I’m a jumbled mess today and while I’m completely ready to blame it on Friday, I can’t point to that as the source of the problem. It’s Tom Petty. I have no idea what he had in mind when Tom and his writing partner, Jeff Lynne, wrote the words to the song, but when Free Fallin’ was released, I nearly gagged. Someone was kidding, right? This wasn’t music. It was terrible. Tom’s voice was craggy, the song was pitchy and honestly, it sounded like something most likely written in a chemically induced haze. I never gave Free Fallin’ a second thought.
Until yesterday. Knowing how much music matters in my life, when we jumped in the car after playing tennis last night, my husband turned to me and said the words I often dread. “You’ve got to hear this.” That’s the kiss of death for me liking a song. Seriously. Words like ‘oh no, what is that and where did you find this” are often spoken in our family. Brad and I don’t often agree on music to a make it stop degree. “No sweetie, that’s okay,” I reply, reaching for my ipod and desperately trying to start one of my own playlists before he can take control of the radio “Thanks but no,” I add. “Let’s just grab some dinner and get home.” But not this time. It isn’t to be. And it’s all Tom’s fault.
When my hubby says “it’s John Mayer,” he knows he has my attention. But just a little. I know where he’s headed. We’ve debated this all summer. He wants to have another go at me and hear me go into graphic detail about why I think Walt Grace is building his submarine and running away from his family. Even our twelve year old has a theory on this. Then my hubby hooks me with two words. “It’s acoustic,” he offers. When John Mayer plays guitar, it’s pretty magical. But when John Mayer picks up an acoustic guitar, that’s a sweet spot the likes of which is often unreplicatable in my book. No, unreplicatable isn’t a real word. But John and an acoustic guitar transcend mere words. Brad knows he has my attention now. So I give in and when the song starts, John plays it in and I’m not really certain what song it is. Original? Cover? I’m clueless. Finally, we get to the first two words and of course, I know the song and I groan. I don’t like this song.
Then it happens. John Mayer’s 2007 Live in Los Angeles rendition off Free Fallin’
gets to the chorus. I listen to it once and don’t think a lot about it. I’m into the guitar and the downbeat blues rhythm John added, making the song his own, so I don’t really let the words wash over me. Then Brad plays it a second time. Yes, we’re those kind of people. We hear a new song and play it over and over until we pick it apart, memorize it and own it as ours. Five times. Fifiteen. It doesn’t matter if we like it. Being a lyric girl, when I listen to Free Fallin’ a second time, I’m trying to catch every word but I miss a few so when I fill in the blanks with what I think John is singing, a couple of lines don’t make sense. So we play the song again, me intent to get every word and piece this story together, Brad intent on making sure I pick up the specific guitar lick he wants me to hear in the middle. I’m a sucker for acoustic guitar and learning to play is on my bucket list. Brad knows this about me and he knows I’ll appreciate the intricacy of what John’s added.
So I listen closely and I get the story. A bad boy hurts a good girl and in his own way, he knows he’s done wrong and there’s a part of him that’s sorry, that wants to reach out and right a wrong, but it’s too late.
That’s when Brad turns to me and asks about the guitar lick and I just stare at him. “I missed it,” I blurt out to which he laughs and says “you always do that. Let me play it again.” It was the 3rd time that did me in. What Tom and Jeff couldn’t capture for me with Free Fallin’ way back in 1989 John seemed to snag me with in an instant. John took a well know song and made it his own. And in the time it took to get from the racket club to my driveway, I’d done the same.
These last days before a new school year starts always leave me feeling flattened. It pushes me back to a world where it seems like there are more mean spirits than good guys. Have I made enough good memories to counteract the tough days that will surely come? Have we laughed enough to make sure the smiles shine brighter than the scowls the world so often greets us with? Have we played enough? Have we laid on our backs and stared at the stars enough or did I rush us in my ever present, over programmed, micromanaging way, chanting hurry up at every turn, rushing to an end I don’t even really want? This is the time of year when doubts rush in and overwhelm me and while I’m usually loud enough and busy enough to keep them at bay, the truth is, I’m free falling, caught in no man’s land, praying I’ve done a good enough job to make a difference. Hoping it’s enough. Hoping I have broad enough shoulders to make it happen one more season while honoring those I serve.
To me, at its heart, Free Fallin’ is a song about doubts and about knowing something’s just not right. This guy wanted to fall, he wanted to check out and leave it all behind for a while because he knew something just wasn’t right. In his case he knew he’d done wrong, but in my case that’s not the case. In my heart, I know it’s just a new season for our family, but still, I can’t help but feel things won’t ever be the same. Time marches on whether we want it to or not. I don’t truly know what experience Tom pulled from when he wrote Free Fallin’, but I’m thankful John sang it in a way that it could wash over me anew.
When I got in the car this morning to drive my son to tennis practice, I queued up Free Fallin’ and at first, he didn’t know what we were listening to. “I downloaded some new music,” I said eagerly. “Check this out.” He smiled and said okay then John sang the first few words and I heard that oh so familiar groan. “Mom! This song is terrible,” my son lamented. I understood. I’d been there myself. So through watery eyes with a smile on my face, I shook my head and said the only thing I could. “I know son, I know. Blame your father.”