the ask@AAR: What song is YOU?

Lately, Dr. Feelgood and I have been listening to a lot of music. I think it’s because he retired and we can’t TALK ALL THE TIME. When we want to jam, I go to Spotify and think of a song and scroll down to song radio. It is THE BOMB.

Yesterday, I put in the Commodores’ Easy. It’s a gorgeous, bittersweet song–Lionel’s voice floats and it’s so calm. The playlist that came up is killer–here are just a few of the entries. #BoomerHeaven

I’ll Take You There by The Staples Singers

I’ll Be Around by The Spinners

You Are Everything by The Stylistics

Too Hot by Kool and the Gang

What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye

Never Can Say Goodbye by The Jackson Five

Until You Come Back to Me by Aretha Franklin

Sara, Smile by Hall and Oates

And then, up came the song that is, as it has turned out, MY SONG: Zoom by the Commodores.

And, now, we’re going to go way back.

In the summer of 1977, I was 16 and had come off of a very rough winter and spring. My family, in the middle of tenth grade, had moved across the country. I left a place I loved–Marin, California (wild)–and was ensconced in a place I loathed which also loathed me–South Florida. The kids at my new school were sure I was weird–maybe even gay? I had come from SAN FRANCISCO!–and most were not nice. I was miserable and, using this as my rationale, talked my parents into letting me go back to California for the summer.

Our neighbor in California was on the Board of the San Francisco Boys Club, an organization that ran a summer camp for disadvantage boys up in Mendocino, California. In exchange for room and board and a pittance, I signed up to work in the camp’s office.

It was one of the most pivotal experiences of my life. For starters, there were only five women in the camp, the population was 90% black and overwhelmingly poor. My boss hated me–now I can see my privilege must have rankled but back then I just thought he was a jerk. There was, in my hazy recollection, no one over 30 and no one seemed in charge. It was California in the mid 70s–the air smelled constantly of weed, radios blared funk, disco, and soul, and my roommates all immediately found boyfriends.

Me too.

I picked the camp’s lifeguard, one of the few responsible adults there. I was 16, he was 21–this horrifies my kids to which I just say it was a different time. He was a gem of guy–I am so grateful Rick was my first love–really his only flaw was his deep love of Bread.

One day, in the office, a song I’d not heard before came on–a quiet song by the very famous Commodores. Their eponymous album had spawned two giant hits: Brick House and Easy. But Zoom was not released as a single in the US and I’d not heard it. I loved it. It was–and I’d never have used this word then–aspirational. A black man singing about freedom and his dreams for both himself and the world–it worked for me.

If you don’t know the lyrics, they are:

I may be just a foolish dreamer
But I don’t care
‘Cause I know my happiness is waiting out there somewhere
I’m searching for that silver lining
Horizons that I’ve never seen
Oh, I’d like to take just a moment and dream my dream
Ohhh, dream my dream

Oh, oh, Zoom
I’d like to fly far away from here
Where my mind, oh Lord, is fresh and clear
And I’d find the love that I long to see
Where everybody can be what they wanna be

Oh, I’d like the greet the sun each morning
And walk amongst the stars at night
I’d like to know the taste of honey in my life, in my life
Well, I’ve shared so many pains
And I’ve played so many games
Oh, but everyone finds the right way
Somehow, somewhere, someday

Oh, Zoom
I’d like to fly far away from here
Where my mind can be fresh and clear
And I’ll find the love that I long to see
People can be what they wanna be

Oh, oh, I wish the world were truly happy
Living as one
I wish the word they call freedom someday would come
Someday would come

Oh, Zoom
I’d like to fly far away from here
Where my mind can be fresh and clear
And I’d find the love that I long to see
Everybody can be what they wanna be
Hey hey, hey hey, hey baby

I came back to Florida late that August, broken-hearted at leaving Rick and that golden summer behind. WSHE, the radio station that blanketed South Florida, had Hotel California on repeat, and, when I did hear The Commodores, it was never Zoom.

In 1979, I went to college. It was the era of New Wave and R.E.M and women singing Call Me and Hit Me With Your Best Shot. I was busy trying to figure out who I was and failing but, that’s OK, to me, that was college.

I don’t think I thought much about Zoom again until 2003 when the Itunes store opened. Suddenly, you could buy single songs and make your own playlists. (To this day, I think this is one of the best things Steve Jobs ever did.) With its first year, I’d bought hundreds of songs and one of them was, yes, Zoom.

I’ve listened to it hundreds of time in the past twenty years and, over the years, it’s became the song that expresses my life philosophy. It puts happiness at the forefront of one’s goals, but it’s not a selfish path to joy. Yes, you can seek a life of emotional satisfaction but you want to do so in a world where everyone else can too. And that’s always worked for me. I do wish the world was truly happy and that people can be what they want to be. I did find love and happiness and, though I get it wrong, I feel like I am, more or less, on the right way. And I’ll never stop looking for life’s silver linings. Like I said, Zoom is my song and, when I die, it better damn well be played, more than once, at my memorial party. (There’s, of course, a playlist.)

So… that was a lot. And thank you for reading.

Do you have a song like this? One you think represents who you are? I’d love to hear it.

In the meantime, I’m tuning into Zoom radio. Thank you Spotify!

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