If horses were wishes and music was dialogue

I’m on my way I’m making it, huh!
I’ve got to make it show yeah, hey!
So much larger than life.
I’m gonna watch it growing.

While running this morning with Peter Gabriel’s “Big Time” in my ears, I thought of my husband, who lives a philosophy of “go big or go home” that I adore about him. Everything about him is big: His courage, his steaks, his big, generous love.

That got me thinking of the leitmotifs of some of the men in my life. A leitmotif is a “short, constantly recurring musical phrase associated with a particular person, place, or idea (think of the “dut, dut, dut, da-dahhh-dahhh” phrase associated with the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz). This concept is applicable to writing, too, though instead of music, a good storyteller uses dialogue to differentiate characters.

“A character’s dialogue is your opportunity to reveal character and tell us who this person is as much as what he is saying,” Blake Snyder writes in “Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need. “How someone talks is character and can highlight all manner of that character’s part, inner demons, and outlook on life.”

If one uses music, instead of dialogue, to reveal characters, here are the songs I think of when I think of some of the men in the memoir of my life.

‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.

I think of the first man in my life, my dad, whenever I hear or sing the hymn “Amazing Grace” (John Newton). My father is a man of immense faith who instilled a deep sense of spirituality in me.

What’s the matter with the crowd I’m seeing?
“Don’t you know that they’re out of touch?”
Should I try to be a straight ‘A’ student?
“If you are then you think too much.”

“Reuben” is Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.” Reuben was the red-headed boy obsessed with me in eighth and ninth grades, and his bold act of stealing my underwear plays a role in my work in progress about the year I turned 15.

Suckin’ on chili dogs outside the tastee freeze,
Diane’s sittin’ on Jackie’s lap
He’s got his hand between her knees.

Brian, the drummer who taught me to French kiss in the front seat of his car, is John Cougar (Mellencamp)’s “Jack and Diane.”

Take, if you will, a picture
Of you and I engaged in a kiss.

“Raun,” my first real boyfriend and another player in my work in progress, is Prince’s “When Doves Cry.” I remember many a make-out sessions for which Prince’s videos provided the soundtrack.

Just try to remember
Now I’m the one you love.
You told me, ooh try to remember
I’m the one you’re always thinking of.

Cliff is the entire “No Jacket Required” album of Phil Collins. I listened obsessively to that tape (yes, tape — it was 1986 and I had a Sony Walkman when Walkmans played cassette tapes) while studying in the basement of the college music building and hoping to run into Cliff, another musician to whom I was attracted.

I’m never gonna dance again.
Guilty feet have got no rhythm.
Though it’s easy to pretend,
I know you’re not a fool.

Though I distinctly remember playing Janet Jackson on a boombox in the backseat of his parents’ car on a trip to Valleyfair amusement park one summer, “Lonnie” is Wham!’s “Careless Whisper,” the lyrics to which I copied word-for-word by listening to the song dozens of times in my dorm room (this was before Google, and I didn’t have the liner notes). I sent those lyrics to Lonnie in an apology for cheating on him with Cliff. He forgave me.

Son, be a dentist.
You’ll be a success

I cannot listen to any track from “Little Shop of Horrors” without thinking of Steve, my musical first husband, who performed in a number of pit orchestras for the theater production. Thanks to a bad experience as a teen, he also hated seeing the dentist and he never failed to mention the profession’s “talent for causing things pain” when he was dragged to a teeth cleaning.

Oh, my love, my darling
I’ve hungered for your touch.

The Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” belongs to “Mark,” who played a role in my memoir “The Percussionist’s Wife.” He included this languorous tune in a mix tape he gifted me.

I remember when, I remember, I remember
when I lost my mind
There was something so pleasant about that place.

Say what you will about CeeLo Green, but Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” is the soundtrack to the summer I was involved with “Rick” and left my first husband. “Does that make me crazy? Probably.”

When you ponder your life’s turning points, what songs evoke which real-life characters for you?


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