Monday, June 3, 2013

Songs in the Key of Me... Stevie Wonder's music helped heal me.

I've spent a good portion of this morning writing a review of Stevie Wonder's iconic 1976 album, Songs in the Key of Life.  I'm not going to re-review the album here, because you can just follow the link to read that.  Instead, I'm going to write about a few songs from that album that touched me at a time when I was drowning in a sea of depression, anxiety, and despair.

If you have read my other blogs, you may have read a couple of posts about my bout with clinical depression back in the late 1990s.  In truth, I was probably depressed for a good portion of my life before I got treated and, though I feel a whole lot better today than I did back then, every once in awhile those old feelings still threaten to come to the surface.  In 1998, they were especially acute and there were many days when I actually felt suicidal.  Even though I was only 26 years old and had a lot going for me, I didn't feel that way at the time.  I felt like a burden to other people.  Sometimes, I felt crazy.  I would get emotional for no apparent reason and the smallest and dumbest things would send me into a crying jag.

At the time, I felt stuck.  I lived with my parents and saw no way to break out on my own.  I didn't have many friends or a love life to speak of.  The college degree I had worked hard for and was still paying for was not paying off for me in terms of a good job.  The two years I had spent in Armenia apparently meant nothing to prospective employers.  I worked hard at a job I absolutely hated... although I eventually got fairly good at it and it helped push me toward better things and meeting people who came to care about me.

My parents had kindly allowed me to live with them, but they made it known that I wasn't really welcome.  I got the sense that they thought I was a failure and an embarrassment to them.  I used to find the classified ads on the kitchen counter, left open to apartment rentals with likely prospects circled for my convenience.  I understood and shared their frustration, but I felt paralyzed.  That's what depression really felt like to me in those days.  I felt like an incompetent mess... worthless, unlovable, and unloved.  Moreover, my father was (and still is) an alcoholic and back in the late 90s, the addiction was getting worse and really affecting his behavior to a point at which we fought a lot.

Fortunately, the job I hated so much paid enough so that I could get health insurance.  When I had a very minor car accident in my parents' driveway, resulting in a dent in a visitor's car, I called up a therapist someone from the local Adult Children of Alcoholics group had recommended.  I saw Dr. Coe for the first time in August 1998 and I credit him, and his colleague Dr. Lee, with helping me get over depression.  Dr. Lee was the psychiatrist who found the right antidepressant for me.  I didn't really care for Dr. Lee's personality, but I do appreciate that he was a competent doctor who undeniably helped me at a time when I felt desperate and hopeless.  And today, I count Dr. Coe as a friend, if only on Facebook.

Besides competent professional help, I found a lot of healing in music.  I didn't have the time or the money to do a lot of fun things back in those days, but I did have an extensive music collection.  And at that time in my life, I discovered Stevie Wonder.

Okay, so I already knew Stevie Wonder's music...  what person who was around in the 70s and 80s hadn't heard of Stevie Wonder?  But I didn't actually own any of his albums until the late 1990s, when I  heard the song "As" on my sister's radio and decided I had to have it in my collection.  I knew the song was sung by Stevie Wonder, but I didn't know the title of the song, so I kept buying albums until I finally stumbled on Songs In The Key of Life.  That was the album that spawned "As", but there were also quite a lot of other songs on it that were comforting and meaningful to me during a time when I needed wisdom and clarity.

Three songs in particular helped me with depression.  The first one is "Have a Talk With God".

I'm not a particularly religious person.  I guess I could call myself "spiritual".  I'm not a churchgoer, but I'm also not quite an atheist.  I think there's value in the concept of God.  Stevie sings:

"When you feel your life's too hard, just go have a talk with God."

I'm not sure those words caused me to pray anymore than I might have, but they did impart the wisdom that I should share my problems with someone who could help me.  That's what I did and it really helped.

The next song is called "If It's Magic".

I remember attending an Adult Children of Alcoholics meeting around the time that I was listening to this album a lot and bringing up the lyrics to other people in the group.  The song is about recognizing that love is special and should be protected.  The words to that song are noble and poetic and full of truth.  I had self-worth and could move past this difficult place I was in.

The third song, of course, is "As".

"As" is a song about unconditional love.  It's a religious song, in that Stevie sings that God created everyone for a purpose and knew what he was doing when he put each person on the Earth.  Again, it brought home the idea that my life had meaning and purpose and I meant something to someone, even if I didn't realize it at the time.  I had no way of knowing that the following year, I would meet my future husband online and make an enormous positive difference in his life... and he would make just as much of a positive difference in mine.  If I had succumbed to the suicidal thoughts I was having at the time, it would have altered his future.  Maybe it would have been even better had I not come along, but somehow I doubt it.

There are other songs on that album that are special to me, though not necessarily because they helped me get past depression and anxiety.  I have always loved "Love's In Need of Love Today" for its urgent message to the world that we need to be more loving and decent to each other.

I love "Isn't She Lovely" because Stevie managed to capture the joy of becoming a parent in a moving way.  I will never be a parent, but when I listen to that song, it makes me feel an inkling of the magic of a parent and child.

I got teary listening to that song this morning... It really touches me.

And I love "Sir Duke", just because it's a very cool song about some great jazz musicians... and it reminds me of England...

I don't know if Stevie Wonder has any clue about the people he's touched with his music.  He's definitely had his share of things to deal with, as have we all.  But I have to say, listening to his masterpiece album makes me realize that a person can touch and move other people in ways they'll never know.  Every person matters in some way.  If I can get that lesson just from listening to Songs In the Key of Life, I'd say it was probably one of the best purchases I've ever made.

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