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I can’t sing. I never had the patience for playing instruments. I was an embarrassing Guitar Hero gamer. I can only consume music, but it is a remarkably important piece of who I am. Numerous tracks have provided comfort to me in all the difficult moments of my life, whether the challenges were small or large.
I associate songs with memories both good and bad, and I turn to particular tracks in response to different triumphs or struggles. Music opens up a special part of my soul, and allows me to put my own life in perspective when I need to. Songs have taught and allowed me to realize that setbacks do not have to be defeats, that good memories are hope for the future, and that the present moment is the most important one.
My iPhone is loaded up with plenty of music when I travel. I listen to it while riding on planes, trains and automobiles, in the hotel at night, or rolling down the sidewalk in cities near or far. Here are 38 of my favorite tracks:
I want to talk about a handful of them, the ones that have been most important to me at different times in my life. My favorite tunes are the ones that have met me in the defining moments of life – from the worst and most difficult to the happiest and brightest. Since I try to treat WheelchairTravel.org as my personal blog, I hope you’ll be patient with me when I write about topics that are deeply personal and go beyond travel.
This song was released in 2007, as part of Spoon’s sixth studio album, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. I had the great fortune of seeing the band live in November of that year, when they played at a venue in Tallahassee, Florida.
Spoon is an Indie/Alternative Rock group, and their songs are lyrical works of art. Black Like Me is a song that has touched me deeply on numerous occasions. It is a melancholy track, a deep ballad that describes a longing for identity – a place to fit in. In 2007, I was a freshman at Florida State University – a geeky 18-year-old who was trying to find a sense of identity and self worth. Naturally, I was alone at that concert – my friends had bailed on me, and I felt awkward in the crowd. But the music overtook me. In my awkwardness, I met a beautiful girl who was also alone. When the band played Black Like Me, we kissed. It was a magical moment, and one I will never forget (though I have forgotten her name). Whenever I’m feeling down, I listen to Black Like Me – my memory of the night I heard it live helps me to focus on the hope of finding identity, and purpose, and a place to fit in.
Andrew Bird is the artist who writes songs “for me.” I often find parallels with my life in his music, and his writing is so analytical and subtly powerful. This song literally came out yesterday, and is part of his forthcoming album Are You Serious. It spoke to me on my first listen, and he described it this way on his Facebook page:
“Roma fade is about the wordless dialogue between the watcher and the watched and the fine line between romance and creepiness. In this song, “she” is a fortress of solitude, yet the observer can still affect her with his gaze. Whether the attention is welcome or not, something between them has changed. Notice how the song shifts from third person to first person near the end and it’s actually the observer who has transformed.”
As a disabled person and wheelchair user, I routinely find myself in both of these roles. As the “watcher,” when I seek the attention of someone who does not or will not notice me. It is a terrible feeling, being “outside of the bubble” that I used to be a part of. I am also the “watched” at times, the focus of stares and curiosity, of people who are too afraid or reluctant to speak. That too is a painful position. As either the observer or observed, I often want to yell, “I’m still me!” Both experiences have affected and transformed me, and I hope they have made me stronger.
I expanded a little more on this identity question in my recent contribution to Medium, An Inconvenient Truth: My Identity Was A Pyramid Scheme.
Matt Maher is a Catholic musician, and he has written many songs that are deeply rooted in scripture. This isn’t one of them. But its message is still very Christian. I don’t break out in song often, but I used to sing this one… loudly. The video above was taken in May 2012, about 4 months before the car accident that put me in a wheelchair. I was traveling with my friends in Rome, Italy, and I was in a particularly Catholic mood. The lyrics include scenarios where people may feel alone, or unloved, or hopeless. In times like those, it is natural to question your faith, whatever it may be.
This song, and its message – the very Christian message of love and mercy – was deeply ingrained in my world view. I’m not going to use this website to evangelize, but I will say – the accident, my disability, the struggle, the depression… My faith was strengthened by it. For me, all I had to do was “turn around,” and God was waiting with open arms to support and comfort my broken body. I played this song often in the hospital, and it helped to reinforce what I believe to be true. I share this song with you because it helped to save me from so much heartache and despair.
When I hear this song, I think of my regrets. I used to believe that regrets were pointless and a waste of time – that the past belonged in the past. To an extent, I still do, but with a few exceptions. The memory of our mistakes can serve as a reminder to strive for what is right. Both of my degrees are in history and, as they say, hindsight is 20/20. While I can’t change the past, I can correct the mistakes I made to improve my future.
Ella said this about her intent in writing and recording the song:
“It’s about this someone or something that just has a hold over you, tormenting you, you’re trying to run away from it, but you just can’t. And I think a lot of people can relate in so many different ways.”
We all have those someones and somethings that bother us. This song helped me to realize that it’s OK. Each time I hear it, I reflect on a past decision that I made – small or big – and I try to learn something from it.
This song is just incredible, and it will get my longest reflection. The cartoon above was drawn by Jeffrey Lewis, based on the instruction given by The Mountain Goats songwriter John Darnielle. This song follows a “heretic” who is set to meet his reckoning at the hands of his accusers. These lines at the tail end of the song give me chills to this day:
I waited so long and now I taste jasmine on my tongue
And I feel so proud to be alive
And I feel so proud when the reckoning arrives
I love to interpret songs in my own way, but I also love to read about alternate perspectives about what is going on. I pulled this one from a lyrics website, and it ties this song to one of my favorite books, The Stranger:
A beautiful quote from Albert Camus’s The Stranger which basically contains the same message/sentiment as Heretic Pride:
“As if that blind rage had washed me clean, rid me of hope; for the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world. Finding it so much like myself–so like a brother, really–I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again. For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate.”
Some will say that the heretic in this song is an enemy to religion, or even a demon. I can’t dispute that. But, I do have a different take, which is based on what the song has meant to me in my life. I like to be the “devil’s advocate” in debates and discussions. I am very opinionated. I like to fight “the system.” A heretic, or agitator, or opponent who believes he is right will be proud of his stand, even in the face of consequences or retribution. Now that I am disabled, everything is a fight. I’m waging these battles with regard to accessibility in the travel and transportation marketplace. I’ve called out Fortune 500 companies and the U.S. Government on this blog. I’m willing to go down with the fight, and I would relish that “heretic pride.”
On eight occasions since my accident, I have had the opportunity to reach out directly to people who have had a life-changing injury or been diagnosed with a terminal illness. I have shared this song with each of them. It was released in August 2013, as part of the album Fortunate Fall. It is such a beautiful piece, and I leave it here with you.
Music is a beautiful gift. I seek out songs that move me. That challenge my thoughts and increase my understanding of life. The songs I shared with you here, and all the rest listed in the playlist and the top of this post, have given me something. The value of a song’s impact on me far exceeds the $1.29 I pay iTunes. And yes, I’ve already listened to that new Andrew Bird song at least 50 times!
What songs do you keep on your travel playlist? Share them with me in the comments below! 🙂