9 Songs That Define My Life
As I began honing in on my picks, I had this realization:
That this is what I’ve been doing the past 18 months — sharing my favorite songs often interwoven with random tidbits about my life.
In fact, it just occurred to me today that except for the largest music writers on Medium (e.g. Rolling Stone), it’s possible no single person has shared more songs on Medium than I via Bonnie’s Mixed Tape!
Some of these songs and stories are familiar to my long-time, most dedicated friends and followers. But I allowed myself a rare indulgence: I have fleshed out the FULL story behind almost all of these songs.
So, yes, this is the ultimate BMT mixtape. The top nine most impactful songs of my life with full explanations.
I would apologize for how long this is, but I feel like that’s the point of this prompt so I’ve allowed myself the luxury of being more verbose than I typically am.
During my freshman year of high school, a dear friend of mine loaned me Depeche Mode’s Black Celebration. I had never heard Depeche Mode or anything like them before, so I had no idea what was in store for me.
When I got home, I inserted the tape and hit play.
The bleak, dark, haunting, intense, sexy “Black Celebration” was unlike anything I had ever heard. I was instantly mesmerized. In those approximately 5 minutes, I was forever changed. Fall of 1986. I was 14.
I realized: if THIS exists, what else is out there that I’m not aware of?
The world suddenly felt different, bigger, and more thrilling!
There’s a little more to the story that a handful of you might appreciate:
The next day I brought the tape back to return to my friend. As I was walking down the hall of my high school, I had the tape sticking out from under my arm.
Suddenly from behind me I heard a guy’s voice, a really great voice, singing the first line of this song. I recognized the song (but not the voice) and realized the person was singing “to me.” I swung my head around to see whose voice it was.
It was a senior, Michael Hall! I knew who he was, but there was no way he would recognize some lowly, shy freshman. I’m sure my response was to smile, blush, and say something completely lame.
It’s so utterly random the things we recall.
I know he’s never given that moment another thought, while I’ve never forgotten it or this song.
There are a lot of reasons that Beethoven’s 9th Symphony is on this list.
If I’m really depressed Beethoven’s 9th is my drug of choice. It improves my mood 100% of the time!
My most avid followers know that this song is the reason I started writing in the first place.
Additionally, THIS particular memory of Beethoven’s 9th might be the most profound moment of my entire life. I’ve shared it elsewhere, but it’s worth sharing again:
While studying in London during the fall of 1992, I was invited by one of the other students (a music major) to join him to see a performance of Beethoven’s 9th.
I waited to see if my roommates would go, but everyone else bailed. At the last moment, I decided to go by myself.
I was determined to broaden my horizons!
I met my music major friend outside the venue. We paid 3 GBP (about $5) for student tickets to see the concert at a lovely church adjacent to Westminster Abbey.
The show was sparsely attended. The orchestra and choir were visiting from Germany.
Those 2 hours were among the most memorable of my entire semester and even of my life.
In terms of a classical performance, to this day I’ve never seen a more perfect combination of talent, venue, and state of mind.
It remains the only classical performance that I’ve seen in London where I witnessed a standing ovation. (The Brits are spoiled by talent and stoic by nature, so a standing “O” is unbelievably rare.)
Looking back on it I think part of the success of the performance was that the choir was singing in their native tongue. This music was THEIRS.
Something really magical happened and only about 100 of us got to witness it. How serendipitous the whole thing was!
When I came out of the show, it was a lovely September night. Big Ben loomed just in front us with a full moon beaming down. What a night!
Little could I know, though, just how momentous that decision to attend would be.
I almost missed that concert out of fear. I was nervous about leaving my best friend and our roommate to go alone.
The show was amazing! But more importantly it was transformative!
I realized that I had almost missed something truly spectacular and beautiful out of fear.
I never let that happen again.
Since that night, I’ve moved to new cities, gotten jobs on my own, traveled abroad by myself, taken long road trips solo, and never let my fear prevent me from doing things that I wanted or needed to do!
As for this particular version of Beethoven’s 9th, if you’ve not heard it, please find the time to listen to it.
It’s the most extraordinary interpretation in existence! It seethes in its intensity — it is unmatched in how bombastic the conductor and musicians tackle it.
They don’t merely play this song. They embody it. It consumes them.
I got chills and even my mouth watered listening to it! (How’s that for a full body experience?!?)
I wanted to include something that reminded me of my son. There were a few contenders, but in the end I know that there is only ONE choice!
I haven’t shared this story on Medium yet. It’s so unbelievable, so magical, so amazing that had it not happened to me and my son, I(!) wouldn’t believe it!
The very short version is: my son is friends with Aladdin and Princess Jasmine. He’s hung out with them multiple times at Disney World and even in Euro Disney.
Like, I’m serious. My son is friends with Aladdin and Princess Jasmine!
In fact, my son was the inspiration for a permanent installation at Magic Kingdom and outside Paris!
I promise to share the details sometime soon, but it’s a long, emotional story.
Anyway, my son’s hero is Aladdin. I’ve even taken him to see the West End performance of Aladdin in London.
So, yes, I’m very thankful to Aladdin, Princess Jasmine, the folks at Walt Disney World, and our friends, Magical Michael and Frankie. They profoundly changed my son’s life and I remain eternally grateful.
As for this suite from Aladdin, it’s beautifully executed!
This is the last 1:52 minutes of the Karate Kid soundtrack from the always brilliant Bill Conti.
Around the 30 second mark, I promise you will not regret re-listening to “Daniel’s Moment of Truth.”
