s the title track from it:


This music, for me, was all about trying to untangle and understand my life and my emotions.

I think the rootsy style of some of it was appealing to me at this time because it seemed more connected to the Earth and history.  It was grounding – and I needed that.  Just like I needed the poetry of the song lyrics and the thoughtful philosophical quality of much of this…the solidarity of other people trying to make sense of painful things.

I’m honestly not quite sure how I would have gotten through this period of my life without this music.


So that was the sort of music that made the soundtrack of my late-2010, my 2011, and my 2012.

But something different has happened in 2013…something quite different.  My musical tastes have gone through a massive shift.

I’ll talk about that next…


4 thoughts on “A (Musical) Retrospective for a New Year: The Recent Past (pre-2013)

  1. My kids never liked “kid” music as much as regular music. Thank goodness. That’s the only thing that made that exhausting phase tolerable. I never tried Cat Stevens though. It is rather soothing. Are you sure you don’t play anything or sing? You really seem to just grasp music. Maybe because your parents weren’t big time music people (I think I remember reading that in one if your posts), that side of you just wasn’t nurtured. Have you ever thought of trying to learn to play an instrument? I took piano as a kid and then I played the flute, and I would love to learn guitar. My husband is a talented musician. He plays guitar and piano and sings. Lately I’ve really considered getting back into the piano or maybe taking guitar lessons.


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