Another Shuffle for Holt
Because that playlist just has too many great tunes not to go for another round.
1. "American Tune" / Paul Simon (1973)
"I don't know a soul who's not been battered / I don't have a friend who feels at ease / Don't know a dream that's not been shattered / Or driven to its knees" -- yep, that's life, and Paul Simon's never been afraid of facing that down. My brother the minister got that, too. Best part of this song -- where he dreams that he's dying, and he flies, freed from his mortal bonds, over the Statue of Liberty. The song breaks free of its gentle melodic patterns (stolen from Bach, I feel compelled to note) and soars into another realm of consciousness.
2. "The Weight" / The Band (1968)
Surely I'm not the only one who finds something Christlike about the singer of this song, wandering into town to "take a load off Fanny / And put the load right on me." And after meeting all the characters in town, he takes his wistful fare-thee-well -- "My bag is sinking low and I do believe it's time." Holt had this album, Music From Big Pink, though it took me years to figure out why these guys were worth listening to. They may have been a Canadian band, but they took their cue from Appalachian folk music, and from thence all the great Scots-Irish folk songs, in which the spectre of death is ever-present.
3. "Drive South" / John Hiatt (1988)
I've bragged here about how I knew Johnny Hiatt, growing up in Indianapolis, but my brother knew him better than I did, and was just as astonished as I was when we discovered he'd become not just a rock star but a genuine artist. I took Holt to see JH for his birthday a few years go, and he saw him a few more times after that. So you know there had to be at least one Hiatt tune on the playlist. I love this one for three reasons: 1) It's about driving, and Holt loved driving (Indy, natch); 2) It's a sexy seduction song ("Don't bother to pack your nylons / Just keep those pretty legs showing / It gets hot down where we're going") and my brother, he loved the ladies; and 3) "drive south" may be a metaphor for going to hell. My brother worked a powerful lot of good in his life, but he was no saint, and who knows how tough the grading system is at the pearly gates? But if he's headed to hell, then hell's a reasonable option for us all.
4. "The Cape" / Guy Clark (1995)
The first time I heard Guy Clark sing this song, all I could think of was my brother, and how much he loved to dress up in costumes as a kid. And yes, like the hero of this song, even when he was old and grey, people still thought he acted like a kid. But as Guy puts it, "he's one of those who knows / That life is just a leap of faith / Spread your arms and hold your breath / And always trust your cape." Brilliant song that never fails to bring a lump to my throat.
5. "Don't Forget Me" / Marshall Crenshaw (1995)
Here's a two-fer: Marshall Crenshaw AND Harry Nilsson, who wrote this tender wry song. I don't know if Holt shared my Nilsson obsession, but I know he loved Nilsson's oddball animated movie The Point when it first came out; in hospice, Holt smiled when I played him my Nilsson playlist. Although this is basically a song to an ex-wife, we can extrapolate the sentiments to any loves from the past. Even the spookily apposite verse three: "And when we're older / Full of cancer / It doesn't matter now / Come on, get happy / Cause nothing lasts forever / But I will always love you." Amen.
6. "Miles From Nowhere" / Cat Stevens (1970)
Tea for the Tillerman was an inescapable album that year, full of folky riffs and mordant black humor. Perfect soundtrack for Harold and Maude, a movie Holt loved for its warped fascination with death. Many songs on this album are about fathers and sons (I watched that battle from a front row seat) and taking journeys. But the line that really resonates here? "Lord my body has been a good friend / I won't need it when I reach the end." And so we told Holt in the hospice -- time to turn in the loaner car, it's reached the end of its usefulness.
7. "Losing My Religion" / R.E.M. (1991)
For a Methodist minister, having "Losing My Religion" as your ringtone was a pretty gutsy move, doncha think?
8. "Don't Forget About Me" / John Mellencamp (2010)
Our other homegrown Indiana talent, Johnny Cougar nee Mellencamp always held a special place in our hearts. From his stellar back-to-basics album No Better Than This, another ex-wife song that can, if you squinch your eyes just so, be re-interpreted to apply to an old beloved friend who's moved to another plane of being.
9. "Over the Rainbow / Wonderful World" / Israel Kamakawiwo Ole (1993)
One song we all agreed had to be played at Holt's memorial. Because, no matter how often it's played, this lilting ukelele rendition of the old standards transforms them into something new and hopeful and uplifting.
10. "Warmth of the Sun" / The Beach Boys (1964)
It was Holt, not me, who owned all our Beach Boys albums. (Note that possessive "our," because I listened to them just as avidly as he did.) In the face of the British Invasion, he never gave up on their American counterparts. In 1966, our family took a cross-country train trip to California that gave us our one taste of golden SoCal surf summer, before the Monkees and the Summer of Love happened. In my mind, this glorious Beach Boys ballad sums it all up -- how we keep the warmth of the sun inside us, to survive grief and loss. Interesting to note that Brian Wilson and Mike Love began to write this song on November 22, 1963, but didn't finish it until the tragic events of that day -- the Kennedy assassination, for those of you too young to have been permanently scarred by this event -- had happened. So the elegiac tone of this song was no accident. Those exquisite chord changes, the vocal counterpoints, and above all Brian's heart-melting falsetto -- they make me weep, make me smile, make my heart swell in my chest. Magic.
Cleaning out my brother's apartment, I found his iPod and put it in the dock to play on shuffle while I folded clothes and emptied drawers. How lovely it was to hear his own curated inventory of music! It was as if he were in the room with me. Expect to hear more from that source....