BRAD MCEWEN: Musical memories create an endless tapestry

FRIDAY JAM SESSION: Everything was dark and void … then there was music

Brad McEwen

Brad McEwen

A few years ago, I saw an interview with Black Crowes lead singer Chris Robinson, the subject of which I’ve mulled in my head ever since. He was talking about music and its history as an ever-evolving story and how his goal for the band was simply to add something to that story, almost like a thread in a giant musical tapestry.

Robinson was undoubtedly talking from the standpoint of a creator, but as a music fan in his own right I think he would agree that regardless of who’s making it, music is an important connective force, something that brings people together, informs their lives and shapes their attitudes — not just a musical tapestry, then, but a human tapestry.

As someone who can’t properly finger a chord or carry any kind of beat or tune for more than about 2.3 seconds, I can’t speak to what it feels like to add to the tapestry as a creator.

But as someone for whom the love of music nearly rivals the love I have for family and friends, I can speak to the power that music has on our lives and how we each create our own musical blanket that connects and covers us.

The book of Genesis says that, in the beginning, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep. Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

That’s a powerful image to me, and it’s the image that comes to mind when I think about the impact of music on my life.

I simply can’t recall a time when there wasn’t music. For me, everything was a dark void … and then there was music.

From my earliest memories, there’s always been music. And with those musical memories come people, the people that I have connected with and who have shaped my life, since the beginning.

My tapestry started nearly 38 years ago with threads sown by my parents, and I’ve been hard at work weaving it ever since.

I can shut my eyes at any time and see all the individual threads that have created the image. I can see my parents and hear the music of my youth, the songs they shared with me, that bound us together in a way only music can.

There’s my mom, with a school girl’s smile, looking down at me and mouthing the words to Neil Diamond’s “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show,” or shimmying across the kitchen floor while the bossa nova sounds of Sergio Mendes and Brazil 66 added some Latin spice to the making of dinner.

I can still see my dad, with a gleam in his eye, purse his lips and play chugging air guitar to Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?” or singing along with great glee, as if he was the carnival barker telling anyone within earshot that “for one thin dime, one-tenth of dollar,” they could see the Coasters’ Little Egypt wearing “nothing but a button and bow.”

I simply can’t listen to Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” or Little Richard’s “Heebie Jeebies” without thinking about my mom and my dad and my formative musical years and seeing all the threads of their music and the way they deeply connected the three of us.

From those beginnings, that tapestry has continued to grow. Within it are wound the connections of my life.

As a youth, weaving that fabric literally determined many of my friendships. I can’t listen to Iron Maiden’s “The Loneliness of a Long Distance Runner” without thinking of Mag and Tim. I think of Anthony when I hear the opening bass line to Megadeth’s “Peace Sells.” Nearly every metal song of the ’80s takes me right back to the concrete picnic tables behind St. Teresa’s, where we spent recess playing air instruments and debating the merits of Judas Priest and Slayer.

That loom kept spinning at Westover, adding new characters and pictures: There’s Amy, Niki and Lane cruising around, listening to “So Whatcha Want” and “Just Like Heaven.” There’s Drew hanging out the window of Greg’s Explorer singing “Prison Sex” at the top of his lungs. And there’s Nate and Stan schooling me on the merits of classics by Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath.

More music and more threads, More connections.

Those threads are seemingly endless and ever-evolving, and I continue weaving them to this day. Within five minutes of meeting a person, the topic of music comes up and typically dictates a large part of our connection.

Nearly every person, place or thing in my head is bound by musical threads. From that early fabric, woven by my parents, I now have a giant musical quilt that continues to grow.

That quilt now includes my children. Not a day goes by that we aren’t rocking out or bebopping around the house to tunes new and old, forming our connections, sharing our passions.

I can’t describe the delight I get when my son asks me to play “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” on the way to school or how my heart leaps when I walk by my daughter’s room and she’s signing along to “Seven Nation Army” or “For Whom the Bell Tolls” at full volume.

It amazes and awes me that I am now unspooling that thread for Bear and Milla and that they will someday have a musical blanket of their own. A blanket I helped to start; a blanket that will hopefully comfort them and connect them and inspire them the way the Everly Brother’s “Dream” or countless other hits from my parents’ youth inspired me to keep listening and to keep loving and to keep connecting and weaving my own musical blanket.