Author’s note: The following are annotated highlights from the morning show playlist on WTMD 89.7 out of Towson, Maryland on the morning of Wed. April 13, 2011. I would like to extend my sincere thanks to the DJ Erik Deatherage, who has unknowingly nursed me through many a difficult morning.

“The Sweetest Thing” by JJ Grey & Mofro

I was recovering from my grandfather’s funeral that day. It was also the day the home owner’s association had a paving company come to re-pave our end of the street. I walked down the block to my car, with my heart feeling empty and sending resounding echoes to my brain, which rattled around unsettlingly. It was a long walk, and the neighborhood kids eyed me, unsure if I was one of them on my way to the bus stop or if they should watch their mouths. It was drizzling already, and my toes were cold, and I knew I’d be in for a long drive, but as I cranked the engine and this song came on along with the check engine light, I figured it was just going to have to be OK.

“Punk Rock Girl” by The Dead Milkmen

This “satirical punk rock band” was formed the year I was born. They recorded “Punk Rock Girl” in 1988. I was five years old and a huge fan of Cyndi Lauper at the time. I didn’t even hear the song until at least six years later, and I didn’t realize it was satire. Rather, I thought it was a ballad just for me. It fucking figures. Nonetheless, it remains one of my favorite songs of all time, and even though I’ve learned to laugh at the lyrics, I still also believe they are about me, my inner punk rocker, my inner mohawk.

“Down by the Water” by PJ Harvey

My sister, Katie, was a PJ Harvey fan in high school, and she introduced me to PJ by teaching me the words to “Shee-la-na-gig”, which we sang while rollerblading around a state park during a family picnic. It bothered our dad, who said, “Stop singing that!” He was normally the one who most liked to hear me sing, which made me wonder if there was something to the lyric about “dirty pillows” that I wasn’t getting. I liked to steal Katie’s CDs, and most of what I knew about sex and feminism was derived from the albums Dry, Rid of Me and To Bring You My Love. I tried to woo high school boys by walking around the halls of my Catholic school singing “Easy,” which is a scary song when done right and explains a lot about my early relationships.

“The Cave” by Mumford and Sons

There’s something about the simple humanity of an acoustic instrument and the meeting of voices in a well-structured harmony that’s particularly nurturing on a rainy day when you’ve been grieving. Being in your car and crying a little bit and thinking of how you want to protect your loved ones while surrounded by all these strangers on their strange missions to work and pay bills and support still more strangers in their grief and their small failings. It makes the world seem right in a sweet, tenderhearted, rainy way.

“Strawberry Fields Forever” by The Beatles

I had a little creative spurt a while back when struggling to answer the unanswerable question of “How are you?” Admittedly, I was being a little melodramatic, but I was pretty pleased with the resulting essay/letter. I was also experimenting with video work a little bit and decided to film my commute by placing a digital camera on my dash board. Then I mashed up the clips of my drive with the sound track of the Beatles countdown and a voiceover of myself reading that essay. Then I saved the whole thing and never shared it with anyone.

“Eet” by Regina Spektor

At the funeral, the family entered and sat in the front few rows while the congregation stood, and I could feel their curious eyes on us. Many of them knew my grandfather much better than I did, and they must have wondered what kind of people we were. I was OK with them looking as I believe we should be honest in our grief, and I am tired of pretending not to cry and struggling to keep it together. I wasn’t crying for my grandfather so much as for the whole tragedy of family, with all its secrets and heartaches and poorly bandaged wounds. When everyone sat down and a thin man with a loving smile stood up and said, “Sing with me,” I tried to join him in “Amazing Grace,” which is among the most beautiful songs ever sung, but my voice failed me, and I could only sit there and hold my sister’s hand. I wiped my face with the loose end of my shawl, and we just held on like that for a long time.

“Civilian” by Wye Oak

My mom has a large old jewelry box full of a odds and ends from her life. A bracelet engraved with “Butch,” the name of someone she dated once upon a time. Some baby teeth, a lock of hair. Jewelry from God knows where. It also holds notes of sympathy from when her mother died, two of them telegraphs from people I never heard of. She had a leather folder with a black and white photo of her mother, a young woman, who died of the vague diagnosis, “heart troubles.” I always planned on getting the rest of the story, but there were so many questions I didn’t ask. When they told me grandpa had another 6-12 months to live, I thought I had one more chance, so I gathered every spare ounce of journalism in my blood and prepared to get my answers, but it was too late when I arrived.

“Blood Makes Noise” by Suzanne Vega

As I pull in to the office parking lot and cut off a car from the pest control office at the end of our building, I hear and immediately recognize the baseline from a song that never gets played on any radio station ever except this one. I adore Suzanne Vega and any DJ who will play her. I could keep on driving as long as the songs keep playing. Maybe I would figure something out about all this blood, or maybe I’d just waste a tank of gas. But for now, there’s something about this song today that pretty well sums me up. “I’d like to help you doctor, yes I really really would, but the din in my head, it’s too much and it’s no good.”

