Songs in the Key of Life

Thank you, Stevie Wonder, for the assist on the title of today's post.

When Jim and I met in the Sixties, we were in high school. We both loved music. I sang in the chorus. Jim played trombone in the marching band. And one day, after school, Jim came to my house, sat at my family's genteel piano, and played "Sunny" by Bobby Hebb. Jim's version included a wildly enthusiastic, energetic jazz improv between verses.

My mother rounded the kitchen corner, dishtowel in hand, to peer at this 17-year-old gangly boy with the thick black glasses and Beatles haircut who was completely lost in the music: his eyes were closed, his jazz-face was pained, his head wagged in time. One long foot stomped the pedal while two great-big hands mauled the keys.

Our piano was never the same, and neither was I.

I know you've felt this "never the same" way about a piece of music, a song, an experience that a song delivers or defines... what song comes to mind first? Next? Capture those moments in your notebook... in fact, let's start creating a personal canon of music to go along with the personal canon of books. Each person's canon will be different, and each canon will tell a story... many stories. Many songs in my personal music canon have made their way into my books. This will be especially true about the Sixties Trilogy.

My music canon is wide and varied, but I'll stick to just a few songs related to Jim for this post, since today is our one-year wedding anniversary.

When we were teenagers and inseparable, The Beatles's "The Long and Winding Road" was our song. When we met again, late in 2001, after a thirty-year absence, the first song Jim played for me on his piano was "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." "It's one of my favorites," he said. Mine, too.

We romanced each other with music. Didn't you? Care to share the title of a song or two?

We're still romancing one another with music.

Our shared personal music canon now includes "The Girl Next Door" (which was originally "The Boy Next Door," sung by Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis), and "Embraceable You" (which was one of my favorites, so Jim made it one of his), and "The Nearness of You."

Our canon includes the silly, sweet (and quite amazing) song Jim wrote when he proposed, "Debbie Marie." I'm working on a link to upload it for you to listen to, but for now you can listen to it here at CD Baby. A bit of the lyrics:

I've had my fun like a young man will do, and now it's time to say forever;
I just want to be with Debbie 'til the end of time.

It also includes the words "collard greens" and "biscuits."

Who knows "Polka Dots and Moonbeams"? -- extra credit if you've heard of it. It was written by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke in 1940, before Jim or I were even gleams in the eyes of our parents.. our parents were still kids themselves... teenagers, about the ages that Jim and I were when we first met.

I'd never heard this song before I met Jim again. (Tommy Dorsey owns the first 1:45 of intro in the clip below -- it's worth the wait for Sinatra... this was one of his first big hits and that velvet voice is to-die-for). This song is my anniversary present to Jim today:

"Now in a cottage filled with lilacs and laughter,
I know the meaning of the words 'ever-after'."

Polka Dots and Moonbeams to you today, Jim. Thanks for everything, especially the laughter and the music.


  1. Hey Debbie, I loved hearing Jim's tribute to you. Congratulations on your first anniversary. I love reading your blog and thinking/writing about questions you pose. I look forward to every entry. Kathleen

  2. Thanks so much, Kathleen. I miss you.


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