Music makes me happy.   It simply just does.   And, the thing is, I think it makes pretty much everybody else happy too.  Not only that, but I think that, if you stop and think about it, every life has a soundtrack:  music that was playing in the background during pivotal times in your life, songs that, when you hear them now, make you excited and happy and gooey inside because they whisper something of the past.   I can’t remember the last time I actually purchased a CD because I have been burning my favorite songs for nearly a decade now instead.  I love my iPhone for lots of reasons but, one of the main ones, is because it’s a portable CD player:  my music is never far from me.  Whenever I go on trips, I burn a new CD.  I love doing it, and I love singing along to them for the entire duration of the trip.  It makes me happy.  I’ve also discovered that there are a few “staples,”  a few songs that show up every time I have the opportunity to hear them.  I never turn them down.  In a nutshell, they help me hold on to pieces of my life.  In case one of my worst nightmares ever comes true (which, given my luck, is rather likely), and I get Alzheimers’, I would like to remember these songs so I have listed them below, even though I realize I recently wrote another  article on music fairly recently.   So, here they are.

  • The Song Remembers When – Trisha Yearwood

This song just does something for my heart.  When it first came out, I was mesmorized by the intimate and beautiful video.  I was a teenager, and I was sad.  I was not a happy camper.  To top it off, people were beginning to comment on my undeniable sentimental side—I didn’t like throwing things away,  I never forgot anything, etc.  Somehow, this song made me believe that it was okay to be me—even if I remembered things for no reason,  even if I imagined and relived precious memories a hundred times.  It was okay to indulge a little bit of sentimentality.  Furthermore,  it was so true.  It made me think of GA, and my fondness for that state.  It made me think of people I’d loved, but had to leave.  It made me wistful.  And it melted my heart.  Currently, it is on my phone and two of my car CDs.  Time hasn’t changed the trueness of its message, or the effect it has on me.  I simply never tire of it.


  • Gathering Flowers

This was my great-grandmother’s favorite song.  And my great-grandmother, Mama O, was one of my all-time favorite people.  She hadn’t been dead too long when my mother taught me this song one night.   All I heard was  that Mama O liked it, and that was it, I was sold.  I memorized it and sang it when I was really sad, or alone.  Then, for a recent birthday,  I looked it up on iTunes and, lo and behold, Blood Oranges sang the version that was closest to what I had learned.  I cried for joy that day.  Whenever I listen to it now, I think of my great-grandmother and how she’d let me sit with her in her garden, or that she waved to me from her rickey porch, or that her home smelled a little funny.  She’s been gone since I was six years old—that’s a long time, folks—but this song helps me stay close to her.

  • Achy Breaky Heart

When this came out, my family was in Florida.  Again, I was a teenager and Billy Ray had just exploded on the country music scene.  Country music was my passion.  I loved it like I loved writing.  I knew every song on the radio.  I called and talked to radio DJs.  I slept out on hard concrete and then ran as if my life depended on it every year to stand in line to get autographs at Fan Fair (CMA Fest now).   The song came out, and it was just so catchy, and I loved the dancing part to it.  I was caught up, however briefly, in the Cyrus craze.  We were isolated, we were alone.  Not one single other member of our family lives anywhere near Florida.  My father was off, and on, again.  He’d run, he’d come back.  We never knew if he was going to be home when we woke up.  For all we knew, he was in Vegas or somewhere crazy like that.   Music gave me an escape.  And, one bright sunny day, my mom, sister and I walked to the grocery store.  And, as we walked, we sang “Achy Breaky Heart.”   As the previous song, “The Song Remember When” says, “the moment seemed to freeze.”  For a moment, we were happy.  All three of us.  For a moment, we were silly,  singing a silly song.  So now, whenever I hear it, I smile.  It’s a totally ridiculous song and, given today’s culture, the dancing isn’t really all that impressive.  But that’s not the point.  The point is…. I remember being happy as my mom, sister and I sang it.  Moments of happiness are like snapshots of hope, of what life and family is supposed to be like and, in all their details, they are worth remembering.

  • Amazed by Lonestar

Love.  It was just a beautiful season.  And it so totally encapsulated everything I felt while I was up there with my head in the clouds.   It was a special song, and I loved it.  For a long time, I wasn’t able to hear it, because I couldn’t listen to it without crying.  Eventually, though, the memories it bought turned sweet again and I’d turn the radio on up.  It makes me believe in romance, and in happily ever afters.  Besides that, it simply is a beautifully written song.


  • Independence Day by Martina McBride

I was a pre-teen when this came out, and my bones chilled.   The phrase,  “Talk about your Revolution, it’s Independence Day” made my blood run cold.  It was a terribly sad song—-and yet I felt the pain in it,  I felt the desperation, I understood the mother.  And I cried.  It was the first time that I’d ever thought of writing a book about domestic violence (I wasn’t able to actually pull that off until this last novel but that’s another story).  Every time I hear it, I see the video, and remember how awed I was by her voice and by the story.  It was the first time I’d ever heard out loud someone talk about abuse in any format, and it reverberated with me deeply.

