10 Songs That Saved My Life

The title may seem hyperbolic. Did these songs literally stop me from going off the deep end? Maybe. Maybe not. Who knows. It doesn’t matter.

What matters is how these songs intersected my story in a timely fashion and deposited a word of truth into my heart that could not have otherwise found its way in without the Keyholder of Music unlocking that dark place.

These ten saved my life by adding and contributing, not preventing or suppressing. They addressed the negative script I was following by singing to me a lyric of recompense.

Recompense means to ​​make amends to someone for loss or harm suffered.

And here I am, these many years later, still telling the story

I will always be indebted to the beauty of music and the role she plays in my story.

There are numerous other songs that I could write about for days. But these reveal my starting point for telling the story.

Little Room by White Stripes – 2001

Well, you're in your little room 
And you're working on something good

In 2001, I met a guy on an airplane. He was lost in himself and the huge tuna can headphones that emitted muffled sounds of music that felt of a punk persuasion. I’m not much for talking while flying but he took his headphones off before we taxied toward the runway. I asked him what he was listening to. He said the new White Stripes album. He looked at me incredulously when I said I wasn’t familiar with their music. In what felt like disgust, he said, “Well you should be.”

Thankfully that was the extent of our conversation. He disappeared back into his aural cave.

Upon returning home, I went to Barnes and Noble, (which is what you did back then) to look up the White Stripes. They had it on their listening station (remember those?) and I decided to buy the CD (I don’t even own a CD player anymore.)

On the disc was this little 0:50-second song titled, Little Room. It became an immediate anthem.

I was in a place of transition in my career. I was contemplating making a change, and I was working on ideas about what that change should look like. I was literally in my own little room, my basement kitchen and recording studio, working on something good. It was the start of what would eventually become bread&cup, Jack&June and Piedmont Bistro.

But eventually everything crumbled. I wondered why I was in the bigger room? 

Today, twenty one years later, I’m back in that same little room, working on something good. It’s called The Portico Experience and 55Degrees.US

City of Hope by Journey – 2011

There's a city of hope beyond our fears 
Where miracles happen, where truth can be heard

In early 2017, the proverbial shit was hitting the fan in every way possible; business collapse, personal life crisis, marriage crumbling, spiritual doubt, financial uncertainty. It was the worst pressure I had ever experienced.

I credit the two guys at Spotify for this one. They pushed it to me in their Discover Weekly suggestion. I was at the gym, trying to do something that resembled exercise, hoping it would distract me for a brief moment.  Then this song came up in the queue.

I cut my teeth on Journey’s music, even before Journey was Journey. I loved their progressive rock fusion sound of the 1977 release titled Next. This was pre-Steve Perry’ evocative vocals, when all the ladies would fall for their sound.

I hit replay over and over again that morning.

The message of the song is made even more prescient by knowing the story of Arnel Pineda. He went from being homeless on the streets of Manila, to fronting one of the most influential rock bands of the world in 2007. This song is his biography.

It helped me redirect my course to The City of Hope that day.

Spies by Coldplay – 2000

I awake to find no peace of mind 
I said how do you live 
As a fugitive? 
Down here, where I cannot see so clear

This song began with one meaning for me, but over time, that meaning changed. All because of noticing one word in the final lyric.

The word Just.

Sometimes I glum onto a song because it allows me to feel the emotions more deeply.  And  I realize that last sentence makes no sense to many of you, but this is the plight of an introverted, introspective, Type 4 feeler. Sometimes it appears we breathe different air.

The song is moody. In fact, the whole Parachutes album is moody, which is why I return to it over again.  I would listen to it in the dark, some nights by the light of the summer moon. But one night, an apocalypse occurred. My eyes were unveiled, and this song took on a new life of its own. I heard Chris Martin singing, They’re ALL spies throughout the entire song, then he concluded it with,

They’re JUST spies

LIke a flash of lighting can turn the night sky to immediate, momentary daylight, that’s what happened to this song. I have nothing to worry about, nothing to fear, because everything out there that consumes my concern is just an impotent spy.

Up To The Roof by BlueManGroup – 2004

Tried to go the way you told me
But each time I got lost 
The stairs didn't lead me anywhere

I credit BlueManGroup for one of existential reasons I took the leap toward opening bread&cup.  I saw their live performance in Las Vegas Luxor Theater in 2001 and it moved me in such a way, I had to sit in my chair until the auditorium was empty and I was asked to leave. I kept asking myself, “what did I just witness?” This is the role of art. It doesn’t answer questions. It provokes them. 

And I was duly provoked.

Three years later, they released an album with lyrics. Since The BlueManGroup schtick is mime, guest artists were engaged to sing.  Tracy Bonham lent her talent to this song.

The years of 2000-2005 were very critical for my transition away from The Church As We Know It and into an expression of faith that made more sense to me. I was paid to have faith. I knew I needed to depart from that mooring and set sail into open waters.  I describe this time as a moment of leaving the church to find my faith again.

