intro: “Tracy, never, never, ever let me go”

Tracy was released in 1969

The cover of Tracy, the album, has hung in a frame in the space I call The Listening Gallery (my living room) in the home where my daughter and I have lived since 2003. The record has resided on the turntable of my Grandma Lane’s 1929 Victrola since my dad gave this beloved family heirloom to me upon her passing in 2004. The Victrola is still in perfect working condition, however, this record cannot be played on that device because of differences in records and phonographs in the forty years between the production of the two artifacts. Nonetheless, my deeply sentimental brain has formed this symbolic connection as an appropriate representation of the relationship between my mom, my dad, and me–connected yet disjointed, and never to be in perfect harmony. The album has travelled with me to every home I’ve lived in since 1969, the year of its release and the year I was born. Throughout my childhood, I was fascinated by the cover girl, and charmed by the music and my mom’s story of how she came to own this record. My childhood recollection of that story goes something like this: I was shopping at Ben Franklin one day in 1969 when I saw a display of an album cover featuring a girl who looked a lot like me, but with brown eyes. At the time, I wasn’t sure if Tracy was the name of the artist or the album, but coincidentally, I was searching for a first name to go with the middle name for my baby-on-the-way, that I just knew would be a girl. I thought that name, Tracy, fit nicely in front of Nicole, and I bought the album. In the spring of 1969, my baby was born, indeed a girl, and I named her Tracy Nicole.

Two of my most treasured belongings, an album purchased by my mom the year I was born and my dad’s mom’s beloved victrola.

Today is January 6, 2019, and this is the first week of the year during which I will turn fifty. Throughout the week I have been playing the album Tracy, on my 1990s turntable in The Listening Gallery. As I listen to the the eleven tracks of the album interspersed with crackles from the needle on fifty year old vinyl, I have been transported to the bedroom I inhabited from 1973 to 1975. This is the space where I recall most frequently listening to this record. I can so vividly picture myself sitting in what was called my cowboy bed, with its smooth blonde wooden side rails and headboard with a western hat, boots, and lasso carved into the wood. On the wall above that headboard, hung a framed piece of fabric with the words of the bedtime prayer Now I lay me down to sleep lovingly embroidered into it by my Grandma. Beside my bed hung a page cut from a magazine and framed by my mom, a Margaret Keane print, which I also still have in my possession today. Caddy-cornered across that tiny room, I can picture my massive bookcase, built with love from my Grandpa, and above it, the alphabet flash cards from our Montessori-at-home kit that my mom had thumbtacked across the wall. A large blackboard covered the wall directly across from my cowboy bed. This was my mom’s primary tool for teaching me to read and write. I can see two columns with the months of the year neatly printed in my mom’s perfect penmanship on that blackboard. January through July were listed in the first column and August through December in the second. I realize now, it is because of this list that I have always had a hard time remembering that the end of June marks the halfway point of the calendar year, rather than July. Through listening to the album, Tracy, every detail of the bedroom I have not seen in 44 years has become impeccably clear. I can also make some scientific hypotheses about my brain’s processing and retention of memory. Music possesses such a remarkably powerful, almost magical influence over my mind. I become more and more fascinated with music’s ability to shape my thoughts and memories as each year of my life passes. I am grateful that music can conjure up such luminous detail in my mind and I hope it always will. Does music have this effect upon everyone, and if not, why not?

This image was framed above my record player in my bedroom, 1973-75.

Below the “big-eyed girl” Keane print, was my most beloved possession from those years, my little record player. This was one of those models that folded and latched like a small suitcase. It was made of particle board, covered in a blue denim-looking adhesive on the top half and its base was adorned with orange, blue and white plaid patterned adhesive. Inside the base of the record player, behind the turntable, a little storage space held about a dozen 45 RPM records. It was perched on the top shelf of a black wire rack, with two shelves underneath. The middle shelf held the horizontal stacks of my remaining 45 collection, and my albums were neatly filed vertically on the lower shelf. Right there in my record stand, always first in line with all the other albums behind it, Tracy was warmly smiling at me from two angles (which added to the intrigue). In those years, I considered myself the namesake to the girl on that album cover. She did indeed look quite like my beautiful young mom with her long dark hair, and with my big dark eyes. This photo of my mom and me from Christmas 1971, reminds me of the album cover. Both of us with our long dark hair and our big round eyes looking into the camera from two angles. Twenty-two years later, when I reached the age my mom had been when I was born, I would look even more like Tracy than she had in her youth.

My mom and I both looked a bit like The Cuff Links’ Tracy in the early 1970s.