  • Roll On by Alabama

My mother loved this group.  They pretty much make up the soundtrack to my childhood.  We attended the June Jams, we chased Owen back home from a Taco Bell in Fort Payne, Alabama;  we knew every song they sang.  The three of us, we each had a favorite member of the group.  I liked Teddy because he seemed nice and quiet.  Mandi liked Mark because he was wild, and a drummer at that.  Mama liked Randy.  While we knew all their songs, Roll On fit our lives the closest.  It’s about a trucker and his misfortune on a run–how the family waited for him, until he finally called to assure them of his safety.  We waited on my dad too.  The phone ringing was important to us too.  And while it was for different reasons, and I didn’t understand it at the time, it struck a nerve in me.  But, their songs do more than that to me.  I remember dancing around the house.  I remember seeing Mama happy as she sang along.  Music can do that to people–lift them up and take them away from reality for three or four minutes. Alabama did that for my mom and, as a consequence, for my sister and I.  The funny thing is, now, I find myself including a few of their songs on my own CDs probably for the same reason, even though, as a kid I never could imagine saying that.  It was a staple, their music, in my life.  And, for all the joy they brought to my mother,  I am grateful it was so.

  • Breathe by Faith Hill.

I was pregnant, newly so, and driving down a backroad home when this song came on the radio.   While the song is beautiful, what arrested my thought processes was the word “breathe” as a title.   I’d been trying all day to come up with names.  Storeigh, Behold, Academi, the list went on and on.  But the moment the DJ announced the song “Breathe,”  I knew it was perfect.  I got very excited and a tiny flutter flittered in my heart.  Everyone else thought I was crazy, but I knew that that word , Breathe, was my daughter’s name.  Not because it was unusual, but because it meant life and because it would help remind her to slow down, to take time to breathe in and out—that happiness wasn’t dependent upon how many things she would ever check off a to-do list.  I wanted her to know that she was special,  I wanted her to remember that breathing means life and that, as long as she  was breathing,  hope existed.  The funny thing is—the moment she was born, I knew it fit her.  And she’s loved her name ever since.  She says proudly,  “I’m unique,” and indeed she is.  A lot of thought and prayer went into choosing Breathe’s name, but I’m not sure I would have thought of it without hearing the song first.  For that reason, every time I hear it, I think of my sweet oldest daughter and smile.

  • Delta Dawn by Tanya Tucker

It isn’t really my favorite song by her,  but Tanya has been to my life what Alabama was to my mom’s.  Tanya has been a constant source of hope and joy through music.  When I was in around the eighth grade, my mom gave me some headphones and told me that she wanted me to hear a song.  She said she thought I’d like the girl’s voice.  The song was “Delta Dawn” and I was hooked from the first chords.  From that day onward, I was a fan.  I listened to everything I could find of hers.  On the school bus, I would lean my head against the windowpane and whisper-sing  “Delta Dawn,”  “What’s Your Mama’s Name,  Child” and “Strong Enough to Bend” all the way home.  Tanya was funny, Tanya was gutsy, Tanya was loyal to family.  I liked her, and I liked her music.  It was as simple as that, at first.  Then her music became an escape.  Whenever I hear her, or see her on an interview,  I smile and I’m reminded of how much her music influenced my youth.  Whenever one of her songs come on, it feels like I’m taken home…. to a safe and comforting haven, one I know and to which I belong.

  • Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning) by Alan Jackson

I was waking up, getting ready to go to my college class, when I turned on the TV and saw the towers fall.  I called my sister and mother.  And then I stood in a three hour line and gave blood, shaken to my core.  I felt united, connected to millions of people  because, even if I didn’t know any of them personally, even if I didn’t currently live in New York, we all shared the same land.  The Statue of Liberty is precious to me.  The American Flag is too.  And the White House.  And the lives of people I don’t even know but who understand the symbolism of all these monuments and buildings and soil.   Jackon debuted the song on the awards show, and I cried.  I was in that song.  I’d given my blood.  I’d picked up the Bible.  I fell in love with Bush when he spoke, wrapping his arm around one of us and promising that we  were going to be okay. And pride feels my pores as I remember how we came together, sent firemen and policemen and all sorts of people to help, from every state.  I remember how we cleaned up and moved on.  Changed, but stronger, and united.   Now, every time I hear  Jackson’s song, I cry because I’m reminded of how vulnerable this land that I so richly love is and of the very high price we’ve paid to keep it protected.  And then…. after Alan Jackson’s song, I find myself smiling and thinking, “Man I’m glad this is my country” when I hear Toby Keith’s “I’m-done-crying-and-I’m-ready-to-face-this-fear-in-the-face” “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” song.


There are other songs, ones that take me back to a specific memory, or person.  There’s a U2 song that I’ll forever know,  there’s one that makes me think of a specific child I mentored, there’s the one that I sang for two months straight, unable to get it out of my head.  There’s the one about the little concrete angel and the one about the uncivil war.  There are songs that I cannot hear without crying, like Patty Loveless’s “How Can I Help You Say Goodbye” or  Garth’s “The Dance.”  My sister loved Strait’s “Check Yes or No” and we had to buy his entire boxed set because it was the only place that song was available for purchase.  “The Wind Beneath My Wings,” and the entire soundtrack to “Dirty Dancing.”   Music that has stapled my life,  been the cushion I’ve fallen back on in times of need, and a never-ending source of comfort.


The song remembers where I was, and what I was feeling, remembers people I loved.  The song remembers when I was happy, and when I was sad.  The song reminds me of where I’ve been, and of how far I’ve come.  And, for all that, my heart beats out a song of appreciation and wonder.  It makes me want to sing, “Bye-bye, Miss American Pie,” because I know that, when I do, I’ll feel connected to hundreds of others.  It makes me sad Michael Jackson is dead, even though I never really cared for his music.  It makes me want to dance, and it  gives me hope.  In short…. thank God that the song remembers when.