Monday, May 9, 2011

Mamas' Songs

Yesterday was Mother's Day, and today I saw a thing on NPR Music where each of the staff writers talked about their mom's favorite song. It made me start thinking about what my mom's favorite song would be.

Ma loooooooouuuves music. She grew up with three older brothers who were all in the Washington Cathedral Boy's Choir, and as a result she's bananas about hymns and frittered away her valuable political capital when we were children forcing us to learn the different parts to all her favorites so we'd be able to sing Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light in three part harmony whenever she felt like it. Well, that was her plan, anyway--turns out you can lead a 14 year old girl to Bach, but you can't make her and her sister sing it on command.

Anyway, as much as Ma loves churchy music, when I think of her I think of this song:

Growing up, we'd listen to the oldies station in the car a lot, and when "Different Drum" came on, she'd start kind of bopping around in the most upsetting sort of Mom way, singing lustily along. And then during the chorus when Linda Ronstadt sings,

Yes, and I ain't saying you ain't pretty
All I'm saying is I'm not ready
For any person, place or thing....

Mom would jab her finger at the radio and yell, "THAT'S A NOUN!" and then she'd chuckle maniacally. I know: it sounds kind of weird, but it was actually pretty cute--I even secretly thought so at the time. It made me feel kind of misty eyed and protective of that weird lady who was raising me.

And now? Now I'm the weird lady. And I think pretty hard about what I sing around Odessa because, for better or worse, she's going to associate all the songs I sing with me. They're going to be My Songs--just like that silly Lovin' Spoonful song "Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?" is one of Ma's songs. I think that will probably horrify her to learn that, but there it is.

Every night, I put Odessa to bed, and read her 3 books and then I commence what she calls "Dongs," which is basically me singing selections from the White Album and some hits from The Sound of Music, and I usually throw in "Moon River" if she's having a hard time settling down. Odessa's favorite song is Blackbird because, duh: it really is just about perfect--even a 2 year old knows that. Plus I'm actually really good at singing that part that goes,

Into the line of a dark black niiiiiiight.

My favorite song to sing to Odessa is "I Will."

I sing it to her every single night, because for the rest of her life, I want her to think of me when she hears it. Because it's not a song about complicated feelings--just regular old undying love and devotion. But that's what I got for that little girl.

Which, I assume, is also what Ma was always feeling for me whenever she sang Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring and/or Rocking Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu.


  1. Yo Ma used to tear up some Gracie Slick/Jefferson Airplane Starship album and Jesus Met the Woman at the Well, P P and M, Take a Load off Fanny,The Band, and some mean Ian and you is lucky to have ridden back and forth to school with such a Musical Mom. You could have had to ride the bus!