The Songs that We Know
There are songs that we know, tucked away in the back of our memories that come to in the form of a hum or a whistle while we’re doing dishes or laundry, pulling weeds or fixing on the tractor.
Maybe it was a song we learned in elementary music class, standing next to your best friend on the risers, singing at the top of our lungs without a care, the way only a 7-year-old can.
Or it might be our favorite church hymn, or the one you first learned to play on the guitar or the piano, or the verse your mother used to sing quietly while she helped you wash your hair in the bath.
These songs become a part of our DNA, just like the color of your eyes or the swirl of cowlicked hair on the back of your head, you seem to have always known the words to the first verse of “You Are My Sunshine” or “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” or that song that your dad used to sing loud and silly in the kitchen while he spun you around next to the refrigerator… “Be-bop-a-lula, she’s my baby… Be-bop-a-lula, I don’t mean maybe…”
You hear that now and you’re instantly 10 years old again in stocking feet on the linoleum floor…
I became a singer because my dad was a singer. People ask me why or how it came to be that I carried music with me my entire life, and that’s the answer. I always felt compelled to sing along.
As far back as the memories I can reach, my dad had a guitar or a song, picking or strumming or singing along, a comfort to him that became a comfort to me. A Harry Chapin song about an immigrant grandfather, a Guy Clark tune that sounded like a hot summer day, Lyle Lovett’s “Waltzing Fool,” Emmylou’s heartbreak and the stories and characters I fell in love with in three-minute vignettes made me want to do it too, to make music like that, and to keep them close, like old friends.
Now that I have young children of my own spinning and leaping in the living room while I play my guitar, I wonder which songs might stick in their lungs and emerge while they’re packing their bags or curling their hair. It’s been 30 years since I first stood next to my dad behind a microphone, probably at an Art in the Park in my hometown, singing Nanci Griffith’s “Love at the Five and Dime.” I didn’t know then that I would recount Rita and Eddy’s love story for years to come, around campfires, on flatbed trailers, at county fairs and coffee shops and colleges throughout the country — I would take them with me. A little piece of my childhood.
And while music can be timeless, our lives are not. Last fall as I was staring down my 36th year, with little wisps of gray in my hair, I suddenly felt a real urgency to somehow capture the music I grew up playing. I wanted to always be able to turn a dial and hear my dad’s voice on John Prine’s “Paradise,” to bottle up neighbor Kelly’s yodel on Night Rider’s “Lament” and capture Mike’s doboro, steele and guitar-picking the way he’s played for me on my favorite songs since I was a kid trying to be a singer.
And so a new album was born. I called it “Playing Favorites,” because that’s what we would be doing — playing our favorites, and maybe some of yours, too.
Little did I know that during the process of making the album that I would find myself struggling to breathe, finishing up the recording process while beginning an unpredictable cancer battle.
Little did I know how important this collection of songs would become to me.
And so while I’m happy to announce that, nearly a year since I knew something just wasn’t right, I am cancer-free, I’m also excited that the news coincided with the release of this album, our gift to you, available online at jessieveedermusic.com, some select local stores and anywhere you download music.
We hope you find a few familiar tunes to hum along to.
I like the way you collect and parcel out your thoughts, Jessie Veeder, even if you did go to UND instead NDSU.