The Songs We Grew Up On…
This week, I met up with my friend, Moses, who is an extraordinary facilitator. I was thinking about what to do with the staff at my new school as I only have 30 minutes with them and I know so little about them, the school and the board I am joining. I want it to be meaningful and I want it to be the first step towards our together in the coming years as we learn and grow in service of the students and families at the school. We sat down at an Aroma near work and I told him what I was thinking, considering, worrying about and hoping to achieve. He had also done some thinking.
He reached into his bag and handed me a book called, Adult-ish, which is meant for kids going off to university but has all of these great prompts in it to create a space of inclusion. He had three more books for me too. A picture book called Oh No! about a Japanese girl who creates a robot that tries to destroy her whole world, a third book that he got for himself and a copy for me at a conference he recently attended called, Culturally Responsive Teaching & the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students and finally handed me another picture book called, Something Extraordinary.
Now what you have to know about Moses, if you don’t already know who he is, is that he is a very thoughtful and reflective individual. He is brilliant and kind and good in every way one can be so the fact that he handed me those books, in that order, was absolutely purposeful. The first one was because it would focus on the meeting which was front of mind for me and he wanted to say other things so once that was out of the way, I could hear his messages differently. The second book was because he had told me about it and the conference and we both love Brain Science and how it impacts absolutely everything in learning and education. The third book is because he knew that I am the kind of principal who has books in my office for kids…all kids…and that this one, might just be the one that will resonate with one of the students at my school. The last one…well that is the one that made me cry because that one was about what he really wanted to say to me. That one was about what he has learned about me and the journey I have been on, particularly the challenges of the last few years, and the need to do something meaningful, even, dare I say, extraordinary. That one is about how he sees me and how I have to see myself again after several years of not quite being in the right place and for me, now that place is with children, in a school.
Moses is incredibly generous. With his mind, his time and with gifts apparently. As he continued to pull the books out of his bag I started to think about that advertisement from the 80s that was on television for Ginsu knives…not just this but you also get…(see the video below if you don’t know it or remember it).
Anyway, back to the staff meeting…
So we were flipping through the first book and one of the prompts was “What was the first music you ever bought?” Now the interesting thing about this is that it can be understood so differently. If you are of the generation that this book was written for, it might mean that you downloaded it from iTunes. For my generation it would mean your first LP, or perhaps cassette tape. We started talking about that and the songs or albums we would have bought.
My first albums were bought for me by my father I assume. They were the Travellers (my grandmother once got a speeding ticket because I was singing while she was driving and told the officer it was because her granddaughter sings so beautifully and he let her go), Perry Como (I loved the song, Sing a Song was one of my favourites when I was little, The Carpenters (I loved I’m on top of the world, looking down on creation) the soundtrack to Free to Be You and Me (what self respecting 70s child didn’t have that one on their hit list?) and the soundtrack to the movie Grease (a movie that I saw 44 times in the theatre with my friends). These were my staples. My parents listened to the Beatles (didn’t everyone?) and Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff (they travelled to Jamaica frequently and still do to this day). There was a little Neil Diamond thrown in there too, particularly The Jazz Singer (my dad would say that nobody sings Kol Nidre like Neil).
In sixth grade I had a disco party (don’t judge…it was 1979) and I got the BeeGees album (major crush on Barry Gibb and Andy Gibb…I had his solo album). At that party I also got my first rock albums because I had some pretty cool guy friends growing up. I got The Who, Who Are You, Led Zeppelin IV (who didn’t dream of dancing with their crush to Stairway to Heaven?), and Bruce Springsteen Born to Run. I would spend hours looking at the cover art and reading the liner notes of those LPs until I knew every lyric of every song.
My sister, Carolyn, played piano so I was influenced by her in many ways. She loved to play Billy Joel and Elton John and would often call on me to sing while she played so beautifully. Her favourite was when I would sing Benny and the Jets but I would confuse the words and called it Jenny and the Bets. It always made her giggle and she never corrected me. By the time I figured out what I was doing (by the way when I wrote her name I spelled it Care-lo-yn…maybe some undiagnosed dyslexia) I kept saying the lyrics wrong because I love her laugh.
My next big influence was my older brother, Michael. And this is likely when I began buying my own music but he also used to make me mixed tapes so I am not 100% sure. There was David Bowie, the English Beat, The Jam, Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, Kate Bush, Yazoo (this album I listened to on repeat on my walkman to avoid the bullying in grade 8 when the girls would call me punk and had no idea what I was listening to, but they knew it wasn’t Michael Jackson or Madonna.
After that, it took on a life of it’s own. I was influenced by friends at camp — more Springsteen, more and more and more David Bowie, Phil Collins, Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Thompson Twins (don’t laugh…Frankie and I can sing a mean Doctor! Doctor!), Pink Floyd (I knew every lyric, every drum beat, every guitar riff on every album), Neil Young, CSNY, The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Jethro Tull, John Lennon (over and over and over again) Dire Straits, Eric Clapton, Steely Dan, The Doors, Jackson Browne, Simon and Garfunkel, Prince, Queen, Sinead O’Conner, Tom Petty…The list is endless but this is my list of the earliest bands, music, and musicians that influenced me as a young Adult-ish — all before I hit 20 years old.
It wasn’t that a new phase entered and the other music went away. All of it is still what I listen to and continues to bring up memories, emotions, friendships, connection. I really believe that music tells the story of who we are — who has been most influential in our lives, where we have been, who are our dearest friends and most valued memories and how we change and grow.
Now, you would see influence from my friend, Mark Strong (my playlist is filled with Hip Hop and R&B) and my teenage kids — blues, jazz, soul, Indie and R&B from Rachel and Hip Hop from Max. Until yesterday…yesterday we were driving together and that is when my very quiet and reflective son tells me what has been on his mind. I try so hard to get him in the car, alone with me because each time I learn something new. Yesterday was such a day. He plugs in his iPhone and out of blue comes the song, Country Road, Take Me Home by John Denver and he is singing it…every word. Not just that song but the whole greatest hits album and he loves it. He knows it. And I never knew. I also had completely forgotten that it was one of my all time favourite songs as a child…that and Rhinestone Cowboy by Glen Campbell! It brought me right back to those long road trips in the station wagon with my dad driving trying to keep all five kids quiet while my mother slept through it all finally, having a moment where she wasn’t taking care of us because even though it was the 70s and it wasn’t required yet, we all wore seatbelts and were strapped in tight. My dad had seen too many traumatic injuries working in the emergency at Sick Kids Hospital. I remember listening to the songs and entertaining (possibly annoying but I was entertained so who cares) everyone.
So this is the thing, if I can even get a fraction of this from that one question that was prompted by my thoughtful and brilliant friend and colleague, Moses Velasco, then I think my 30 minutes at the staff meeting will be great!
Love you Moses! Thanks for sparking my trip down memory lane. I needed it!