I heard someone singing Anita Baker and within seconds the song acted as a time machine, catapulting me back into the past. Just like that, I hear her song and my present life freezes. Everything is blocked but that time period on New Castle Road when I came home after school and did my homework with track after track of her Compositions album playing in the background. It made me sad. It was No One in the World (loves me like you do) and on a perfectly good day, I couldn’t shake her song or the funk.
Eventually it hit me. It’s why I recognize her music. It’s why I’d recognize Lisa Stansfield or Wynton Marsalis or Brandford Marsalis. It’s why I love Celine Dion, especially her eponymous album. It’s why I could lose myself in a record store. Because I spent afternoons with him in Off Beat Music in Bright Leaf Square. It’s why I feel so at home in a public library or discount book store. (Anybody from Durham remember Nice Price Books when it was on Hillsborough Road?)
Why? My dad.
And how does twenty years ago feel like yesterday? With a song.
Hard as I tried to trace the origin of this song implant to something that happened yesterday or the day before and I couldn’t. I tried to think of television shows or commercials, something I’d seen on the internet to jog my memory as to why this song was in my head. But I can’t remember anything from this week; my mind won’t access the memories of recent yesterdays. It jumps all the way back to New Castle Road and twenty years ago. It jumps back to when I first remember Anita Baker, when he played Fairy Tales on repeat for hours. Back then it seemed like we’d listened to that song for an eternity but it couldn’t have been more than a few months.
I find myself shaking my head at that old memory, finally able to pinpoint why I, too, play the same depressing ass songs over and over again. It’s what he did with every song he loved, but especially Fairy Tales:
I can remember stories, those things my mother said
She told me fairy tales, before I went to bed
She spoke of happy endings, then tucked me in real tight
She turned my night light on, and kissed my face goodnight…
She never said that we would, curse, cry and scream and lie
She never said that maybe, someday he’d say goodbye
Quite literally, I could sing this song in my sleep. Last night, I went to bed exhausted and desperate for sleep. Yet I couldn’t stop the song from playing in my head even after I’d closed my eyes and drifted off to a place not quite asleep and not quite awake. It wasn’t just Anita’s voice I heard buried under the covers. I heard his voice too. And I heard what I couldn’t have recognized twenty years ago as a girl. I heard in his voice the pain, sadness, and disbelief of things gone wrong.
Earlier that day I’d listened to You Bring Me Joy, No One in the World, I Apologize, Caught up in the Rapture, Sweet Love, and Been Around the World (Lisa Stansfield) for part of the afternoon and thought it was all fueled by some latent desire to be in love. Her music weighed on my heart all day. I wrote, I read, I drove, I worked, I ate, I talked on the phone and produced a radio show. No matter what I did, I was compleely distracted by these ridiculous love songs that I don’t even like. It was until I closed my eyes and heard Fairy Tales, the one song I did not listen to on Youtube, that I made the connection. I miss my dad. I miss what we had.
I pulled myself out of bed to figure out why. Why now? Why Anita Baker? And why this song? Why at three o’clock in the morning? Why all day long? What’s my subconscious trying to tell me?*
What’s your subconscious trying to tell you when you can’t get a song out of your head?
*Part I of a Part II or Part III Series