Our resident Mad Welshman did a set recently entitled “Follow Me Friday” that featured songs all about the life lessons we all have learned (or still need to learn). It was a fantastic idea, and it made me think about some of the songs that I could have learned from. Turns out, there is a plethora of songs that I would love to go back and play for my younger self, and make sure she listened well. It’s amazing what a gift hindsight is. I always say I have very little regret for most of what I have done, and it’s true. Most of my mistakes have been huge learning experiences for me, and I would not be the person I am today if I hadn’t made them. As my mother often said, I am incapable of learning anything the easy way. But there are some heartaches and struggles through self-doubt that I would gladly spare my younger self, and I have a feeling if I could go back and find her, Dea from the past would sit up and take notice of what I have to say. The following is a list of songs that I would put on a playlist for her; and I would insist that she listen very, very closely. The playlist would be entitled “Ten Songs You Better Listen To If You Don’t Want To Spend Your Thirties Feeling Like A Complete Jagoff (And Also Stop Wearing That Lipstick/Lipliner Combo – Seriously, You Will Thank Me Later)”.
1. Jack & Diane by John Melloncamp. A wonderful little “ditty” about growing up. It’s a great tune, but the line that really stands out to me is this one: “Hold on to sixteen as long as you can/Changes come around real soon, make us women and men.” I was a very awkward teenager, and I had a self-esteem problem, as most teenagers do at some point. I was so eager to grow up, move away, and get on with the business of being an adult, that I failed to notice that my childhood was disappearing before my eyes. I never stood up for myself, and I felt that if I could leave behind that stage in life, I would be able to move past all of the hard work of learning to stand your ground. Guess how that turned out? I can tell you now that if I had sixteen to do all over again, I would cherish every minute of it, and take the risks in love and friendships that I was too afraid to take back then, and relax a lot more. Everyone else felt the same way I did…… I don’t know why I thought my experience was so unique.
2. Father and Son by Cat Stevens. Okay, I am not a boy, but I do have a father. This song fits every struggling young adult, regardless of gender. My parents were constantly shaking their heads at my burning desire to grow up too fast. It never occurred to me at the time that maybe they knew exactly what the hell they were talking about when they gave me advice. “I was once like you are now/ and I know that it’s not easy/ to be calm when you’ve found something going on”. But all I felt was: “From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen/Now there’s a way, and I know/That I have to go away/ I have to grow.” That growing would have been LOT easier if I would have sat down for a minute and taken my parents for the Yodas that they really were. They knew exactly what they were talking about. But I spent far too much time searching for some sage on a distant hill somewhere that hadn’t spent the last ten years grounding me for staying out late. If only I had known. Sigh.
3. Stupid Girl by Garbage. Yes. Once I was out in the big bad world, I still had no idea how to just be myself, and I found that I was desperate to create an identity. I never considered that I already had one that just needed to be developed. So I pretended to be someone I was not, and I did it quite often, lying and putting on airs depending on who I was with. If I was around a bunch of the cool kids, I pretended to be an intellectual. If I was hanging with the smart people in my circle, I went out of my way to be as edgy and offensive as possible. “You pretend you’re high, you pretend you’re bored/You pretend you’re anything, just to be adored”. I was the living breathing version of the girl in that song. Looking back on it, I regret that the most. I may have been a lot of things in those days, but I wasn’t honest or genuine with myself or anyone else, and it caused pain and drama that would reverberate in my life for years to come. “What drives you on/can drive you mad/ a million lies to sell your self/ is all you ever had”…..I wish I would have recognized sooner that I had a hell of lot more to offer. Nobody was fooled by that crap, and growing past that stage was a shaming, humbling experience I would have rather avoided.
4. Reflection by Tool. Here we have a song all about letting go of your ego. After I got through the high school/early college issue of finding my identity, I still wasn’t quite there. I found myself newly single, having failed at a young marriage (shocking!) and out in the world. For the first time, I was catching the eyes of the boys that never noticed me before, and I was bartending and constantly surrounded by people that told me how hot I was. I took meticulous care to get ready every night, knowing that my tips depended at least in part on how I looked behind the bar. All through my teenage years, I had aspired to be one of the pretty, popular girls, and that was finally a reality. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t turn into a mean girl or anything. I was still nice. But it didn’t take very long for me to become vain and focused only on my outer beauty. That started to fall apart at the first signs of aging (inevitable, but I never thought it would happen to me). I freaked out over every little wrinkle and imperfection that I found, because I perceived it as a character flaw. It was not a pleasant way to live, and I wish I would have learned to get over myself at a much younger age. From the song:
And as I pull my head out I am without one doubt
You wanna peer down here survey my narcissism
I must crucify the ego before it’s far too late
I pray the light lifts me out
Before I pine away
Yeah…twenty-three-year-old Dea could have used that kind of kick in the teeth advice.
5. Choices by George Jones. Well, this song pretty much covers everything terrible thing I have ever done in the name of youthful stupidity. I have been lucky so far, and I haven’t paid too high of a price for my bad decisions. But I sat by and watched while others that I know and love have paid the ultimate price. Yes, you can go to jail, and yes, that WILL kill you. If only I could go back and tell myself and some of my friends that. Now, we find ourselves “Livin’ and dyin’ with the choices” that we made. Not every bad-girl story is funny or has a happy ending. A little self control when it comes to having fun is never a bad idea. Fun can turn ugly really quick.
