There’s a music venue about 15 minutes away from my home called Ravinia Festival. It’s a beautiful outdoor space tailor-made for an ideal summer evening sitting on an expansive lawn listening to the BoDeans or assorted almost-corpses from The Beach Boys. Naturally my family buys a cheese plate or two, packs about 40 blankets and candles and heads to Ravinia for a night every July.
When I think of these nights, I think of cargo shorts. I don’t know why. It could be that most of my memories from Ravinia seem to be lodged firmly between 2004 and 2007. It might be that most of the old people I was with at Ravinia were, in fact, rocking cargo shorts. More likely, in recounting some of my earliest cultural immersions of any form, I’ve confounded a North suburban Chicago music venue, a timeless look and those above me who introduced me to music.
That’s how we end up here: at parents, and music. Because both, together, mean a lot to many.
Formative listening is one of my favorite things. I realize it might be tender or sensitive for some folks, but I also think it’s very healthy for the soul — even to just think about. It’s something I do often, and it’s something I think you should do too: Listen to your mom’s music every once in a while.
I’m not really sure what that means either, but for the purposes of this exploration, allow me to walk you through my mother’s music.
Ever heard of Joan Armatrading? I hadn’t either, until she soundtracked my mom’s weekly Mah Jongg games in our kitchen during my elementary years. I don’t particularly enjoy Joan Armatrading’s music, but I enjoy hearing about my mom’s Joan Armatrading tradition: Each year, when Armatrading plays Chicago, she heads to the City Winery (apparently a real place where things happen) with the same friend (who may or may not exist) who has been accompanying her to Armatrading concerts for years. I really like the sentiment and story. Joan Armatrading is, consequently, a good dose of medicine.
More digestible? Mary J. Blige. There’s a song she sings — it’s called “Just Fine” — that’s impossible, physically, to resist tapping your foot to, and before you know it, you’re dancing at 5:00 p.m. on a Friday again, because Shabbat is imminent and the table needs to be set up before the grandparents arrive. That vignette might have been me exclusive. But that’s what my mom listens to, so I listen too.
There comes a point in the road — not a metaphorical road, a real road — where you need to break it down. If you’re my mom, this is most of the time. If you’re me, this is rare. If you’re human, you listen to Valee’s “Womp Womp,” a new favorite for my mother. When drives to the grocery store become parties and drivers become dance circle commandeers, this is where we turn. It’s where my mom turns, at least, and for that I am thankful. It’s fun to womp womp. If you’re buying the womp, don’t stress over its source. Your dad’s music? Sure. Siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents too. If your best friend has stuff you like, go for it.
Much of this column has been thematically centered around different types of proverbial “resets.” I haven’t done this on purpose, but the trend also kind of makes sense. As I’m nearing the end of my writing process for this piece, my mind is consumed by worry about my lack of ideas for future columns. I’m also thinking about which frozen Trader Joe’s meal I will heat up for dinner, why I will choose taquitos for the second night in a row and how I’d like to stay away from a column with a “how much other work I need to do” cliché. But now there’s way too much meta going on, which is probably even worse. Ultimately this column will need to end with jumbled thoughts before opening Spotify to propel me through my next chunk of work. I have the Sunday Scaries, I’d like a semblance of familiarity amidst other general chaos and I need an excuse to listen to Van Morrison.