Slow dancing. It was something Julie and I did more frequently in the early years of our marriage. There weâ€™d be, alone in our apartment, holding each other and swaying to the music of Bonnie or Shawn or Bruce or Ella. As one of our favorite artists sang, we could hear the helicopters flying over North Hollywood or rowdy neighbors in the courtyard below. In those moments, the outside world would fade away and it just the two of us in our own paradise. As our lives became busier with work, school and children, those simple times became more infrequent. These days our nights together are spent filling in the details of our spent days. We catch up with each othersâ€™ previous twelve hours before sinking into the couch for an hour of mindless entertainment on the television. With the kids asleep in the next room, playing music rarely occurs. The days of dancing seemed far gone, until we heard Patty Griffinâ€™s beautiful â€œHeavenly Day.â€
Like so many, we became fans of Griffinâ€™s music after her first album, Living With Ghosts, was released in 1996. With just her guitar and voice, that record ranks as one of the best debuts in modern rock history. Griffinâ€™s songs â€œEvery Little Bit,â€ â€œYou Are Not Aloneâ€ and the tragic â€œPoor Manâ€™s Houseâ€ received minimal airplay on the L.A. radio station we listened to back in the mid 90â€™s. After the station was sold (and changed formats) and Griffinâ€™s subsequent albums were ditched in the corporate downsizing of A&M Records (who dropped her after Universal bought the label), finding her music became a challenge. Luckily, there were champions of Patty Griffin out there, including Emmylou Harris, the Dixie Chicks, and some dude named Jeff Giles. She found a new home at Dave Matthews’ ATO Records, which has allowed her a chance to continue growing and succeeding as an artist. What I adore about Patty Griffin is the conviction with which she sings every song. Few artists can match her intensity and soul both on record and in concert (where she excels). Since signing to ATO, Griffin has released three stunning albums: 1000 Kisses (2002), Impossible Dream (2004), and Children Running Through (2007), the CD where youâ€™ll find â€œHeavenly Day.â€
The execs at ATO are savvy enough to realize that the old models of getting a musician’s work into the publicâ€™s ear have fallen by the wayside. Thus, they bombard music supervisors for film and television series with their artistsâ€™ repertoire. It was while watching a quirky little romantic series called Side Order of Life that Julie and I first heard â€œHeavenly Day.â€ Among other topics, this Lifetime series dealt with one characterâ€™s battle against a brain tumor. During the final moments of one particularly emotional episode, this character decided to take charge and cut off her curly locks just before starting chemotherapy. She would not let her disease control her life. However, when it came time to cut her hair, she couldnâ€™t lift the scissors. Her best friend, standing by, lifted the shears for her and proceeded to start the cutting. Against these images, â€œHeavenly Dayâ€ played. While the images were sad to watch, Griffinâ€™s lyrics provided an optimistic tone and perhaps revealed the ill womanâ€™s inner optimism.
Oh heavenly day,
All the clouds blew away
Got no trouble today, with anyone
The smile on your face, I live only to see
It’s enough for me baby, It’s enough for me
Oh, heavenly day, heavenly day, heavenly day
Tomorrow may rain with sorrow
Here’s a little time we can borrow
Forget all our troubles in these moments so few
Because right now, all that we really have to do
Is have ourselves, a heavenly day
Lay here and watch the trees sway
Can’t see no other way, no way, no way
Oh, heavenly day, heavenly day, heavenly day
No one at my shoulder, bringing me fear
Got no clouds up above me, bringing me tears
Got nothing to tell you, I’ve got nothing much to say
Only I’m glad to be here with you
On this heavenly, heavenly, heavenly day
all the trouble gone away
For a while anyway, for a while anyway
Heavenly day, Heavenly day
Honestly, you run a risk placing a Patty Griffin song in a show and expecting the viewers to pay attention to what they are watching. She steals your attention. But itâ€™s not like you mind being diverted (especially if you have the show recorded). That was the case with Julie. After the episode was completed, she rewound and watched the final minutes time and again, just to hear Griffinâ€™s angelic voice singing. Soon thereafter, I bought the song for her so she could listen to it anywhere, not just with the television on. Unlike so many of Griffinâ€™s potent compositions, â€œHeavenly Dayâ€ pierces the heart with joy instead of melancholy. For obvious reasons, Julie and I have found comfort in the songâ€™s message. Any family dealing with the daily stress and worry of having a loved one living with an illness can embrace â€œHeavenly Dayâ€ and celebrate its sanguinity.
In truth, this song is really belongs to Julie; sheâ€™s listened to it hundreds more times than I have. It does not affect me the way it does her. But isnâ€™t that how many songs become our own, too? We find music that becomes vital to us not only through a single moment or years of moments, but also through the people with whom we associate the songs.
Looking back on those early years of marriage when Julie and I would create our own private ballroom, I have no clue what exact track was playing accompaniment to our slow dances. However, I can tell you what song was playing the most recent time we held each other and danced. Last October, we returned home from an evening excursion to get ice cream after a long, tiring day. As Sophie and Jacob sat in the kitchen gobbling up their frozen goodies, Julie turned on the stereo and pulled me close. There we were, alone in our living room, swaying to the music of Patty Griffin. As one of our favorite artists sang, Sophie and Jacob carried on their own conversation. â€œI like vanilla.â€ â€œYeah, itâ€™s good.â€ â€œOooh, brain freeze.â€ And then giggling.
It was perfect. It was a heavenly day.