As we embark upon a new year with great hope and anticipation, but also with some hesitation, with the continued turbulence and struggles in our world and lives, I thought I’d try to help encourage a mood of positivity with today’s blog and playlist, perhaps trying to channel the power of positive thinking.

I just finished reading Dave Grohl’s “The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music.”  It’s an excellent book, definitely worth a read. I can thank my daughter for lending it to me, and I’m lending it around so much I need to purchase another copy to give back to her!

For those of you stuck in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s like me, you might not be familiar with Dave Grohl.  He is the lead singer, drummer, and guitarist of Foo Fighters, and formerly the drummer of Nirvana, and his band prior to that Scream. 

Nirvana’s anthem of the 90’s angst was “Smells Like Teen Spirit” which ironically for a band that wanted to be counter-cultural and against the mainstream, struck a nerve in the unsettled youth of the 90’s and perhaps became the touchstone and biggest hit of the decade, catapulting the band in to riches and fame.  But it’s no wonder the grunge scene originated in Seattle, with its gloomy rainy weather being the perfect muse to encourage bands to further delve into the depths of their sorrows and frustration.

Nirvana was definitely a bit too punk, grunge, and depressive for me back in the 90’s, when I had little time to devote to new music, being busy with medical school, residency, then my new family.  I mostly stuck to my comfort zone, with new music from my old standbys, artists of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.  It was safe and easy, and something to keep me sane in my at times 100+ hour work weeks.

I recently revisited Nirvana, starting with their Unplugged offerings, which would be their last major recorded live performance, released after Kurt Cobain died.  This proved a good reintroduction, with Kurt and the band a little more subdued due to the more acoustic nature of the Unplugged recordings.  I was struck with how much their Unplugged songs reminded me of R.E.M., a band I liked in college in the 80’s. They were a band from the Athens, GA scene, along with the B-52s. I had cassette tapes back in the day of some of my college friends’ albums, and my personal favorite album by them was “Reckoning,” but “Murmur,” “Fables of the Reconstruction,” “Life’s Rich Pageant,” “Document,” “Out of Time,” and “Automatic for the People” were also great albums.

Interestingly, per Wikipedia, I’m not alone in the comparison:

The album MTV Unplugged in New York was released posthumously in 1994. It has drawn comparisons to R.E.M.’s 1992 release, Automatic for the People. In 1993, Cobain had predicted that the next Nirvana album would be “pretty ethereal, acoustic, like R.E.M.’s last album”.
“Yeah, he talked a lot about what direction he was heading in”, Cobain’s friend, R.E.M.’s lead singer Michael Stipe, told Newsweek in 1994. “I mean, I know what the next Nirvana recording was going to sound like. It was going to be very quiet and acoustic, with lots of stringed instruments. It was going to be an amazing fucking record, and I’m a little bit angry at him for killing himself. He and I were going to record a trial run of the album, a demo tape. It was all set up. He had a plane ticket. He had a car picking him up. And at the last minute he called and said, ‘I can’t come.'” Stipe was chosen as the godfather of Cobain’s and Courtney Love’s daughter, Frances Bean Cobain.

I then progressed to Nirvana’s studio “harder” catalogue. I can definitely now better appreciate his and the band’s musical talents, but their more screaming lyrical style of some of their songs still are not an attraction for me.

In the 90’s I did dabble with some new artists, such as Hootie and the Blowfish, who had a catchy vocal style and sound:

Often dubbed heartland rock or jangle pop, their music was less dark and brooding than grunge. Hootie’s lead singer Darius Rucker, a local guy from Charleston, SC, has now made a career in country music.  The band recently reunited to release their first album in 15 years.

And then there was the definitely more pop sound of Spin Doctors, with some great bluesy rock guitar riffs, especially if you give a listen to “Jimmy Olson Blues.” This was perhaps their biggest hit, though:

I even listened to a little mainstream grunge, like Pearl Jam:

And Stone Temple Pilots:

These bands were hard to ignore.  They were so big on not just the alternative/grunge scene, but even on pop radio, back before music streaming when we all still listened to radio.

Fast forward again to Dave’s book.  He speaks about growing up feeling different, not part of the mainstream.  He found his meaning in music, with an attraction to punk at the time, which eventually morphed into the grunge scene in Seattle.  Dave praises his mother for encouraging and cultivating his musical talent, and allowing him the freedom to explore his own path.  From his book regarding his mother:

“She had given me life not once but twice, by allowing me the freedom to become who I wanted to be, ultimately releasing me to my own destiny. Through her faith in me, she gave me the courage and the confidence to have faith in myself. Through her passion and conviction, she taught me to live with passion and conviction of my own. And through her unconditional love for me, she showed me how to love others unconditionally… She was forever my hero and greatest inspiration; I owed all of this to her.”

