A few years ago while at a business function, they passed out these drawings of mustaches on popsicle sticks, each with a printed question to serve as icebreakers to start conversation. Such things are silly at best, but harmless at worst. If you don’t know someone, it’s an easy way to talk and if you do know people, it’s fun to razz each other for your answers.
Everyone is just waiting for the open bar anyway. Those are bad things to have at functions anyway, but if someone is offering me a free drink I’m not likely to turn it down. I do enjoy the occasional refreshment.
Knowing people at this particular conference, I gravitated to them and jumped in with the question printed on my party favor. It was, “If you could only listen to one song for the rest of your life, what would it be?”
This naturally opens the door for all sorts of nostalgic conversations. People will gravitate toward the tremendously knowable touchstone songs of their era. The intent, of course, is for it to serve as a fun way to “get to know” someone.
I decided to answer seriously. Most people would have expected me to offer up a song by The Doors, but I didn’t.
I know, it shocked me, too.
Instead I answered honestly in the moment. I chose In A Gadda Da Vida by Iron Butterfly.
One person in the group dismissed me as a jokester and quite abruptly jumped to another person. I don’t think she realized how hurtful it was for her to do that, and presume that I’d have lied for the sake of a joke in that moment.
See, she thought that I’d picked In A Gadda Da Vida because if I could listen only to one song for all time, I’d choose the longest one I’d heard. At 17 minutes and 4 seconds, it seems like the silly answer to how it would fill the time better than…well, an entire side to a Ramones album.
But the honest truth is, I think that In A Gadda Da Vida is one of the best songs I’ve ever heard. Sure, it’s a long song. But it goes on an entire journey and features some of my favorite solo instrumental work in a Rock song. And make no mistake, Rock is where my musical heart lies.
Let’s be clear. The question isn’t about best song. It’s about the one you could be satisfied listening to for the rest of your life without chance of reprieve. It may shock you that I wouldn’t necessarily choose the “best” song then, but the one that fit the bill for most likely to satisfy me with repeated listening.
In a sense, I would only want the memory of the “best” song because then I could never get sick of it. That is an important thing to consider with a question like this.
If it was just about running time, I could choose other long songs like Scenes from an Italian Restaurant by Billy Joel. That one is eminently singable and tied very closely to some terrific memories in my life. If it was just about philosophies, I could choose The Wanderer by U2 with Johnny Cash. If it was about just the instrumentals, I could choose Layla by Derek & The Dominoes. I might even choose L.A. Woman by The Doors, because that is one of the best songs ever recorded.
Maybe I could choose In A Silent Way by Miles Davis. I could start each day with Giant Steps by John Coltrane. Heck, you might wonder why I wouldn’t choose a section from John Williams’ score for Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith or Danny Elfman’s Batman score from 1989, two works that play in my head constantly.
But I chose In A Gadda Da Vida because it’s just a beautiful song that never fails to capture me. I fell in love with it the first time I heard it in Michael Mann’s sublime 1980s masterpiece, Manhunter. I still feel it in my heart when the drum solo resolves and the electric guitar kicks back in.
It’s funny how a random memory like this sticks with you. I think it’s just because someone dismissively thought I was lying about something that I took so seriously while they treated it like a dumb question.
I can’t remember whole chunks of my childhood, but I remember that moment when someone didn’t listen when I told them what it would be if I could choose one song.
Memory is weird.
I’m pretty sure Agent Bun would label this as one of my loony ramblings about nonsense. She’d point to it as evidence that I think differently from other people about things. She also knows I consider that a compliment.
I do think about these things a little more deeply than average, I guess. Perhaps it’s why I have communication problems with people when I’m over on a metaphorical island about something and I look around and wonder where everyone is. Maybe I just think too much about trivial things.
But either way, I still wish I could tell that person I wasn’t kidding. I might have dropped it to be polite, but I was being serious when I chose In A Gadda Da Vida. I doubt she even remembers, but if I figure out how to move backward in time like a Christopher Nolan movie, that’ll be on my to-do list.
Closing on a High Note (Get It?)
But to close out on a fun note, here’s the classic moment on The Simpsons when Bart snuck it in as a hymn at church. I’ve shared it before. I shall share it again.