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MARY HENDRIE (formerly Mary Richert) is a writer living and working near Annapolis, MD. Her blog is missdirt.net. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction from Goucher College. You can also find her on Twitter, @MissDirt. Mary really likes it when people comment on her blog or talk to her on Twitter so she can meet new people and get new ideas, so feel free to say hello any time.

15 responses to “The Morning Show”

  1. Good idea. Songs, what’s happening. Too painful for me to attempt. I would go to the really dark personal places. On a side note, my kids love Mumford & Sons. I don’t think they’re half bad, but I keep meeting musicians locally who hate the band and I can’t figure out why. My kids performed one of their songs “live” recently. I dug it.

    • Mary says:

      I don’t know why other musicians would hate Mumford & Sons, but I guess everyone’s entitled to their opinions. Personally, I think their harmonies are just excellent.

  2. Irene Zion says:

    This is so sad.
    You wrote a line which really sums it up well:
    “I wasn’t crying for my grandfather so much as for the whole tragedy of family, with all its secrets and heartaches and poorly bandaged wounds.”
    Lovely job, Mary.

    • Mary says:

      Thank you, Irene. I wasn’t actually close to my grandfather, but his passing left a lot of secrets unrevealed in our family. I think there is another essay in me somewhere about my grandfather’s secrets.

      • Irene Zion says:

        Mary,

        I come from a family where everything was a secret.
        I never understood it, but the secrecy is continuing with younger relatives.
        You have any ideas?

        • Mary says:

          I guess it has to do with what they learn from their elders. I know in my life there were things we didn’t talk about because they represented a difficult period in the lives of my grandfather and his children. And I guess there was some guilt at play on the part of the adults. And then the children feel guilty because I think that’s the natural reaction of a child to some degree — to feel that perhaps they should’ve done something differently even when they couldn’t have possibly changed anything. And then there are those things that they tell themselves they’re talk about later, when time has made things a little less painful, and they just never get around to it or always worry about opening old wounds for the other person or even misremembering things and somehow hurting others with a poor recollection of the facts. There are just all kinds of reasons.

        • Irene Zion says:

          Mary,

          The family in which I grew up was that generation and who knows what their reasons were and what forces were pushing at them from all sides. But my generation seems to be doing it out of habit. My sibling bought a house and didn’t tell me about it for over a year, even though we saw each other regularly at my place when they traveled, and even then it was only because his spouse told me against his will. This is not earth-shattering news, and yet it was a state secret. I’m baffled.

        • Mary says:

          Wow… that is really odd. Do you think it has to do with some kind of guilt about money? Spending it or having it? My husband and I recently bought him a BMW — it’s something we saved for and hemmed and hawed over for a long time — but I haven’t told my family yet. It’s not a real secret, but some part of me is wondering whether they will judge us for our choice of expenditure. It’s so hard to say. Family dynamics are mysterious.

  3. This sentence perfectly captures the mad tangle and storm of familial emotions:

    I wasn’t crying for my grandfather so much as for the whole tragedy of family, with all its secrets and heartaches and poorly bandaged wounds.

    Wonderfully written, Mary.

    • Mary says:

      Thank you, Robin! Family continues to be one of the greatest mysteries of my life. How do we end up with these people in our lives, and why? This may actually be the core subject that I write about for my entire life.

  4. Gloria says:

    Mary! How did I miss this? I love this, of course. So glad you posted it.

    Did I ever tell you I saw Mofro in concert in a tiny venue here in Portland. That was one tremendously outstanding show.

    • Mary says:

      Thank you, Gloria. And thanks for your help with the editing process as well! I posted it late on Friday afternoon because I suddenly felt like it was just time to post it, so I can’t blame you for missing it!

      I would LOVE to see any of the bands listed here live, but unfortunately I’ve never had a chance to see any of them. Of course, I’m sure Matt will pop by any moment now to tell us he’s seen them all like seven times. :-p

  5. Jorge says:

    I am late to the party here for comments but, see, I told you so!

    Music, for me, is the most powerful form of art. Not only do the lyrics play a huge role, but the mood of the instruments do, too!

    Just this morning I tweeted, “Music is amazing. Incredible how one note can bring back vivid memories. Listened to @Korn – Did My Time and thought, “T-minus 7 days.” =)”

    **Quick aside: Every time I listen to that song, it brings me back to the day where my brother and I — when we worked as journalists at the same newspaper — played hookie one Saturday afternoon for about two hours to go see “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life.” (Don’t poke fun, it was a good time!) Anyway, that song — sung by my favorite band — played during the closing credits. Any time I hear that song — one of my favorites, by the way — I think of my brother.**

    Of course, it could also bring back bad memories, too. But why harp on the negative 😉

  6. Elizabeth says:

    “Being in your car and crying a little bit and thinking of how you want to protect your loved ones while surrounded by all these strangers on their strange missions to work and pay bills and support still more strangers in their grief and their small failings. It makes the world seem right in a sweet, tenderhearted, rainy way.”

    That hits me right in the heart. Lovely piece, Mary.

  7. Jack says:

    I read and enjoy many of your posts but am too lazy (busy?) to leave a comment on every one. I’ve enjoyed your posts very much. Sounds like you have had a wonderful time.

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