“It’s times like these you learn to live again
It’s times like these you give and give again
It’s times like these you learn to love again
It’s times like these time and time again”

His path more than fulfilled his childhood dream of being a rock star, and eventually led him to places he perhaps he never imagined, including Saturday Night Live, where he has performed 14 times, with Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Them Crooked Vultures, Mick Jagger, and Tom Petty, performing on SNL more than any other musical guest; the Academy Awards to sing The Beatles “Blackbird” as a tribute to lost screen stars; and several times to the White House, where the advice by security staff of not peeing in the bushes as there are people in there was well headed! His friendship with Paul McCartney lead to his being asked to play as a tribute to the Beatle at the White House:

In an interview on Kelly Clarkson’s show, when discussing the lyrics to “Everlong” he relates:

“I was in love and one of the things that I loved so much about this person was when we would sing together. It’s meant to sort of represent that moment — all moments are fleeting, but if you could be in that moment and you think if anything could be this good again.”

“If everything could ever feel this real forever
If anything could ever be this good again
The only thing I’ll ever ask of you
You’ve got to promise not to stop when I say when”

Again from his interview with Clarkson, he talked about the connective and healing power of music and that lyrics can mean different things to different people, which is part of the magic.

“Music is meant to heal,” he observed.

“It could be 50,000 people singing the same lyric, for 50,000 different reasons because that lyric means something specific to them. They’re not singing it for my reasons, they’re singing it for their reasons. Even the darkest lyrics, I think they’re meant to heal somehow. There’s hope — it’s important to be hopeful.”

Interestingly, “Learn to Fly” is actually about his desire to be a pilot.  Yet you could interpret the lyrics to be about trying to make something of your life, needing another person in your life, or even needing God in your life.

Fly along with me, I can’t quite make it alone
Try to make this life my own
Fly along with me, I can’t quite make it alone
Try to make this life my own

I’m lookin’ to the sky to save me
Lookin’ for a sign of life
Lookin’ for somethin’ to help me burn out bright
And I’m lookin’ for a complication
Lookin’ cause I’m tired of tryin’
Make my way back home when I learn to

I’m lookin’ to the sky to save me
Lookin’ for a sign of life
Lookin’ for somethin’ to help me burn out bright
And I’m lookin’ for a complication
Lookin’ cause I’m tired of tryin’
Make my way back home when I learn to fly high
Make my way back home when I learn to fly

The video is too funny not to share:

In my blogs about finding solace in music after the death of my dad and brother (see “Dance With My Father & Big Bad John – Tribute to Dad” 10/06/21 and “I Won’t Forget You – Tribute to my brother Bob 12/28/21), I like Dave, asserted that music has the power to heal.  Dave further relates:

“When I was seventeen years old, music had become my counselor when I needed guidance, my friends when I felt alone, my father when I needed love, my preacher when I needed hope, and my partner when I needed to belong.”

“Fatherhood eclipsed any dream, any wish, any song I had ever written, and as the years went by I discovered the true meaning of love.  I no longer lived for myself; I live for them.”

“And Kurt.  If only he could have seen the joy that his music brought to the world, maybe he could have found his own.”

So with this playlist, I hope to bring some joy and happiness to your day.  While it’s great to feel validated in your sorrow, to not feel alone in your distress listening to artists sing of the difficulties in their lives, and that’s perhaps why music of the 90’s struck such a chord (music pun intended), if you surround yourself with sadness, it can forever permeate your being.  So in borrowing from some cognitive behavioral therapy theory, while it’s difficult to change our emotions, we can work on the two other related factors that drive our lives – what we think and what we do.  We can listen to positive, upbeat music.  We can work on happy thoughts and self-talk.  We can surround ourselves with positivity. And that can effect change in our mood. It’s not always an easy choice, but I believe it’s an essential choice. To quote Mahatma Gandhi, “be the change you wish to see in the world.”

And here for your viewing pleasure – if these videos don’t make you smile, nothing will!

“Shut Up And Dance”:

“Uptown Funk”:

and “Happy”:

So take this playlist out and listen to it when you’re having a bad day, or want to make a good day even better.

I hope that this music and my blog truly serve as a “revival: a new presentation of something old,” a springboard to return to the music of your youth, or perhaps to find artists you want to discover anew.  Rediscover the passion of music in your life.

Live in the moment.

Enjoy the moment.

Love the moment.

Listen to the MUSIC!