Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Angel of the food court

The food court in the Cincinnati airport is an odd place to encounter an angel, but that's exactly what happened to me last week. For a few moments in that clinical public space, my angel sang to me and to me alone.

Even odder, this was our second chance meeting.  I encountered the same angel in another public space back in December--in the Dominican Republic, of all places.

I was in a Cincinnati suburb interviewing for another job with my present employer (which I did not get--more about that at another time).  I had a couple of hours to go before my flight to Detroit and then another flight south; and with eight hours of travel ahead before I reached my nest in the Bayberry Woods, I grabbed a meal at one of those airport food chain places.  You know the ones, they all have names like Ruby Friday's, TGI Applebees, North Dakota Pizza Kitchen, etc.

There was music playing in the background at that perfect Muzak level; loud enough to fill an uncomfortable silence on an elevator ride with strangers, but quiet enough not to interfere with a whispered conversation.  The thing is, the ambient noise in the Cincinnati airport Outback Wild Wings drowned out that music, rendering it virtually inaudible, almost subliminal.  Ordinarily missing out on generic airport music would be a blessing, but not this time.

As I dug into my plate of empty calories alone in my booth, something in the canned music hit me with an electric jolt, and I suddenly strained to listen.  I could swear I was hearing an angel underneath the bustling sounds of aeronautical commerce.  Even though it came to me distorted and indistinct, as if through a wall of water, something about that subliminal sound reached out to me.  At last I was able to make out a few words--"she's going to find true love."  Given that the theme of half the art, literature and music ever produced is love, I didn't have much hope I'd learn the identity of my Muzak angel.

Turns out it was enough.  I Googled "lyrics she's going to find true love." My Muzak angel was the first result.  "Oh, of course," I said to myself when I learned the identity of the song and its singer.  The title of the song was "Tenderness on the Block" and the singer was Shawn Colvin.  It couldn't have been anyone else.

I'd heard the song a thousand times before but didn't recognize it.  Co-written by Warren Zevon and Jackson Browne, "Tenderness on the Block" is one of the tracks on Zevon's Excitable Boy, an album that I've listened through hundreds of times on vinyl, cassette, CD and my iPod.

Shawn Colvin's version of this old favorite sounds very different, partly because it is backed up by the Subdudes.  For discerning readers who are non-hipsters, the Subdudes were (or still are, I'm not sure) a very groovy band of middle aged guys from New Orleans who had a distinct sound.  I've seen them perform several times over the years.  The marriage of a great Warren Zevon song, a groovy New Orleans hipster band and the voice of an angel works in every possible way and on every possible level for me.

Flash back to December.  Teri and I were taking a long beach weekend in the Dominican Republic.  The resort hotel was playing Christmas music in the open air lobby.  Most of what was playing were the old chestnuts we are all familiar with--Andy Williams, Bing Crosby and their ilk--but then, I heard a Christmas song I had never heard before, and it sounded like it was being sung by an angel.  Just as I did last week, I wrote down a few words from the song and Googled them as soon as I got home.  You guessed it, it was Shawn Colvin.

This kind of Muzak revelation has happened to me twice and only twice.  What are the odds that two obscure tracks from the same relatively obscure folk singer would motivate me to hunt them down?

Here's the point, and it's hardly original; music has amazing power to speak to us in a powerful and primitive way.  Even when we can hardly hear it or it's just playing in the background, music is acting on us in ways we don't fully comprehend.

Okay, that's not the real point.  That's just some thoughtful-sounding stuff I thought I should say.

Here's the real point:

I don't know if Shawn Colvin's voice and music pushes your buttons in the way it obviously does for me.  Probably not.  But somewhere your music is out there calling to you to come find it.  My wish for you is that you do find the music of your life.  When you do, sing, and keep on singing.


  1. This was an intriguing post for me because music is so vital to me as well. I'm going to look in to Shawn Colvin some more. I just googled the name and learned that she was featured on NPR's World Cafe.

  2. Charles, Shawn Colvin is best known for her Grammy award-winning song "Sunny Came Home" (1998). She's still out there, keeps an active website, and posts frequently on FB. I described her as an "obscure folk singer" in my post, but that was unfair. She's had quite a career. Here's a link to the page about her on Wikipedia: