There are many things I miss about living in NYC. One of those things is my commute. That may sound strange, especially in the car culture of North East Ohio. You have to remember, NYC is not a car culture — far from it. My commute was by bus, subway, or commuter train, and I was able to get a lot done. Over the years I got really good at putting on a full face of make up. I also graded a ton of papers, wrote a lot, studied a lot of scores, and knitted several hats and scarves. In fact, there were times when other folks commuting on a schedule similar to mine would comment on the progress of my knitting. Commuting was not wasted time, it was some of the most productive time of my day.
Now commuting is very different. I can’t knit and drive. I can’t read or grade papers and drive. While I’ve seen other drivers doing it, I can’t put on make up and drive (seriously, ladies?). The only thing I can do to calm my nerves and keep my road rage at bay is to listen to music. My iPod has become my co-pilot.
I have extremely eclectic taste in music. As a classically trained performing musician, I am extremely fond of symphonies, concertos, and chamber music. I also like music from around the world: Irish fiddle, Klezmer, Russian Orthodox church music, to name a few. I love popular music: everything from the show tunes of Gershwin, Porter, and Sondheim to the fantastically hip fusion of the Dave Matthews Band. Music is my life’s blood, my nourishment, and (in some ways) my religion. Nothing else (legal) in the world can transport so many people to so many different places and express everything from joy to despair. I consider myself blessed to be a musician. It has been a gift in my life.
So, you can imagine that my car rides are full of music. I tend to go on binges. I wore a grove in my Adele cd, 21. Then I played The Cars to death (“Here she comes again…”). The Police (“Don’t Stand So Close to Me”), Sting (“Seven Days is all she wrote”), and now my latest earwig — Michael Jackson. Michael takes me right back to my childhood, back to The Jackson 5 on television in those bell bottoms and news boy hats. Michael Jackson was this amazing little kid who could out sing and out dance all of his brothers. He was a star who stood out, even among the immense talent his brothers brought to the table. Michael was everything. His fans got to watch him grow up before their very eyes. He went from I’ll Be There (“Just look over your shoulders, honey”) to Dancin’ Machine — and THE ROBOT! And then came the solo albums, especially the early collaborations with Quincy Jones. Off the Wall, Thriller, Bad — works of pure artistic pop genius. That’s what I listen to in my car these days. It makes dealing with the insanity of driving in North East Ohio tolerable, but only barely.
There are very few songs I skip, especially on Thriller. Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’, Thriller, Beat It, Billie Jean, Human Nature, Pretty Young Thing (I will NOT make an ironic comment here, no matter how sorely I may be tempted…). I could hear them 100 times each today and still be dying to hear them again tomorrow morning. I was less familiar with Bad, which came out when I was in a decidedly anti-Michael Jackson phase (ill conceived, I know), but I’ve gotten to know that album better over the last few years. Of all the songs, my favorite — by a long shot — is Man In The Mirror.
I’m gonna make a change
For once in my life
Gonna feel real good, gonna make a difference
Gonna make it right
It starts so simply. You may not even know what the song’s about until the second part of the verse when he explicitly talks about the homeless. But that opening hooks you. “I’m gonna make a change” — who doesn’t relate to that? How does that change happen? He tells you: “That’s why I’m starting with me. I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways. No message could’ve been any clearer: if you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change.”
It’s so damn simple. I’ve been surrounded by this concept for years. Oberlin had a slogan that I love: “Think one person can change the world? So do we.” The Serenity Prayer talks about change: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” “It’s been a long time coming, but I know a change gonna come.” Change is hard, but change is inevitable. The hardest part is figuring out what needs to change, and then changing.
Even at the beginning of Joss Stone’s album, “Introducing Joss Stone” (which I had the pleasure of playing on), Vinny Jones talks about change: “I see change, I embody change… but the truth is, you gotta have the balls to change.”
In the last six years, change has played a pivotal role in my family’s life. We picked up and moved from NYC to Oberlin, OH, where my husband changed jobs and my kids changed schools. My life in particular has been marked by change — my hair, my weight, my career, my sobriety. At 40, I walked away from life as I knew it into an unknown life that I could not control. Change was, as I said before, inevitable.
Today, I look at the woman in the mirror and I ask her to change her ways. I want to make the world a better place, and I know it starts with me. I do believe one person can change the world. I do believe that change begins with each man and woman looking in the mirror every morning. We each need to ask the person in the mirror to make a change today. That’s the only way we will ever fix this broken world and get anywhere near where humanity should be.
The end of the song is incredibly emotional for me. The gospel choir implores us, “Yeah, make that change!” as Michael riffs: “You got to start with yourself, brother”, “gotta make that change today”, and “you got to stand up and lift yourself up”. By the song’s end, I am fired up and ready to be that force for positive change in the world. I am inspired. I am lifted up. I am ready to make that change.
At those moments, I don’t miss my old commute quite as much. I’d look like a lunatic singing out loud with this song on the subway. In my car, I don’t care who sees me. What’s most important is that I get inspired to go in to work and be that change. That’s what looking in that mirror does for me.
Like Michael says at the very end of the song: “Make that change.”
I believe we all can.