What is the story behind some of my favorite music? What was going on in my life when I first heard or listened to a particular song over and over? We all have our favorite songs that remind us of something in our lives, whether it was someone we once dated, hanging out with friends, or some other significant event.

I like making lists, especially ones about music and how it has impacted me most over the years. It’s kind of what like the character played by John Cusack did in one of my favorite movies High Fidelity. More than just a “top 10” list, this list is my own personal soundtrack for my life.

There is no particular order for these songs. This is just a list of some of my favorite music and the memories associated with them.

Watching the Wheels – John Lennon

“People say I’m crazy doing what I’m doing
Well they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin
When I say that I’m o.k. well they look at me kind of strange
Surely you’re not happy now you no longer play the game

People say I’m lazy dreaming my life away
Well they give me all kinds of advice designed to enlighten me
When I tell them that I’m doing fine watching shadows on the wall
Don’t you miss the big time boy you’re no longer on the ball.”

There are just some songs which will always be bittersweet like John Lennon’s “Watching the Wheels.”

The song, which was the third and final single released from 1980’s Double Fantasy album concerns Lennon’s dismissal of those who were confounded by his “househusband” years, 1975-1980.

I have to admit that I wasn’t much of a Lennon fan after The Beatles broke up—I mean, I never bought any of his solo works—but when I heard that he was coming out with a new album in 1980, myself like most Beatles’ and Lennon fans were ecstatic.

And then everything changed on December 8, 1980.

When I hear this song now, I think about attending SIU and hanging out with friends like Paul Collin. I think about that Monday night in December when Howard Cosell told everyone who was tuned into Monday Night Football that John Lennon had been shot. I think about running down to Paul’s room and telling him what I just had heard on TV—that John Lennon had been shot and killed.

“Now I know the world is coming to an end,” said Paul who was sitting on a beanbag chair studying for final exams the following week. “Someone killed a Beatle.”

At the same time, I sometimes think that I have also been “watching the wheels go round and round” the past year or two of my life.

“I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round
I really love to watch them roll
No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go

Ah, people asking questions lost in confusion
Well I tell them theres no problem, only solutions
Well they shake their heads and they look at me as if I’ve lost my mind
I tell them there’s no hurry
I’m just sitting here doing time

I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round
I really love to watch them roll
No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go
I just had to let it go
I just had to let it go.”

Yeah, some songs will always be bittersweet.

Hotel California – The Eagles

I have to confess that when The Eagles were as big as they were in the 70s, I wasn’t really into them that much. I bought their greatest hits collection when it first came out as well as “Hotel California.” You couldn’t turn on the radio in the summer of 1977 without hearing one of the tracks from the album. At the time I was into all sorts of music, but by 1979-1980 I was listening to more New Wave and stopped listening to these mega bands.

In 1989, I had the chance to see Don Henley play in Tokyo (at the Tokyo Dome) on New Year’s Eve with a few other bands including Huey Lewis and the News and Bryan Adams. It was a great concert and pretty cool to rock in the New Year. Of course, Henley played “Hotel California” which you can imagine went over well with the audience. It is just one of those songs that has a huge international appeal.

Before my Japanese friend Nobuko and I had gone to the concert we had stopped off in Roppongi in Minato, Tokyo that is famous for its restaurants, nightclubs and is quite popular with Western tourists and expats. She knew this really famous Indian restaurant and that is where he had dinner. While we were eating I noticed some foreigners in one corner who looked like they were in a band. I mentioned this Nobuko. Sure enough, later that night when Don Henley took the stage I recognized his band as the foreigners Nobuko and I had seen earlier in the evening.

After the concert, my Nobuko and I stayed up all night and took a train to Kamakura where we ate soba noodles (supposedly it’s good luck to eat noodles on the first day of the year) watched the sunrise, and visited the Great Buddha.

Rock and Roll and a bit of Japanese culture to ring in the New Year.

One year later, and one very cold winter night, I am in Korea and I am sitting in some hole-in-the-wall juicy bar in Itaewon (very similar to Roppongi) listening to “Hotel California” while watching Ms. Lee hustle drinks from some customer who had wandered in off the street. For the next two years, whenever I went to Itaewon and ended up in one of these sleazy watering holes, I could also count on this song being played. (Somewhere in the world it is probably being played right now). To this day, whenever I hear this song, I think back to those first couple of years I was in Korea.

It’s a classic song from a classic band. If you were to come up with a list of the top 25 songs of all time, “Hotel California” would definitely be somewhere on that list.

