There have been two constants in my life: anxiety and music. I’ve learn to live with the former, and have a lot of gratitude for the later.
I didn’t have a name for the way I felt when I was a kid. I never connected it to the word “anxiety.” I doubt having a name for it would have done me much good. Being able to label the feelings would not have cut any slack with those around me who were often frustrated by my behavior. In hindsight, I suppose I was a trial at times, but when I tried to explain the pervasive terror, dread, and worry I dealt with every day, all I usually got in return was a lecture about willpower, or perhaps a lesson about having to do what you had do. I think I’ve managed to erase a lot of that blah-blah from my memory. I do remember having no one who understood made the whole thing worse. I look back at my younger years, especially my adolescence, with sadness, as there were times the anxiety was so bad it rendered me unable to function, and those around me reacted with exasperation, and very little compassion.
Fortunately, I was born into a house of music. Well, recorded music, as no one in my family has ever been particularly musical. Even before I learned to read I was swiping my teenage siblings’ 45’s, and memorizing the ones I liked the most by the pictures on the labels, a practice that has given me a life-long fondness for record labels. Del Shannon, Lesley Gore, Bobby Vee, Terry Stafford, The Dovells, The Dixie Cups, The Trashmen, The Kingsmen, The Surfaris, The Fleetwoods — I played the 45’s until the snap and crackle of the worn grooves became a part of the music for me. Thanks to my parents I also grew up with an appreciation for big band, jazz, and early fifties pop music as well.
Eventually my sister and brother “outgrew” their 45’s — something that made absolutely no sense to me — but I was thrilled to inherit all of them, not knowing at the time that I was routinely listening to records that would one day be thought of as classics — the biggest hits of 1964 through 1967. The first 45 I remember buying myself was Zager and Evans’ “In The Year 2525” in the summer of 1969. From that moment on, the 45 collection grew through the remainder of the glory years of the 45 RPM record, and well past that and into the 1990’s when the record companies tapered off the practice of releasing all their new singles on vinyl. I’ve still got ’em, plus all the ones I’ve picked up at record shows and online. In collector’s terms, it’s not an impressive collection, but it’s uniquely mine, so I’m quite proud of it.
Around the time 45’s were on the way out, scientific knowledge about anxiety was growing. By the time I learned anxiety was a genuine treatable illness, I’d found my own ways to cope with the obnoxious beast that rarely allowed me to relax. Music had, over the years, become an important coping mechanism, and even though I have medication for the condition today, the music still helps more than anything, is really the one thing that allows me some relief from the whirlpool in my mind. Writing, too, helps, and that’s one of the reasons all my stories have a soundtrack. I can’t imagine life led without the music that truly is the soundtrack of our lives.
Apparently anxiety is a part of my DNA; there isn’t much I can do to make it go away permanently, but there are lots of ways to treat it. Although I rarely listen to all of those records anymore, I have, at any give time, about 1100 songs on my old iPod, and it goes wherever I go. Now, you can laugh at the fact that I have not bothered to move all of the music over to my phone, but I like having that little black devise. It’s become a talisman of sorts for me, something I can hold onto when the going gets rough. As long as that sucker is charged, and I have my ear buds, I’m good to go.
So, if you enjoy the records and the songs I drop into my books, thanks; I’m glad, and I look forward to sharing more with you. If you’re a reader that finds the whole thing a bit tedious and unnecessary, well, at least you now know why the music is there. Music and writing will always be hand in hand for me, my two trusty heroes when it comes to subduing the beast.
I suspect my friend Randa would call this a “groovy Nick record.” Well, she’s right, it IS groovy, and it’s definitely a Nick record. I chose it for this essay because anxiety brings a lot of darkness to a lot of lonely hearts. I’m grateful for the artists who recognize it, and create and produce records such as this one to acknowledge it for the rest of us. Listening to this helps me as much as any prescription pill ever could.