February 24, 2023 at 8:49 p.m.
Musical state of mind
I woke up this morning with these lyrics in my head, because they fit my thoughts for this column perfectly.
I love music for its power to transport me to a different place and time in my memories, to make the stress melt away and to put me in a better mood. If I start out the day feeling a bit off, I can usually work myself into a better mood by turning on some tunes, singing loud and dancing. Kitchen dance parties are a sure-fire way to improve a gloomy day – just ask my kids. I have a crazy good memory, so my attachments to songs are pretty strong and far more positive than negative.
When I hear Hank Williams’ “Hey, Good Lookin,’” I remember an old DHIA milk tester we had who would sing that song endlessly as we tested milk. I was always in the barn for test days because I knew the cows best. I can instantly see the old feed cart with a sheet of plywood on top and all the milk meters in the cart to pull out and swap for a full sample.
“Just take those old records off the shelf,” from “Old Time Rock and Roll” already has me at a birthday party when I was 12, dancing with Grandpa Ike. He had some interesting moves: He kicked out a leg and the corresponding arm at the same time to the beat. It was an absolute riot. Most of those good oldies remind me of being about 13 years old, living in my “oldies” phase of music interest and milking cows in the tiestall barn with my dad. There’s also a memory of my uncles crouched around a campfire making giant flapjacks singing along with the oldies station. It’s as if a movie projector is clicking through memories in my head along with the songs on the radio: All the cows in their tie stalls, me dressed too old for my years at the birthday party, in my trademark red sweatshirt in the barn testing milk, waiting with my cousins for a warm flapjack.
When the Oak Ridge Boys’ “Elvira” comes on, I’m back in sixth grade learning to do the Charleston with obnoxious boys singing the “Um-pah-pah-mow-mow” part. I hear “Eye of the Tiger” and I’m in high school again, doing the specially choreographed cheerleading dance (We are the Tigers here in Hillsboro.) for a pep rally. One time, the memory escaped my head and I started doing the dance moves in the kitchen. My boys gave me some seriously strange looks. The same thing happens with “I Like to Move It.” I’m a scrawny 16-year-old in an orange and black skirt doing the moves.
The Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” inevitably makes me smile. I see my brothers serenading Aunt Sherry at her son’s wedding. For those familiar with this song, it is best sung with sunglasses and a guy in uniform. Tony and Peter had all the supplies. Tony was in his Marine uniform with sunglasses on and phone in hand with the lyrics in case they forgot them.
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Workin’ Man” is one of the few songs I’ve ever heard Keith sing along to. I can always hear his voice in the chorus. Eddie Rabbit’s “I Love a Rainy Night” takes me back to those years of dating each other when Keith would come into the barn after he was done with the other chores, and if this was on (sometimes by request) we would two-step across the limed barn alley.
The opening words of “Cotton Eye Joe” puts me in a circle of cabin crew friends, high-kicking until we were too sweaty to go on.
I’m pretty good at recognizing a song by the first couple measures of music, so my memory works just as fast at taking me back to a place in time. It can happen so fast sometimes, like a little musical vacation. Charlie Daniels Band’s “Drinkin’ My Baby Goodbye” and Alan Jackson’s “Chattahoochee” have my feet just itching to get up and find the nearest competent swing dance partner. If not competent, at least one willing to learn the moves and attempt to keep up. Dan Obert’s haymow turned dance floor comes into view in my mind. I’m 20 years old, wearing well-fitted Wrangler jeans, swinging, two-stepping, jitterbugging and just dancing all night amid the hay bale-lined wall.
The Bellamy Brothers’ “Redneck Girl” always makes me turn the radio up, and the feeling of being newly in love makes my heart smile. It was a song that Keith would always dance with me to in that haymow, and though I don’t consider myself too terribly old, it always makes me feel younger for a moment.
Occasionally, I turn on the polka station to flashback to simple Sundays when I was 17 and Tony was 6. When we got home from church, the country music station would be blaring those beautiful polkas. With the doors open, windows down and music turned up, it was there in the gravel driveway that I taught Tony how to polka.
There’s also “Peace Is Flowing Like a River” and “On Eagle’s Wings” from church that bring pictures to mind of all five of us kids trying desperately to behave and stay awake during Mass.
Just writing this column has brought back many memories. I’m ready to start my day now with some songs in my head and a bit of dance in my step.
Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and farm 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wisconsin. Her children, Ira, Dane, Henry and Cora, help her on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos, and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.
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