I listen to music when I drive. There are different sorts of music for different geography, times of day or night, destinations. Maybe I think I am in a movie and need a soundtrack. Maybe it helps me to bring to the surface the deeper feelings I hold about that trip. Often it just keeps me awake. (Queen and Creedence Clearwater Revival do that really well.)

Handel’s Water Music is one of my favorites, for the grandeur and the sheer energy of the celebratory passages, Mozart can pull the heart strings (Clarinet Concerto in A major, Adagio) and Bach can make me hear words that are not there (Little Suite from the Anna Magdalena Notebook.)

And then there is Louden Wainwright (the third, Rufus’ dad) for all manner of experiences.  He can be relied upon (even when I have heard these albums 17 times) when I need one of those slightly shocked laughs (IWIWAL, Nice Guys), or for wisdom wrapped in humor (The Doctor, Passion Play); history (Prince Hal’s Dirge); a real story (The Human Cannonball) or the unexpectedly beautiful and moving (Sometimes I Forget and Little Ship.)

Ultimately, when in doubt, anything Leonard Cohen.

I could write forever on the music I listen to when I drive and why, but here is a simple list of what, along with the usuals, has been in my car this past week: Archie Roach, Robert Earl Keen, Windham Hills’ Adagio, the soundtrack recording of Les Miserable, Robbie Robertson, Holly Cole Temptation (singing Tom Waits,) Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer, and Obsession – New Flamenco Romance Collection.

I always take much more music that I will need for actual time of the drive there and back because I cannot tell what mood I will be at any given moment. (It is like traveling in the spring from one side of the state of the other. You need to be ready for all weather and be able to change fast.) The radio is only for the news, if I can find a public radio station. I have no patience with being shouted at, sold to or otherwise assaulted as I drive.

I prefer to be touched and moved all the way to my soul when I drive. It may be the joyous melodies and lyrics of Handle’s The Messiah (you can listen to that any time of year especially if you are way out on the open road) or it can be the more contemplative passages of the soundtrack of Schindler’s List. And even the apparently simple songs of the Trio Ladies (Emmy Lou, Linda and Dolly) or Nanci Griffith can seep into your heart and memories and dreams.

What is it about music that is so evocative of memory, emotion, sensation and even dreaming? If I need a good cry I listen to Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March I, when I want to sing along to stories of love lost and found and lost again I often choose Lucinda Williams or Mary Chapin Carpenter. (We also share a range and I can hear the words.) When I want to puzzle out the meaning I listen to tenors singing in Italian (usually). The music moves me, I warble the vowels and swear I’ll look up the words when I get home.

Human Beings have always created some kind of musical storytelling venue. It is easier to remember stories and information if it is attached to melody. How many children learned their times-tables in the singsong style? How many of us can sing the songs of our childhood and recite skipping games with only the opening 3 beats of the rhythm and a note to set us off?

Many senior citizens with dementia will light up and with no apparent effort sing an entire song, the words and the melody, with clearly some emotional recall. The music itself carries the emotional quality that leads us into the story of the song regardless of the words and language.

I remember my Australian/American daughter when she was about four sitting in the car-seat in the backseat while Pavarotti was bellowing out Nessun Dorma, in Italian of course. As the song ended she popped her fingers out of her mouth and told me with a great deal of emotion, ‘That man was so sad Mummy. I hope it turns out alright.’

Of course even if all the above is true in general, music is a very personal thing. What different people require at different stages of the journey can vary enormously. Perhaps it is best to drive alone, or with the radio, which we can blame for being inadequate as opposed to condemning somebody’s ridiculous taste. Final resort (and I have seen this) everyone has their personal Ipod ear pieces stuck in their ears.

Ah, but then how would we expand our relationships and musical horizons? As a mother we would miss the experience of a 12 year daughter ordering us not to sing, or at the very least to learn the words. (Is this the same person who 9 years earlier knew exactly what Nessun Dorma was about?) We would not listen for the first time to Bright Eyes (When the President Talks to God) as ordered by the same daughter and think ‘What on earth?’ Then, when we got home, pass his songs to others our own generation who didn’t have a 15 year old who insisted you listen to HER music when we drive. We would never meet Etta James and then collect as much of her stuff as we could, falling in love with the Love’s Been Rough On Me album. In short it would be a silent and very thin kind of life.

It is a very true measure of the reliable and happy traveling team when two of you can, about 75% of the time, listen to the same music, not cringe when other forgets themselves and bursts into song, and forgive the occasional lapse in lyrics.

I hope for the same in my non-driving life. We all do. We want that someone with whom we can share the music of ourselves without embarrassment, try out new things, re-hash the old favorites, give in to the tears and laughter, and join with in spontaneous outbursts of song. Listen to music when you drive, share it out loud, and let your passengers bring theirs along as well. It is worth it.

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