Saturday, September 21, 2019

Stardust, Willie, & A Newborn Babe: The Physical Pull of Music

The Ken Burns' series "Country Music" led me to pull out an album I hadn't listened to in over 35 years. Willie Nelson's Stardust was hugely popular in the late 1970s and early 80s. Of course, it's the least "country music" album in the world, though it won all kinds of country music awards in its day. All of the songs are Great American Songbook standards - September Song, Sunny Side Of The Street, Blue Skies, Georgia On My Mind, and, yes, Stardust, among others. 

And these few precious days 
I'll spend with you 
These precious days 
I'll spend with you 

The beauty of the album, besides the fabulous songs themselves, is the gentle acoustic treatment. Nothing loud or brassy. Just guitar, keyboard, harmonica, gentle percussion for rhythm. Willie's voice is the main country element; the rest is light jazz, pop, folk. 

Evening summer breeze 
Warbling of a meadowlark 
Moonlight in Vermont 

So. This gentle album, with songs by the likes Hoagy Carmichael, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Dorothy Fields, and Kurt Weill, brought back memories of a very specific time in my life. And it's all about love, but not the romantic kind. It's about dancing away the wee hours of the morning with my tiny baby girl on my shoulder. 

Missed the Saturday dance 
Hear they crowded the floor 
Couldn't bear it without you 
Don't get around much anymore 

Like most newborns, my Baby Kate got hungry in the middle of the night and then took some time to get back to sleep. So I'd put Willie Nelson's Stardust on the stereo, and with her slung over my shoulder, I'd keep time patting her back and we'd dance: 

Sometimes I wonder 
Why I spend the lonely nights 
Dreaming of a song 
The melody 
Haunts my reverie 

Maybe just a gentle waltz. Maybe a little quick step. 

Grab your coat and get your hat 
Leave your worry on the doorstep 
Just direct your feet 
To the sunny side of the street 

Even as new and tiny as she was and as sure as I was that she'd gone back to sleep, Kate's little head would bobble around between the songs and she'd look up to me as if to say, "When's the next song coming on?" And then we'd just keep dancing the night away. Swaying back and forth to the brilliant music.

Other arms reach out to me 
Other eyes smile tenderly 
Still in peaceful dreams I see 
The road leads back to you 

Playing this particular collection of songs again sent me straight back to being a new mother. Every wonderful song reminded me of those first uncertain nights of wondering if I was doing everything - anything - right. Wondering if she'd ever go to sleep for more than a few minutes at a time. 

I'm a little lamb who's lost in the wood 
I know I could, always be good 
To one who'll watch over me 

Every song, every arrangement is just perfect. Soothing, beautiful, memorable. I swear I could almost feel my milk let down! That's the power of music. It's physical. It's emotional. It reaches places inside you that you'd forgotten were there. Example? In my first trimester, plagued by morning sickness, I used to play a cassette of Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld (don't ask!) in the car. Even 36 years later whenever I hear the "Can-Can" song, I get nauseous. That's the physical power of music. 

I need your love 
I need your love 
God speed your love to me 

I wonder if grown-up Kate knows Willie Nelson's Stardust album? I wonder if she heard those particular songs today she'd feel a weird little pang that she can't put her finger on? Probably not. But it's a damn fine album and perfect for soothing a newborn babe and dancing the night away. Give it a listen sometime.

Blue skies 
Smiling at me 
Nothing but blue skies 
Do I see