Twist of Fate

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

Stranger Things 2 was such a glorious television-watching experience that I find myself still thinking about it quite a bit in the days since I finished binge-watching all 9 episodes. The storyline was engaging, even gripping, but one of the parts I enjoyed the most was the soundtrack. It was pure 80’s gloriousness. I loved how they used Scorpion’s, “Rock You Like a Hurricane” to introduce Billy’s character, and the “Snow Ball” at the end was filled with delicious musical flashbacks for any kid who grew up in the 80’s. One of those songs was “Twist of Fate” by Olivia Newton John, a favorite when it came out in 1983 on the soundtrack of the movie, “Two of a Kind.” Olivia Newton John was the coolest as far as I was concerned – she was beautiful, thin, had a gorgeous voice, and she got to kiss John Travolta. What more could anyone want? Thank you, Stranger Things, for reminding me of some great music this season and in the last one as well. You have inspired some fun additions to my morning running playlist.

Plus, watching a show that takes place in the 80’s when I am now in my forties gave me much to think about. I know who the Steve, the Jonathan, the Billy were in my high school. I would have had a crush on all three at different times – but mostly Jonathan. Me? I was not the Nancy, I was the Barb. I think Barb would have probably turned out pretty cool when she grew up if she hadn’t been killed by the Monster from the Upside Down.

As I was scouring through Spotify looking for some more 80’s goodness, there was no shortage of top-40 hits to choose from. Yesterday as I was driving across the snowy Minnesota roads, I listened to Laura Branigan, Heart, Stevie Nicks, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Bonnie Tyler, Sheena Easton, and the Go-Gos. It was the soundtrack of my youth and brought back countless memories of listening to my clock radio and record player/tape deck at all hours, plus watching “Solid Gold” and waiting with anticipation to see the Solid Gold dancers count down the top hits of the week.

I was ten years old in 1980, so the 80’s was a formative decade for me. Looking back, I wonder if it was a scary time to be the mother of a daughter who was coming of age. There was so much big hair, shoulder pads, heavy make-up, and women who seemed to believe the only way they belonged on stage was by pouting their lips and giving a seductive backward glance. Or, perhaps more appropriately, this is how they were told they had to perform in order to keep their record deal? Either way, these were my role models growing up. The bigger I could get my hair, the better. The more blue and sparkly eye-shadow, the better. The make-up and the hair was easy. The hard part was figuring out how to appear sexy-cool like Madonna and Cher and not feel absolutely preposterous in the process. I never did figure that out.

When my musical tastes for me and for many shifted in the 90’s, it brought me joy that I could see myself more easily in some of my favorite singers. I was exposed to a wider variety of music than just what played on the radio stations in rural Minnesota and started going to concerts. I reveled in the Indigo Girls, Ani DiFranco, Sarah McLachlan, Natalie Merchant, Shawn Colvin, Kristen Hall, Alanis Morissette, and it was a joyful relief to see that none of them felt like they had to crawl on all fours across a stage or lick their lips seductively in music videos in order to get anyone’s attention. They wrote music and they sang heartfelt songs, wearing actual clothes, with hair that was not shellacked into place. The music was meaningful, too – about everything: rage, creativity, love, peace, solitude – a whole beautiful range of emotion. It was so contrary to the top-40 music I heard from women when I was growing up which was usually about love, sex, or a break-up. I don’t blame the female artists for this. I have no doubt the range of their music would have been much broader if it were up to them instead of being told they had to act and sing a certain way in order to be marketable.

Music became a means of communicating with other people as time went by. I began to understand others through the music they listened to and the importance they placed on music. Especially with men, music became the thing I had in common with them. I might be painfully awkward and shy and never know what to say when a cute boy was around – but if the topic turned to music, I was fine.  I knew who Bob Mould, Trip Shakespeare, and Run Westy Run were. I knew all their songs, had all their albums, and could hold my own in any conversation about them and their music. If you wanted to talk about Van Halen, the Billys or the Gear Daddies, I was your girl.  When other girls were largely uninterested in attending the Hole concert or standing in line at First Ave, or sifting through CD’s at Cheapo, I was interested and ready to go. I dated a few musicians and had a crush on absolutely scads of them. I could make a killer mix-tape, absolutely kick-ass mix tape! It still makes me sad that this is now a completely lost art.

After hanging around with enough guys who were music snobs, I became sufficiently snobbish about music as well. For my wedding dance I hand-crafted a playlist for the DJ and he was not to take any detours from that playlist. Apparently, I didn’t make this point emphatically enough because I was horrified when he started taking requests and “Boot-Scoot Boogie”, songs from the soundtrack of Jesus Christ Superstar, and other unacceptable songs were polluting the air. It is my only bad memory from an otherwise altogether lovely wedding weekend.

I’m still a little snobbish when it comes to music. I like what I like. It’s the same way I am with clothing – I can’t really explain why I do or don’t like an article of clothing except that it has to feel good and look good and the fabric has to hang a certain way. With music, my playlists range from the saddest, softest folk tunes to Nine Inch Nails. I can’t explain why I like what I like except for I like the way it falls on my ears and makes me feel or remember.

These days, I don’t listen to hardly any Top-40 music except when my boys are in the car and they want to control the radio dial. Every now and then we have a song that we all like, but most of the time the music they choose is some horrid rap thing or inexplicable Taio Cruz-sort of music. I don’t like or understand it and it has become the surest sign to me that I am getting older. I’m sure the way I feel about their music is exactly the way my mom and dad used to feel when I would turn up my cassette player and listen to Prince and Sheila E. super loud.

Every generation is shaped by their music, aren’t they? My mom loved Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. She remained a steadfast fan her whole life. I’ll always have a soft spot for the Cure, the Smiths, the Pixies and the long summers and college friends they represent. Whenever I listen to Bon Jovi, I’ll think of the night I was first kissed by a lakeside campfire in northern Minnesota. Margaritaville by Jimmy Buffett recalls for me the day in 1977 my dad told us he was going to leave us, and I was heartbroken, yet secretly glad at the same time – but then he never did leave. The Tragically Hip and Amanda Marshall were the soundtrack for the years I was a new pastor in New York, weathering long winters, driving by the light of the Marlboro in my hand, and my last months of being single. When I was pregnant with my sons, I played the Samples and the Killers on high volume with the hopes that my boys would listen in utero and grow an affection for them as well.

Thank God for music. Seriously. My youngest son says he wants to be a musician when he gets older. While other parents might cringe at the possibility that their child is going to pursue an unpredictable, unstable life in the arts, I just smile and tell him, “You do that, son.” Make music. Create. Because every time you listen to the Muse and form something out of nothing, you shift the world a little bit – for yourself and for others.


Twist of Fate

Recorded by Olivia Newton-John

Do we deserve a second chance
How did we fall into this circumstance
We weren’t so straight and narrow
This is much more than we deserve

A higher voice has called the tune
Two hearts that lost the beat will now resume
The gift of life extension
By divine intervention

It’s gotta be a strange twist of fate
Telling me that Heaven can wait
Telling me to get it right this time
Life doesn’t mean a thing
Without the love you bring
Love is what we’ve found
The second time around

Don’t understand what’s going on
Woke up this morning all the hurt was gone
This is a new beginning
I’m back in the land of the living

It’s gotta be a strange twist of fate
Telling me that Heaven can wait
Telling me to get it right this time
Life doesn’t mean a thing
Without the love you bring
Love is what we’ve found
The second time around

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