Pick five time periods, ages, or moments from your life—they can be spread out or all clustered together. Don’t think too hard about your choices, just write down the first one that comes to mind and move to the next. Next pick a song to pair with each moment. Again, try not to think too hard. Let it be a gut thing. Now write a quick and dirty paragraph about each one. Then take the one that feels most interesting to you and expand it.
- “Material Girl” – Madonna (age 5). We are cruising in the station wagon, windows down. Coming from church, it’s spring. It might even be Easter, and I’m squeezed into black patent leather shoes and opaque white tights. We were stopping at the red caboose to get ice cream, pink bubble gum ice cream for me. The radio ricocheted Casey Kesam’s Top 40. Madonna was next up on the Billboard chart and I sing the bell, “Living in a Cheerio world – Cheerio! Living in a Cheerio world! And I’m a Cheerio girl!” And the next moment of memory is clear as the day, when my older brothers roll out of their seats laughing and correct me. “It’s material girl, not cheerio girl, Meaghan!!!”
- “I Wanna Sex You Up” – Color Me Badd (age 8). We rarely drove to the big city of St. Louis, just west across the river valley. Maybe only a few times a year. So it was always thrilling to be piled in a big yellow school bus as a grade schooler, off to the city for the annual symphony matinee and running through the shops at the old train depot Union Station. I had $6 in my blue nylon purse. I was sporting a new Fido Dido t-shirt, Keds and doubled up neon socks. And there it was, on a stand in Camelot Music. I had heard the song on the radio – “I Wanna Sex You Up” and knew it was bad, like so bad it was good. “I wanna touch you in all the right places baby.” I mean, that sounds good, right? With the money burning a hole in my pocket, I grabbed the single cassette – a black and white graphic design just screaming censored content inside! – and paid and ran out. On the bus home, we took turns listening in my headphones. The tape was hot after an hour on repeat. I effectively hid that cassette for two weeks until my mom confiscated it. But I got it back, you bet I did.
- “Island in the Sun” – Weezer (age 21). Drunk in a state park in the panhandle of Oklahoma. A secret rendezvous. Splashing in the river. Beers in a koozie. Bikini top and cut off jeanshorts. The angle of the sun leaning into the golden hour. “We’ll run away together. We’ll spend some time forever…” The last summer of love between us – he and I destined for a meteoric flash of light and heat hurtling through the dark sky, disintegrating into oblivion. But for now, “on an island in the sun we’ll be playing and having fun.”
- “Lovin’ In My Baby’s Eyes” – Taj Mahal (age 31). The simple strum of the guitar, blues harmonica, soulful tones. We step step spin, step step dip. All while we’re enveloped in a circle of love, family and friends from every chapter of our storybooks looking on, emanating warmth towards us. I was the one who didn’t want to get married. Complained about how it’s a fake institution created to transfer wealth and property, including women. And it’s made of a church I didn’t trust and in the suggestion of a god I didn’t believe in. I didn’t need a ring or certificate to show my commitment. So why was I standing here with my new husband in a white dress with flowers tucked in my hair? “Give me that magic in my baby’s eyes.”
- “Paper Doll” – The Mills Brothers (age 36). “He’s gone,” she said. “Now no one knows my story.” I stood in the dimly lit hallway, that cold December afternoon, trying to navigate these new waters, a role reversal in giving comfort to a grieving parent. My grandpa Pop waited until after Christmas to die, he gifted us that one last holiday together. He had been telling us for years now that he was ready to be back with my grandma GG, his Doll Babe. A twinkle in his blind eyes still when he talked about her. I could write every day for the rest of my life, and I still couldn’t write enough words to describe how much my grandpa and grandma loved each other. In most of my childhood memories of time after school each day at their house, Pop would whistle to the big bands, their harmonies and horns, in his work jeans and white tank top, dusty from a day of laying brick. And when GG walked into the room, he would sing about her “Flirty flirty eyes.” They were blue. And how he would count her freckles to pass the time, but really, just to have an excuse to look at and love her.