6. Save Yourself by Greg Johnson. As I matured year by year, I found myself becoming a bit more comfortable in my own skin. But I still struggled with the idea that my inner beauty was at least as valuable, if not more so, than my outer appearance. I wish I could have realized then that working out, staying in shape, and all that jazz comes in very handy as you age, and the desire to do those things, to stay in shape and feel young and healthy, is a much more compelling motivator than exercising solely for outer appearance purposes. I was also reaching the point where I wanted to find a person to share my life with, and I really needed to learn the lesson that taking care of yourself, loving yourself, and accepting yourself just as you are is necessary to maintain mature relationships.
You’re such a brilliant pearl
Living in an unforgiving world
And it doesn’t help us very much
If you throw the line to someone else
First you save yourself
Then you save the world but first you save yourself
We only get one body, one mind, and one stab at doing right by ourselves and others in this existence. You can’t do that until you accept yourself. Then you can work on being the best you every day for the rest of your life, and everything else will fall into place. Glad I figured that out….NOW! It would have been more awesome to discover that ten years ago.
7. Grow Old With Me by Mary Chapin Carpenter. Yes, it’s a sappy song. It’s very simple, and that is why I chose it. Penned by John Lennon, based on a Robert Browning poem, the message is short and sweet: When you find the right person, it’s about more than physical attraction; it’s about standing the test of time. It’s about being two halves of the same whole, and being a lifelong team. “Grow old along with me/two branches of one tree/face the setting sun/ when the day is done”. That is marriage, in a nutshell. I found that person, but there were many struggles in the beginning when I just couldn’t accept the fact that such relationships were a reality. I was always looking for the stumbling blocks that are hallmarks of bad relationships, the things you see in movies or on the telly. They weren’t there. Love, trust, and respect. Flexibility, compassion, and friendship. Those are the things that make for a lasting marriage. The formula for a good marriage is not complicated at all. My husband got it, but it took me a minute. For his sake, I wish I would have understood that sooner. I will be forever thankful he never gave up, believe me, but an understanding of what love really is on my part would have made his life a lot easier, for sure.
8. One More Day by Diamond Rio. I am no stranger to death, and I was never really freaked out by funerals. I have been to a ton, coming from a very large family known for its longevity, and by the time I was twenty-five, I had lost quite a few friends that were my own age. The younger people were of course harder to deal with, but often it was because of choices they had made. Sometimes it would be a car accident, or cancer, or something that shouldn’t have taken them so young, and I would sit around and ponder my own mortality for a bit. Then I would get back to the business of living like a young fool. That all changed when my mother died. We didn’t always see eye to eye, and she wasn’t always right. However, if I had known how bad it would hurt to lose her, I don’t think I would have put nearly as much energy into getting her to understand my side of things. I would have just accepted her totally for who she was, and not let our disagreements ever come between us. I would have asked her all of the things that a woman needs to know when she becomes a mother, the things that only her mama can teach her. She died right before my wedding; she will never know my son. I would have given anything to pick up the phone when I was scared of being a mommy myself, and hear her voice on the other line telling me that it’s going to be okay and talking me through all the hard stuff. I still would. I never knew how much I needed my mom until I became one myself, and I feel robbed. It’s a hole that will never heal, and if I had known it was coming, I would have done a lot of things differently.
One more day
One more time
One more sunset, maybe I’d be satisfied
But then again
I know what it would do
Leave me wishing still, for one more day with you
9. Live Like You Were Dying by Tim McGraw. This is why I love country music. If you want to find a song that really gets to the heart of what it is to be human, you will find a country song that fits, guaranteed. This is one that I get now; I wish it had clicked in my brain when I lost my mother. I was so afraid of the world without her, and I let a lot of things slip right by me. I lashed out in anger when I was grieving the hardest, when I should have taken that as a lesson that life is fleeting. Granted, the man in the song is terminally ill, but this song really applies to all of us. Space junk could fall on us tomorrow, or we could be eaten by a kraken. The point is, you never know. I take this song very seriously now, but I didn’t when I needed to the most. Life is uncertain; the hardest times, the times when you are confronted with death in a very personal way, those are the times to grab life and cling to it….cherish every minute you have with the ones you love. And when the raw pain of that confrontation with death fades, continue to cling to life and all of its joy. “And I loved deeper/and I spoke sweeter/and I gave forgiveness that I’d been denying/I hope someday you get the chance/ to live like you were dying.”
10. Beautiful Day by U2. The final song on the list, and I think it’s fitting for the end of the story. Yes, my younger self could have benefited from this song, but I am really including it as a daily affirmation for all of us. When we are busy working to live, or going about our routines, and just existing in our day to day mediocrity, we often fail to see the beauty all around us. Another day goes by and we are older, and it’s a day that we will never get back. It’s a day that we could have used to make our dreams, or those of our loved ones, come true. It’s a day we could have used to take a risk, or try something new. Some of us have learned this lesson, some of us haven’t quite got it yet, but either way, it’s not something any of us should ever forget. So I leave you with this one last lyric, some of the best advice you will ever hear: “It’s a beautiful day/ Don’t let it get away………”