The Music That Makes Us

On a cold, snowy Sunday morning of my Midwestern youth, my eldest sister invited me to join her in a weekend tradition. Eager to be included, I climbed into her bed without asking questions as she fidgeted with her radio dial. After navigating through the static, she landed on 93.1, Chicago’s WXRT. As I settled in to listen, she explained that every Sunday she had “Breakfast with the Beatles.”

This program was not my first exposure to the Fab Four, but it was an important one. This radio show, which still airs today, does more than spin Beatles tracks; it broadcasts interviews with experts, stories about the relationships between the musicians and examines the context of the releases. This program helped me understand that there is more to music than just the songs. The components of making records, from concept to production, require incredible attention to detail and complete understanding of the musical goal. It was the first time, I think, that I truly understood music to be a form of art.

Now, I’ve mentioned the impact my family has had upon my pursuit of spreading the attitude of gratitude, but in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I think I owe them a few more words. Without the guidance of my siblings, my parents and my friends, I would never have become the type of listener I am today. After sharing this experience with my sister, I started to understand certain things about the music, but I also started to understand certain things about her. Her two cats, for example, were not haphazardly named Max and Eleanor; instead, they were named after the Beatles’ famed lyrical characters, Maxwell Edison and Eleanor Rigby. (My sister’s newest feline friend has been aptly dubbed Lovely Rita). Thanks in part to this experience and others like it, I began to realize the power that music has to shape the people it touches.

Following that Sunday, I continued listening to the program. As I accumulated my own Beatles records and started to form my own opinions about the band and their work, I realized that she had entrusted me with something special. She had offered me a glimpse into a world of music that had enchanted her and, in turn, had enchanted me. In a way, she infected me with the awareness that music can do more than lift your spirits; it can, quite literally, change the way you view others and, perhaps more importantly, the way you view yourself. Admittedly, this realization sounds more exaggerated in print than it was in action. Perhaps another example will convey my point with more subtlety.

As his children were listening to the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Ace of Base, my father was busy blasting Motown and R&B in our living room. Every weekend, he would slip a CD into the stereo, turn the volume knob to 48 and hide behind his newspapers. Whenever I walked past him, all I could see was his foot keeping time with the music and his coffee quaking as the vibrations gave a pulse to the room. Whether it was Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder or Luther Vandross, he would never stop tapping that foot. While he never really spoke about his love for Motown, he never needed to; those snapping fingers and flopping feet were enough. Now, after years of this tradition, all of his children have a deep-rooted love for the Temptations and Michael Jackson. By mere example, my father managed to teach his children about the infectiousness of the Motown beat and the magic of a James Jamerson bassline.

Now, these episodes color pieces of my musical education, but they are only part of the foundation upon which I am continuing to build my knowledge.  While most of my current education is spent in conversation with my like-minded brother, reading blogs and following the work of my favorite music critics, I have not forgotten the impact of these initial teachers. Of course, I love the challenge of discovering new music and promising bands, but nothing compares to a conversation with someone who truly loves and understands music. This kind of dialogue offers a certain insight that is impossible to duplicate.

Maybe it still seems a little clichéd, but, in the light of the Thanksgiving spirit, I hope my readers forgive me: I am incredibly thankful to all of the people who have conditioned me to be an open-minded listener with a critical ear and a bottomless love for music. So thank you, Dad, Jennifer and Nicholas, and, as always thank you for reading!

 *Note: I wrote this piece two years ago for my weekly music column in The Villanovan, and every single sentiment still rings true. It’s amazing how quickly time passes!

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