All Things Reconsidered: Sunday Mornings with Norah Jones

Wednesday, January 11, 2017 - 7:13pm

This week Daily Music writers look back — and reconsider — less modern pieces of music.

In elementary school, Sunday mornings were known as golden mornings to me in a way that stood completely independent of the weather outside. Golden mornings existed nowhere else but my kitchen, where my parents liked to lounge after eating a late breakfast and where Norah Jones made herself at home. There wasn’t a Sunday morning that went by without her invisible presence filling the empty seats at our table.

I used to perch myself on the countertop and observe, with utter tranquility: the quiet rustle of newspapers turning, the gentle murmur of my parents’ voices curving around steaming mugs of coffee and, most importantly, Norah Jones’s voice flowing out of speakers as her album Feels Like Home played on repeat. With the sun reaching out from behind clouds, her voice seemed to paint the walls of our kitchen in shades of gold. Even in the dead of winter, when the snow that clung to the windows bleached the world outside into a monochromatic bleakness, our kitchen on those Sunday mornings never failed to glow with warmth. Music melted over my sleep-heavy limbs like the honey my dad liked to spread over his toast, filling every corner of our kitchen with tarnished sweetness.

So intertwined are Norah Jones’s harmonies with those Sunday mornings that when I listen to Feels Like Home today, nearly 13 years later, I am once again in that sun-drenched kitchen, filled with the same serenity I felt then. Feels Like Home isn’t just an album to me; it’s a collection of memories, holding between its notes and rhythms a reflection of my family’s Sunday morning sliver of paradise.

Like Norah Jones filling the cavity of my kitchen, music in general, I’ve come to realize, quietly fills the spaces in life that you didn’t even notice were empty; it weaves itself into the very underlining of an experience, embellishing and shaping the details around harmonies and melodies.

My kitchen holds the weight of many songs. For me, Norah Jones digs her way through the floorboards like a sunflower. For my mother, the song of her youth travels through the steam that emerges when she is cooking. In the hours before dinner is served, she likes to sometimes play the song out loud for herself as shadows begin to stretch across the floor. The bruising violet of the dusky sky outside perfectly matches the song’s haunting vocals. She explained to me once that her song is one of revolution, of childhood hope and resistance during dark times. To me, it’s beautiful, but to her, it’s something else entirely; the song folding in on itself to reveal an assortment of reminiscences so powerful that when listening, she has to close her eyes against the ache of remembering.

A lifetime has passed since she last heard its melody reverberate among the rolling slopes in the mountains of her adolescent home, but I know she will never forget the memories irrevocably stained by this song. I know because her face as she listens to the familiar notes is continually distant. She is instantly transported to a place I don’t dare trespass. 

The influence of a simple song lies in this: In the utter depth of memories it has the potential to hold, in the way it is simultaneously both a finished piece of music and also an empty canvas laying bare, waiting for listeners to splatter their own input over its unfilled expanse. When we flee to the long-standing songs of our past for solace, for strength, for bittersweet nostalgia, we don’t seem to be seeking out the comfort of the song itself but rather the various memoirs trapped in its notes. With music, the stories of the past are easily brought to mind.

For my mother, these stories are substantial and compelling. For me, Norah Jones brings about a simpler, gentler kind of recalling. It is something I turn on when the cold makes even my bones start to wither away. When I can barely bring to mind what the inside of my kitchen looks like with light spewing from the walls like a mosaic; when I notice myself spending more time in bed, heavy with an unexplained loneliness, drained with an unexpected sadness. I turn on Feels Like Home and allow myself to be enveloped in the kaleidoscopic memories of bygone golden mornings.