One of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies is when John Cusack’s character in High Fidelity is organizing his vast album collection “autobiographically.” Not alphabetically, chronologically or by genre, but by what each album meant to him at a certain time in his life.
That scene resonated with me because I’ve always thought about music in that same way. Way more than movies or any other form of entertainment. A song comes on the radio and I can immediately transport myself somewhere else. Smells Like Teen Spirit comes on the radio and I’m sitting in my sophomore year apartment in college; Dave Matthews Best of What’s Around and I’m 24, getting ready for work in my Murray Hill walk-up. I hear All My Life by the Foo Fighters and I see my beautiful wife playing air guitar and swinging her hair around. And when I hear The Eagles, I’m so many places — New Kid in TownI, riding in the car with my family in Brooklyn, Hotel California running on endless loop at sleep-away camp, drunkenly singing Take it Easy at our favorite dive bar in college.
So when Glenn Frey died this week, following closely news about the death of David Bowie, I paused for more than a few minutes to let it soak in. These guys are complete strangers to me, and I’m not one to pretend I know them because I’ve listened to their music. I’ve read some stories this week about David Bowie and I think one of the coolest things about him is how much it seems he wasn’t Ziggy Stardust, at least not anymore. But I think I paused as well because they died in ways that I can grasp. They appeared to die young from diseases that I can get – much different circumstances than those of Kurt Cobain or Janis Joplin or even John Lennon.
Their passing makes me think about my own mortality. As I get older, I think about this a lot — probably too much, to be honest. I will tell you it’s one downside of being an “older” dad. I immediately do the math when I see someone pass. I calculate how old my kids would be if that was me. And strangely, it motivates me in some ways, and not in others. It gives me energy to spend time with our boys and try to be a good father to them. It focuses me on the few things I really love — my family, my close friends, baseball, Star Wars. I don’t spend too much time on things that aren’t important to me (that can be validated by the way — much to my wife’s chagrin — by the fact that I’ve only taken down 50% of our Christmas lights).
Last year, when Sheryl Sandberg’s husband died, I was as sad as I’ve ever been for someone I’ve never known. Perhaps it was that she mourned very publicly, but I also think it was because her husband wasn’t much older than me and had two young kids and lived about 10 minutes from our house — I could be him (finances aside). I promised myself that day that I would eat healthier and exercise more and take better care of myself — and that lasted about two days. I’m making that same promise to myself now — that today…oh wait…tomorrow will be a new way of living for me. A week from now, I’ll wonder why I even said that I would try and I’ll wonder if being there for my kids in the decades to come isn’t enough motivation to change the way I am, what actually could be?
And then I think about the fact that humans have evolved to be optimists. How else can we explain why we even try at all? It’s why we all believe we’re going to be the one that wins Powerball, or our belief that others might be killed in a mass shooting, but not us. Perhaps that’s why I love baseball so much — there’s no clock but there’s always hope…until there isn’t. Some of us have good luck, some of us bad, and so much is out of our control.
These are the things I’ve been pondering all week, and as I write this.
And then I found my answer from another rock icon, Bruce Springsteen, who said:
“Pessimism and optimism are slammed up against each other in my records, the tension between them is where it’s all at, it’s what lights the fire.”
I guess it does.
Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/grauhase/