Times of trouble are when music is a comfort…

B Strong for Boston

B Strong for Boston

Yesterday, I read about how in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, the New York Yankees honored their opponents, the Boston Red Sox, by playing Neil Diamond’s classic hit, “Sweet Caroline”. I don’t follow baseball, but I read that “Sweet Caroline” is a song traditionally played at Red Sox games and sung along to by Red Sox fans. That the Yankees played it in their honor was very classy, but their gesture had an odd effect on me. I found myself tearing up as I read about how the Yankees, indeed how New York City, showed love and solidarity toward Boston following the tragedy that had visited their city on a day that should have been celebratory.

A clip of “Sweet Caroline” at the Yankees vs. Red Sox game…

Unfortunately, this is not the first time tragedy out of violence has visited the United States, especially during the month of April. For some reason, as spring arrives, so does a certain insanity, which brings with it people who commit terrible acts against others. And it seems to be getting worse instead of better. Over the past twenty years, the third week of April has brought Waco, the Oklahoma City bombing, Columbine, the Virginia Tech Massacre, and now the Boston Marathon bombings.

Now, every September 11th, we remember what happened on 9/11/01. My husband, Bill, who was then my boyfriend, was working in the Pentagon when it was struck by American Airlines Flight 77. I did not know if he was dead or alive that entire day. Later, he showed up on Yahoo! Messenger to let me know he’d escaped unscathed. About a month later, Bill escorted family members of one of the 9/11 victims at the Pentagon to a memorial service. He later described the service to me, telling me that the organizers had chosen a beautiful piece of music that he could not name. He said it was a very moving and comforting piece, like a balm for those who were so grief stricken following the shocking events of September 11th.

I remember back in September 2005, just after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, turning on James Taylor’s 1997 album, Hourglass, and being very soothed by it as I saw the terrible images of people who had lost everything in the massive storm. James Taylor released that album just after losing his father and a few years after having lost his older brother, Alex, to a heart attack. Alex Taylor died on James’s 45th birthday, in part due to his alcoholism. The songs on Hourglass are largely about the troubled times Taylor had endured in the 1980s and 90s. In 1996, he was freshly divorced from his second wife, Kathryn Walker. He seemed to be struggling to make sense of the world with that album, and yet I found it so very comforting as I watched the news and saw so many sad, anguished people.

“Enough To Be On Your Way”, a tribute to James Taylor’s brother, Alex.

“Jump Up Behind Me”, a song James Taylor wrote to honor his father, who rescued him when he was struggling with depression and drug addiction as a young man.

Beth Nielsen Chapman has written several songs that are comforting. Her song “Sand and Water” has been used in several prime time television shows in scenes involving death. She wrote it after having lost her husband, Ernest Chapman, to cancer in 1994. The song has since provided comfort to people who are grieving, but the words are so deeply personal. In the song, she references her son, Ernest, who was a young teenager when he lost his father.

Beth Nielsen Chapman performs “Sand and Water” with Kieran Goss at the Grand Opera House in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Another song that Beth Nielsen Chapman sings that I personally find very comforting is “Godspeed”, which she co-wrote with Annie Roboff. The song was included on the 2001 compilation, The Prince of Egypt: Nashville. The first time I heard this song in 2004, I fell in love with it. It never fails to bring a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes.

Someone used “Godspeed” in a YouTube memorial for Princess Diana.

When Bill and I lost our beloved “bagel” dog MacGregor, who died rather suddenly after we discovered a malignant tumor invading his spinal column, I found myself comforted by several bluegrass songs. I know MacGregor was just a dog, but he was a very special companion to Bill and me. Music helped us process the pain in losing him. When Alison Krauss was an up and coming star, she recorded a beautiful song called “On Heaven’s Bright Shore”, which always makes me feel better when I lose someone dear… after a good cry, of course.

I’m not particularly religious, but this song always comforts me, as does Rhonda Vincent’s beautiful tribute “I Will See You Again”.

About twenty minutes after we lost MacGregor, this song popped up on my iPod. Bill and I were driving home from NC State’s veterinary school with tears rolling down our cheeks. Even as I write this, I’m getting choked up from the memory.

I wish we didn’t have such a need to grieve right now. Just months after the Sandy Hook shootings in Connecticut, we are once again plunged into the shock of unexpected violence perpetrated by someone who felt the need to make a statement with violence against innocent people. Just this morning, I read about a massive blast at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, that could have been the result of an accident or criminal activity. At this writing, it’s not clear what’s happened or why. As you process the senseless events of this week, I wish you peace and the right music to bring you comfort.