I’ve Got Your Number (On the Back of My Hand) – The Jags

The Jerks played a lot of New Wave covers and one of them was a rather obscure (at least in the Illinois Valley) tune by the Jags. It was a rather catchy tune and one of my favorites to dance to when I was at Fridays, Murphy’s or 3 ‘N Company.

That same trip to Chicago when I didn’t get to see Martha and the Muffins, Chris and I ended up partying all night with some of the band members from David and the Happenings and some other people from Carbondale. The next day, Sunday I went to Wax Trax, a really hip record store on North Lincoln Avenue just a few storefronts up on Lincoln Avenue from the legendary Biograph Theater (where the gangster John Dillinger was gunned down). There I bought the Jags’ 45 as well as Stiv Bators’ Disconnected.

I even wrote a poem about that evening when one of the band’s girlfriends got sick and threw up in front of a church on Sunday morning.

Sadly, I have lost that poem.

Pale Shelter/The Hurting – Tears for Fears

In 1983 I was back in Carbondale again and having a pretty cool time hanging out with some new people either at Makanda Java or at this place called “The Trench Bar”—which was actually in the basement of this house—that some students had created as a sort of “after hours” rendezvous when the bars closed. Except they started having parties there all the time. We were a pretty tight-knit group hanging out there or at some bars on the strip.

There was this one guy, Eric who lived in the same dorm with me who was dating Christine who had been to a few of the parties. She was really cool—always dressed in black leather and a lot of fun to hang out with. Well at one of these parties, Eric came with Christine but actually wanted to date Maria. In a bizarre turn of events, Eric hung out with Maria at the party and I ended up hanging with Christine.

Later, Eric was kind enough to give Christine and I back to her dorm room (her roommate was another friend who was dating another friend of mine. Complicated? Yeah, just a little but everyone went home with who they were supposed to go home with.)

Christine and I stayed up all night listening to side one of this Tears for Fears album eating cheese, drinking wine, getting a little high and finding out just how far our sexual curiosity and drives would take us all through that night. Both of us were having a rough time with relationships back home and that night, we just needed to be with someone. Just needed someone to hold and to love.

To this day, when I hear any songs from the album I think about the night I spent with Christine. I wonder whatever happened to her? She was one cool, classy lady. I hope she’s had a good life.

Rock this Town – The Stray Cats

In June 1981, I was hanging out with Dick Verucchi when he played “Ubangi Stomp,” a song by a group called The Stray Cats for me. Back then, The Stray Cats were still pretty much an unknown band in the States unless you managed to get your hands on their debut album, which was an import from the UK. There was a bit of a rockabilly revival going on—a few months earlier I had seen The Rockats, a New York-based band open for The Romantics at SIU—and I would soon start listening to The Polecats and The Meteors. Of course, The Cramps were still playing their own twisted style of rockabilly that was often dubbed “pyscho-billy.”

If you were not into Punk Rock’s/New Wave’s musical evolutions which spawned such early 80’s bands like Adam and the Ants, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Heaven 17, or Bow Wow Wow, The Stray Cats were pure rock and roll with or without any labels attached. Of course, having help from the seminal rocker and legend in his own right Dave Edmunds didn’t hurt.

I had the chance to see The Stray Cats early on before MTV and big stadium venues. I caught them on cold, December night in 1981 at Tuts (this time Chris and I made sure to get there early enough as not to be left standing out in the cold like before). When we got to Tuts, we went up the narrow stairway to the club on the second floor, but we could not go inside where the bands played. We hung out at the bar for awhile. I had never seen so much leather in my life—almost everyone was wearing leather jackets and the women leather mini-skirts. Some of the guys were wearing these purple crepe sole shoes. It was a rockabilly night that was for sure.

Finally, we were told that we could go inside. The doors opened and all these Japanese businessmen and their wives walked out. There must have been some meeting or other event going on inside. We all just stood there and stared at each other—all these Japanese in suits and all of us in our leather. Must have freaked some of them out, I guess. Many they thought we were going to roll them or something.

We got right in front of the stage, which wasn’t too high off the floor. Got to stand right in front of guitarist Brian Setzer. Can’t get any closer to rock and roll than that.
A few months later, their album was finally released in the States and soon, “Rock This Town” became their big hit. I always preferred some of the other tracks on their import album like “Ubangi Stomp,” “Stray Cat Strut” and “Fishnet Stockings,” but “Rock This Town” was okay until MTV overkill of the video.

Interestingly, the band that opened for them that night was some guys I knew from SIU.