I was lying in bed, trying to get sleepy. Put on the headphones and listen to some music, came the thought; that ought to do the trick. So for the first time in a while, I picked out Elton John's Madman Across the Water. But listening to that on October 25th (it was past midnight) was a different experience, for very soon, arranger Paul Buckmaster's string section was playing in counterpoint to my mother's voice. Mom generally liked Elton John's stuff, but she hated this album! "You're playing THAT album again!" was one of her comments. "The string section is so mournful on that album! Why don't you play some ELO?" was another. But you know what? It was still good to hear her voice again.
My musical choices could alternately intrigue and frustrate Mom. One time, I must have been about 17 or 18 years old, I played several selections off my Vivaldi album and immediately followed it up with Bob Seger singing "Nutbush City Limits." As the Silver Bullet Band picked up the beat, I heard Mom in the kitchen issue a sigh, intentionally amplified by her to make sure I heard it. No further discussion was needed; I knew what she was saying.
I mentioned ELO earlier. That was her band of choice, from my collection anyway. On more than one occasion, she specifically asked if I would put on some ELO in order to help her do housework. "They always get me moving" was her explanation.
One thing I have long believed about Mom is that she was really born to rock n' roll, except that Fate decreed she should be born in 1932. She got married in 1956 and started having babies right away, which had the effect of taking her away from much awareness of popular music, just as rock n' roll was being born itself. It wasn't until the 1970s, when her older children began buying records, that she had much awareness of that musical genre. The result, early on, could be kind of amusing, in that she learned about 20 years' worth of music within a few years time. I remember some early Rolling Stones tune coming on the radio, about 15 years after its release, and Mom commenting that she really liked "that new song." Of course to my ears, it was an incredible comment, considering the changes that had occurred in music (and to the Stones, for that matter) between 1965 and 1980.
These stories about Mom and music have a sort of Fun House mirror quality to them -- different parts are emphasized depending on where you're standing. When I was standing very near to them, they were merely memorable in a gently amusing way. But with the distance generated by time and changing circumstances, I think they offer a clear window into her spirit. I think they also offer me a few clues about myself and my own life and by extension, maybe even a few notions about the world and the people around me. So thanks Mom. Happy Birthday!