Senior man and adult woman singing along to music in the kitchen.

Music, Sweet Music

One of my favorite songs from my youth is “Dancing in The Street,” by Martha and the Vandellas. The lyric goes like this:

All we need is music, sweet music,
There’ll be music everywhere
There’ll be swingin and swayin’
and records playing
Dancing in the street

And then the lyric names the cities where those sounds will be heard, and one of them is Philadelphia, my hometown. It was 1965, I was seventeen, and the whole world was changing rapidly. Music had been a constant in my life for years by that time, from the Doo Wop of Philly street corners, to Top 40 AM radio, to the folk and jazz I discovered on a Philly FM station, WHAT.

Loving music

I went to my first live concert, the great Nina Simone, in 1964. I took my first road trip, to the Newport Jazz Festival, after high school graduation in 1966, and in 1969 I spent three days at Woodstock. And, yes, I actually remember the music!

Over the years I’ve been to hundreds of concerts, music of all styles and descriptions. I steeped my three sons in classic rock, jazz and folk.

One of my favorite memories is of my then-nine-year-old son’s reaction when we were watching the Ken Burns “Jazz” documentary. One episode was mostly about Charlie Parker, and my son was sad because Parker had died of an overdose. He cried and said, “Why did he have to die, Dad?” I knew there was another music lover in the family.

I’m not an accomplished musician, but along the way I’ve learned to play enough guitar and harmonica to entertain myself and my friends and to serenade my wife, Melinda. I’ve played in a few local bands, mostly since I retired from my career in education in 2011.

Turning to tunes in challenging times

Coincidental to my retirement, I had a heart attack in 2012, and I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2017. My prostate was removed in April of 2018, and since then there have been no indications that my cancer will return.

Music has remained absolutely essential in my life, especially during the challenges of the last ten years. It’s not enough to say that listening to and playing music is therapeutic. And it’s not enough to say that it’s nostalgic, like on Sunday mornings when my wife and I might listen to the Joni Mitchell radio on Spotify while having breakfast.

Truthfully, I’m not really interested in nostalgia. Those songs are so good that they evoke brand new feelings even fifty years after I first heard them. And we listen to as much new music as we can, even though there’s so much of it that it can be overwhelming. We love discovering new groups that we can add to our personal playlists.

Good for the soul

In the end, music for me is just plain good for my soul, especially a couple of years into my eighth decade, with an exciting, challenging, rewarding life behind me, and good health and great friends as my road trip continues.

It speaks to my best nature, to the deepest places in my spirit. My newest band, Beat the Devil, mostly plays the blues. I play the harmonica. Nothing feels as good, as spiritual, as getting in the pocket while playing a classic 12 bar blues song like Robert Johnson’s “Come on in My Kitchen.” When the music stops, you feel cleansed.

I didn’t choose to have heart disease, and I didn’t choose to have cancer, but I do get to choose what I want to do about it, how I want to live in response to it. I choose exercise, I choose good food, and, every single day of my life, I choose music.

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