Sometimes the song chooses us.

image used from Pughs' News blog

image used from Pughs’ News blog

I’ve been thinking about the songs that make their way into the soundtrack of my life.  Plenty of them are songs that I heard on the radio, surfing the internet, or, back in the day, perusing the listening station at Tower Records or The Wherehouse.  I heard them, fell in love, and still count them among my favorite songs still to this day. There is something so great about them that I make them fit somewhere on my life’s soundtrack.

But I also realized that many of the songs on my life-soundtrack are there not just because I heard a song and liked it, but because the song resonated with me so deeply during a specific time and place in my history that now, whenever I hear that song, it takes me instantly back to that moment in time.  The song itself may not even be a particular favorite – but it demands inclusion in the soundtrack of my life.

This is the story of one of those songs.  It’s the newest song to find a place on my soundtrack.  But it’s one of the oldest.

Mad Men.  Season 4.  I don’t remember which episode number.  But in it, Don Draper is visiting Anna out in California.  The two of them, along with Anna’s Niece Stephanie, go out for drinks.  At some point, Stephanie selects a song on the jukebox, and she and Don step out to dance.  Don knows this “old” song (it was less than ten years old in the chronology of the show, but still and oldie to the college-aged Stephanie).  And I recognize it, too, because it keeps showing up in my life recently.  It’s Patti Page’s 1957 hit, “Old Cape Cod”.

I go through fazes in my music listening habits.  The digital age has made it easy to explore different genres from all era’s of recorded music.  On any given night, I might find myself being lead down the musical rabbit-hole of roots rock, early hip-hop, 70’s soul, new indie-folk bands, instrumental composers, 60’s jazz, or just what’s currently popular.  But more and more, over the past few years, I’ve found myself strangely drawn to the music of before I was born (1968, if you’re scoring at home).  And I don’t just mean the early rock and roll stuff that influenced so many of the artists I have loved through the years.  I’m talking about pop oldies from the 50’s.  Music that I’m sure I professed to find cheesy and boring at some point in my youth.  Lately, I find I can’t turn away from the Time/Life Music infomercials on television, hawking their malt-shop memories.  I will sit and intently watch the entire half-hour broadcast as if it is essential viewing.  (Truthfully, I will watch any of the Time/Life Music infomercials, regardless of genre or era – a fact my wife has come to terms with and, I believe, even finds kind of endearing.  Well, that’s what I’m choosing to believe, anyway.)  I’ve even found myself frozen in front of Lawrence Welk reruns on PBS for a clearly inappropriate length of time (I would say five minutes is probably appropriate for curious bemusement – but I have strayed into lengths of viewing time indicative of dangerously wistful nostalgia for a show I used to hate when my parents watched it).

In the midst of a recent pop-oldies listening bender on the internet, I came across “Old Cape Cod”.  Now understand, I didn’t fall instantly in love with it.  In truth, I thought it was just okay.  But it got my attention.  And I could tell that, ever so gently, something about it latched itself to my subconscious.

Then, a few weeks later, I found myself on a shame-filled Saturday night glued to a PBS “My Music” concert.  They were  toting out the old pop-stars of the 1950’s so they could perform their hits in front of a strangely over-enthusiastic audience of senior-citizens who seemed to randomly burst into applause at any point during the performances.  It was TV gold.  Literally – many of these songs were celebrating their golden anniversary.  But, right in the middle of the show, Patti Page was introduced, and she sang “Old Cape Cod”.  This time, just a little more deeply than on my first listen, maybe because it was live, the song connected.

Fast forward to about a month later.  My wife and I go to the movies and we see a film called “About Time”.  It’s a charmer.  We both fall in love with it instantly.  I am also drawn to the music, which feels essential to the storytelling in the movie.  So, I buy the soundtrack.  And I listen to it a lot.  One of the songs that grabs my attention is a 1990’s tune by Groove Armada called “At The River”.  It’s a mostly instrumental piece that ambles along in an atmosphere of pleasant melancholy.  But dropped in throughout the song is a woman’s voice singing the same line repeatedly:

“If you’re fond of sand dunes and salty air, quaint little villages here and there.”

The line is familiar, but I don’t immediately place it.  Still, the song and this lyric captivate me.  After all, I am fond of sand dunes and salty air!  And I do like quaint little villages here and there!!  What is this lyric from?!?

I had to know.  So, in this era of no question being left unanswered, I googled the lyric.  And lo and behold, it’s from Patti Page’s “Old Cape Cod”.

What is the deal with this song?  Why does it keep showing up in my life? Fast forward again.  My wife and I have started binge watching Mad Men.  Thank God for Netflix.  We are completely enthralled by the show.  I love the character development and am fascinated to find out where each of them is eventually headed.  They are flawed people, often hard to root for.  But they feel real, and I genuinely want to see at least some of them achieve some kind of peace and redemption.  

We eventually arrive at the previously mentioned season four episode.  As Don and Stephanie make their way to the dance floor, Don says “So you picked this song because it’s old?  That doesn’t mean it’s bad.”  

Simple and true.  You are spot-on, Don.  These old songs that I have been rediscovering and appreciating for the first time are beautiful. There is magic in many of these songs that are quickly skipped over by my generation and younger, simply because they are old.  But that doesn’t mean they are bad.

Stephanie tells Don that the song sounds corny.  I can hear myself saying that same thing at some point in my life.  His response is “I think is sounds like she’s inviting us to a very beautiful place.”  Stephanie asks him if he’s ever been there.  And his answer goes right to my heart:

“No.  But every time I hear this song, I want to go.”

And that’s it.  That is why this song has attached itself to me.  There is a promise of something beautiful waiting for me, with sand dunes and salty air and quaint little villages and things that I love.  It’s not quite a seduction, but a welcomed invitation – to something simple and quietly profound.  It has fixed itself to my recollection of a simple and quietly profound time in my history where I saw this delightful movie called “About Time” that reminded me how fortunate I am to love my wife like I do.  And it reminds me how much my wife and I have enjoyed staying up after the kids have gone to bed to binge on Mad Men.  It’s a small but endearing memory.  And Patti Page is the voice that invites me back to it.  She and her song are part of it.  And while I would never have thought of “Old Cape Cod” as one of my favorite songs, it finds itself on the soundtrack of my life as the backing track to this delightfully quiet little chapter of the story.  Not because I chose the song, but because the song chose me.


~ by themattmorrisshow on February 14, 2014.

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