I’ve included it today because it’s a lovely piece of music, but also because I remember the day I saw Karate Kid in the theater upon its release.
It is one of my top three movie experiences.
The movie was a big hit and the theater was packed.
I’ve never forgotten the audience’s reaction to the end of the movie.
The entire theater was enthralled — everyone was clapping and cheering!
To this day I have never attended another movie where the entire audience was so present. The energy in the theater was as raucous as if we were at the All-Valley competition itself.
Maybe it’s because I’ve watched this movie about 3000 times, but I find this to be one of the most uplifting, triumphant 2 minutes from any movie score of the last 50 years.
Heck, aren’t we all still rooting for Daniel and Mr. Miyagi?
It’s common knowledge that I adore Cherry Coke and a-ha!
I’ve written about them in several other stories. The many trips to Europe to see them live, the importance of their music to the soundtrack of my life.
So this story would be incomplete if I excluded them.
I’ve opted to share this epic live performance of “The Swing of Things” off their sophomore effort, Scoundrel Days.
I always tell folks that this performance proves two things:
(1) A-ha remain one of the most underappreciated bands ever (in the US anyway)
(2) People magazine didn’t have a sexiest man alive in 1994 — can we all agree that Morten Harket deserves this award retroactively!?! Seriously.
If you don’t have 6 minutes to watch this video, cut to 2:45 and prepare to be blown away for the remaining 3 minutes.
For anyone who insists that a-ha are merely a boy band or an 80’s one hit wonder, this electrifying and decidedly rockin’ performance proves definitively how talented they are!
“I love you in place where there’s no space or time
I love you for in my life you are a friend of mine
And when my life is over remember when we were together
We were alone and I was singing this song for you”
Karen Carpenter sings the iconic version of “A Song for You,” so beautifully crafted by Leon Russell. Some of the most romantic lyrics ever written.
An exquisite song about what life is all about: love, being present, and connectedness.
Karen Carpenter is my all-time favorite female vocalist and this is one of my all-time favorite songs. A magical pairing!
I reckon the two very best things about my dad are:
(1) His unconditional love
(2) The fact that he has degrees from Stanford and Princeton, that he is one of the most read people I have ever known, that he has every right to be pretentious, hifalutin, and pompous…but instead he remains quirky, intelligent, kind-hearted, humble, and so very grounded.
I’m grateful for a heap of things from my dad, but in today’s story I celebrate the fact that I can enjoy the heck out of this!
I owe that to my dad: I hear my dad’s love of the banjo, I hear the unique plucking of the banjo and KNOW what a talent I’m hearing, I hear the twang and am proud of my Southern heritage, and I love that I can appreciate Depeche Mode, Elgar, AND some foot-stompin’ bluegrass!
Dad just retired from playing the banjo earlier this year. He gave me and my son a final concert this past January when we were visiting.
I made my final request and, yes, it was “I Saw the Light.”
Hank Williams delivers the definitive version, but Dad is such a fan of Earl Scruggs that I had to include a version featuring the banjo.
Mr. Scruggs is the magic behind the Beverly Hillbillies theme song, so his style might sound familiar to some. He’s got a distinct style. This particular interpretation is especially joyous and unfailingly reminds me of my beloved dad.
“Last Train Home” reminds me of home in the broadest sense.
This video may be of a train riding in snow.
But when I listen to this song, I think of Publix, of Christmases of long ago, of quiet North Florida beaches in the off-season, I see mighty pine trees and live oaks, I feel those first cool evenings after Leon High volleyball practices in October, the wind through my hair when I ride my bike along Harriman Circle (no helmets back then!), I hear the fighting and laughter of the Betton Hills Gang, the Dallas theme song, Dad’s piano/banjo playing at night.
What a special song!
It can remind the listener of something very personal and completely different from another listener, but all of us share in the majesty in this unique melody and the “quietness” of this timeless tune from Pat Matheny.
I struggled to cap this at nine and considered several other picks. In the end, though, leaving off a song from La La Land felt so very wrong.
If it weren’t for La La Land, I would have never started writing on Medium.
I came out of La La Land feeling joy when it had been absent from my life for months.
365 Days Later: How “La La Land” Changed My Life
The back half of 2016 had me beaten down. I had been divorced in 2014, which was challenging and heartbreaking in its…
Somehow this movie, these characters, and this scene captured my heart and spurred my life into a new, unanticipated direction.
My life is better for this movie, for the entire soundtrack, and for these final 8 minutes or so.
Someone asked me once: “why?”
Even now I don’t know why.
And frankly, I don’t care about why.
I care about how this movie made me feel — breathless, wistful, emotional, profoundly touched.
I care about how the music made me feel — crushed, elated, swept away, joyous.
I care about what I did after I walked out that Christmas Day — my life changed for the better.
I don’t know why. It just did. And it still does.
The original prompt asked to pick nine songs that bring back memories for you. Feel free to stick with the original prompt or to tweak it to suit your writing. If you’re so inclined to join in: Heath ዟ Jonathan Greene Jon Scott No Words, No Song Jeremy Roberts Vanessa Torre Niki Marinis Shannon Ashley.
Until her 40’s, Bonnie’s worst nightmare included writing and sharing personal stories publicly. At her friends’ suggestion, she bemusedly started Bonnie’s Mixed Tape on Medium in 2017. She remains shocked that anyone reads her stories and that P.S. I Love You, the Writing Cooperative, Redoubtable, and the Ascent have published her work.
Thank you for reading this story
I know you are busy and have lots of ways you could be spending your time. You using your time to read my work means the world to me — my sincerest thanks!