Although I’ve never possessed the talent to become a musician, throughout my entire life, I’ve found myself feeling intimately attached to certain songs and albums. I have been mesmerized countless times upon hearing a song for the first time. I hope I will always continue to have these experiences. I’ve heard people talk of forever remembering the intimate details surrounding the moment they learned that JFK had been assassinated or more personal memories like a wedding day or the birth of a child. I recall with obsessive detail, personal experiences of myself and my surroundings at times when I was so captivated by a particular song or musician that I was spellbound. These moments are time capsules permanently imprinted in my mind. I’ve written down most everything that has happened in my life, rather compulsively ever since I could write. I wrote everything because I so rarely found the courage to say anything about what I felt or believed or hoped. I have spent the past two years reading my writing from 1976 to 2016. There is a great deal in those old notebooks and scrapbooks about what I was listening to and how that music impressed itself upon me at the time. Of course, what my parents and grandparents were listening to in my early years determined what I heard and liked. By 1975, at the age of six, my taste in music had become predominantly influenced by Saturday morning episodes of Soul Train followed by afternoons at Topp Cats Roller Rink. Fifteen years later, I thought I had found my path, a way to pair my passion for writing with my love of music and make a living. I decided to attend the University of Missouri in pursuit of a career as a music journalist. But instead, after college, I managed a live music club until the night when I fell for a tour manager, which sent me off on an adventure I could never have predicted for my life. While both music and writing have remained two of my favorite pastimes, the two never converged as I’d hoped. A journal entry from 1991, age 22: “I want to transport myself into the music I’m listening to in my headphones. I want to remove myself from what I am feeling and living, and BE inside of this music.” Reading those words 27 years later, I can still distinctly recall how I felt and what I meant at that time.

The Listening Gallery, where my daughter and I listen to music digitally as well as on shellac, vinyl, and cassette.

Ten years ago I was approaching the age of forty, and Spotify was brand new. I spent countless hours of exploration, finding the purest joy in reconnecting with music from my childhood and sharing that music with my ten-year-old daughter. I decided then to create a soundtrack for my life–something that she could keep forever, to remember the songs and artists that have left an indelible impression upon my life. I assembled a Spotify playlist called audiobiography. I selected one song released during each year of my life that best represented what was most influential to me during that twelve month period. Since then, each year, I’ve reflected upon my listening habits of the past decade’s releases and added a track on each birthday. On my 48th birthday, I wanted to expand upon this creative process. I decided to take my old notebooks and journals to the places where I was living when I wrote them. In the green fields of rural Missouri and the golden sands of Southern California and the red dirt of Oklahoma, I read my own writing while listening to specific albums I remembered most loving when I was living in each of those places. I reflected on the memories that these old notes, both musical and written, surfaced in my heart and my mind, and recorded my observations into a new notebook. Next, I assembled Spotify playlists for each year of my life, consisting only of songs I knew I had listened to during each particular year. The final step in the process are shared here with you, my Notes from the Listening Gallery. These are the essays I’ve written in my living room {The Listening Gallery} while listening extensively to each playlist. I’ve spent entire weeks listening only to specific music from a specific year of my life, and only the music I am certain I was exposed to during that particular year. To fully participate in this sensory experience, I would like to recommend that you create a Spotify account if you do not already have one. There are both free (with commercials) and paid (uninterrupted listening) subscription options. With each chapter, there is a link to the playlist I created for that year. It is my hope that you will find a sentimental connection to the notes I have written and shared from The Listening Gallery/aka my living room. Especially if you were a 70s child, 80s teen, 90s young adult, and are now, like me, in the process of accepting yourself as a 21st-century older adult, I believe these notes will resonate with warmth and honesty and provide multiple points of human connection. Please remember that the music selections discussed in Notes from The Listening Gallery and included in the playlists are neither an attempt to critique or catalog the most popular music from each year, nor is the selected music intended to represent music from all regions or all genres from each of the past fifty years. It’s far simpler than that. The music selections include only the artists and albums I know that I was exposed to during each year of my life. My hope is that the outcome of this project will cause a collective awareness of music as an emotional conduit, profoundly unifying us, quite like the people who made that remarkable pilgrimage to Woodstock in 1969. Individually, they migrated across the country seeking personal fulfillment and finding a community of an estimated half million people. Regardless of every possible difference between us, I believe music is truly the tie that binds us. I hope you will enjoy this historical musical exploration–part science project, part autobiography, my audiobiography, composed of both written and musical notes. Perhaps my project may even inspire you to find a creative exploration into your own journey through life. Before diving in to the work, I do feel I must include one comment about my writing style. Nearly thirty years ago, I was consistently advised by my journalism professors that my sentence structure was too long and my writing in general, far too “flowery”. Fair warning. Now, the time has come for me to take a lifetime of listening and writing, and to formulate these notes into something thoughtful and compelling, personal and communal. listen to my audiobiography

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