pondering the musical score to a full life

I often ponder the soundtrack of my life. It's a fun exercise. At the age I am, it means that I have been musically conscious for part of six decades from the late 1950s to the first decade of the new millennium.

I often ponder the soundtrack of my life. It’s a fun exercise. At the age I am, it means that I have been musically conscious for part of six decades from the late 1950s to the first decade of the new millennium.

Wow. I’ve been rockabillied, twanged, surfed, rocked, popped, R&B’d, soul infused, punked up, rocked out, jazzed up, symphonically rearranged and bluesed over. Even though I never made it to Woodstock, I’ve been to my share of huge outdoor concerts but I have to confess to being thin on experience with music videos.

So the soundtrack of my life would be a mixed bag of sounds. The music collection in the living room is a jaw-dropping tour of everything. We listen to bluegrass in the morning say, then late ‘50s jazz, maybe ease left into rock pioneers like The Band, then sip coffee on the deck to Haydn or Mozart.

Music and books are staples of our life and I can line up memories by both of them. The writer George Eliot once said, “I think I should have no other mortal wants, if I could always have plenty of music. It seems to infuse strength into my limbs and ideas into my brain. Life seems to go on without effort, when I am filled with music.” I agree with that totally.

For instance, the first album by the British band Dire Straits is one of my favourites. It came out in 1979 and my life was just beginning the long, slow curve that would take me out of the job-to-job, hand-to-mouth existence the 1970s represented for me. I was becoming a writer and a journalist. Disco was on its last legs and punk was becoming less ragged and rough. The sound of that Mark Knopfler guitar floored me then and still does today. I can put it on and feel as though I’ve been transported just like I was the first time I heard it. There’s a ton of twangy, fast, exotic guitar on the album and I love it.

But then I remember 1989. I was living in Calgary, working as a researcher at CBC and just starting to produce my first television newsmagazine. Life was hectic. There were deadlines to make, interviews to slate, editing to do and scripts to write. Life was on the rails but it seemed to be a bullet train. One night, after running eight kilometres along the Bow River I put that album on the stereo and asked myself: “Has it been ten years since this came out?” The idea that so much time could pass in a relative blink of an eye was astounding to me then.

Now I live with my wife in a small, charming house in the mountains overlooking a lake. Our lives have become smaller by comparison. There’s a lot less rush even though there are still deadlines and newer itineraries to arrange. But music remains a constant. Well, I put that album on again just the other day and found myself asking “Has it been 30 years since this came out?” It has and I find myself in my early 50s, blinking rapidly, dumbfounded at the ability of time to sweep by.

1979. I was 24. I wore size 32 waist jeans, medium shirts and large jackets only because I liked the feel of their drape over my shoulders. I had a lot of hair on my head and none in my nose. I was a new journalist instead of a jaded one and the idea of publishing books was a vague dream. When I put that old album on now I recall driving through the dark of a prairie night with the woman who would become my first wife. We drove a 1974 MGB convertible and with the roof down the stars in that wide purple prairie sky were incredible.

I listened to it in a bush camp in 1988 and in a hotel room in Montreal when I won a major journalism award in 1991. Every time I moved into a new place I played it along with Bruce Springsteen’s Thunder Road. As it turned out, I played it an awful lot through the ‘90s and the early years of this new century.

Yes, time passes. When Dire Straits appeared we still had vinyl records, the Red Sox hadn’t won a World Series in 60 years, twitter was what birds did and the words log on, instant message and Global Positioning System hadn’t been invented yet.

I’m 53 now. I’ve been listening to certain music for a part of six decades. But I can look back and agree with the Grateful Dead – what a long, strange trip it’s been. Strange but beautiful and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Richard Wagamese is Ojibway and the author of Keeper’n Me. He won the Canadian Author’s Award for Dream Wheels and his new novel, Ragged Company, arrives in August from Doubleday. He can be reached at richardwagamese@yahoo.com