Anytime I tell this story, I always feel compelled to explain my motive because it can sound like I am blaming my church heritage as the reason for my midlife angst. And that is not the case. I blame no one. I’m looking ahead. I’m conserving the better future, not my previously explored past.  The dreams and visions that I was holding needed new territory to be unleashed. And when I came to the realization that I had permission to do that, my faith took on new meaning. So I left the confines of The Church As I Knew It and went out surveying for more.

Portrait by Kansas – 1977 / 2019

He had a thousand ideas, 
You might have heard his name 
He lived alone with his vision 
Not looking for fortune or fame

I’m a few days into my reality as a widower. And true to fashion, I’m searching for music that can help me map this territory.  And it took a 1977 song from my high school days to germinate into full bloom in November 2019.

The song is about a mythical man, searching for something otherworldly. He was nonplussed by the cares of others around him. He was consumed by the many ideas in his heart. And…

He lived alone.

This was the first time in my life to ever occupy a living space completely by myself.  I grew up in a rural area and didn’t have any friends around, but there was always someone at home at night and the next morning.  In college and grad school, I always had a roommate, and my last roommate lasted 30 years. Now I’m all alone.

I am entering a season where I get to pay attention to those ideas, dreams and vision. They would not be dependent on anyone other than me for now.

This song became a daily hymn. And since I lived alone, I could crank it to 11 day or night. Good thing Hank loves to rock.

I AM by Joseph Arthur – 2004

To find out what you really are 
You must wake up from this long night

This is a song I wish I could have written, because it expresses so accurately what I feel about living a life of faith. I just didn’t have the words like JA did.

Faith is being sure of what I hope for, and certain of what I don’t see.  It’s my belief that the physical realm that I see is a temporary one. That which exists beyond the one I can currently see and feel, is the permanent reality I was created for.

Your world is in danger 
Because your world isn’t real. 
You see what is imagined, 
Dreaming of what you feel.

Holy Visitation by Charlie Hall – 2000

Sound the alarm 
Awaken the watchmen 
Open their ears 
Let their voices be loud

I have never heard the audible voice of God, but I have heard words in my spirit so clearly that their source is unmistakable.

One damp May night in 2000, I was listening to this song while lying in bed. The word in the song, awaken the watchman, was followed by a voice saying, You are the Watchman. Startled, I got out of bed, put some clothes on, and went for a walk in the night.

I walked through my neighborhood for about an hour around midnight that evening. I pondered this encounter. What does, “You are the Watchman” mean?

The short of it was this. “You are a man that watches out for others. But it’s not enough to watch. You must be capable of waking others up when it’s time to step into action.”

I’ve been holding this name for 22 years.

Heaven’s Gonna Burn Your Eyes by Thievery Corporation – 2002

Do you applaud fear 
Do you hold it near 
Are you afraid to live your life 
The way I perceive

Back in the good old days, before streaming, music had to be consumed via hard copy media, ie an LP, tape or CD. In 1979, I fondly remember driving to Tulsa to the Starship, a head shop on the north end of town, to buy a copy of Pink Floyd’s new double album, The Wall. There would be no sample clips or previews, nor could we listen to it when we got back in the car. I recall holding the album on the forty minute drive back to Robert’s house, where we got our first listen.

I’m no grumpy old man yearning for those days back, but I do miss the anticipation of new music. It required patience, something that is lost in this generation.

Before a road trip with friends, I implemented a practice called The Risk CD. The rules were simple. Everyone would go to a local music dealer and pick something out solely on appearance and gut feeling. Bring it in the car unopened, then we unwrap them one by one, and listen to each in its entirety until all selections are heard.

There were many losers and a few winners, but occasionally a gem like this one gets unearthed. The opening track is timeless for me. It always calls me back to square one of my faith.

Fake Plastic Trees by Radiohead – 1995

But I can't help the feeling 
I could blow through the ceiling 
If I just turn and run 
And it wears me out

I have The Warrior to thank for this one. He put together a mixtape for me of songs that reflected my current mood. And this spoke to the fatigue I was experiencing in propping up my status quo.

I yearn for authenticity in everything, and I wasn’t seeing a lot of it in my world of faith.  This track mourned the loss of what I was experiencing in my culture that settles for appearance over substance.

It resonated.

Snow Angels by Over The Rhine – 2006

Goodbye to this cruel wicked world 
And all the tears I've cried 
Snow angel, snow angel 
I'll meet you in the sky

This is a Christmas song, from my favorite Christmas record.  I love it because it’s a mix of hope and lament. It allows me to acknowledge pain during a season usually only relegated for celebration. 

It was there for me when my dad died and when some of my students passed through the years.  It accompanied me during the holidays of cancer, and now the last three Christmases of living alone.