Listening to books as I strolled the hills and meadows of my hometown was one of the only things that kept me relatively sane during the pandemic.
In a perfect world, I’d have someone to keep me company, to entertain and distract me with stories about their spouses and children, or provide a sounding board as I prattle on about my own life. But having a walking buddy is not always possible, particularly in the summer when people scatter. I’ve learned the hard way that a walking date is the first thing to go when the day gets a little hectic, meaning I’m on my own.
A lot of people took up walking during the pandemic to get outside and stay relatively fit. There’s a couple in my neighborhood who march by military style every day, the husband 10 paces ahead of the wife, occasionally making circles to wait for her to catch up. But I’d rather walk alone than trail someone who can’t be bothered talking to me. I’m annoyed for this woman, though it seems to be working for them.
I’m late to the Audiobook game, a person who always wondered about the state of marriages of couples who insist on listening to books on long road trips. I relish having a chance to chat with the Curmudgeon on long car trips because he’s a captive audience, unable to scroll through his phone or sneak a peek at the Boston Red Sox or Boston Bruins game as I rail about something.
The Curmudgeon and I are seasoned long haulers, able to keep a conversation going for most of our annual 16-hour road trip to Hilton Head Island every spring. When things get dull, I play DJ, digging through my music library to play old chestnuts like the Stray Cats and the Peppermint Rainbow, an obscure group from the 60s. No surprise that they were one-hit wonders with a ridiculous name like that.
I first turned to Audible in the early part of the pandemic, listening to a free autobiography by music legend James Taylor. Bonus: Taylor narrated the book in his beautiful voice, which is just as soulful and appealing as his singing voice. Between chapters, I’d play some of Taylor’s songs, happy to know the background of how they came to be.
Taylor’s book unwittingly sparked a succession of Audiobooks about musicians and their music, a kind of MTV “Behind the Music” walk down memory lane. Since March 2020, I’ve listened to 12 Audiobooks about musicians, from Jim Morrison of the Doors, Grace Slick of Jefferson Starship and Tom Petty to Rod Stewart, Heart, Fleetwood Mac and Peter Frampton.
One of the most surprising aspects of my selections is the number of lesser known group members I’ve opted to listen to over their more famous bandmates. I passed up Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler’s book “Is The Noise in My Head Bothering You?” in favor of bassist Joe Perry’s book “Rocks.” I passed on Go-Go Girls’ lead singer Belinda Carlisle’s book in favor of bassist Kathy Valentine’s book, “All I Ever Wanted,” which I thoroughly enjoyed.
For me, there’s something fascinating about the “fly on the wall” stories from people who were in groups, but not center stage. I tried to listen to both Tyler and Carlisle’s stories after listening to their bandmates’ books, but wasn’t interested enough to go past the sample. I’m sure there could be a psychological element involved: I am, of course, the second born child, never having the spotlight to myself. Or it may have something to do with my appreciation for a good base, which makes the song.
Rock memoirs strike the right note during a stroll, engaging me but not forcing me to think too hard. I tried listening to a biography of William Faulkner, but got bored after a few chapters. I have no idea what I was thinking when I bought it, because I don’t have the patience for any of it. I’m pretty sure the hard copy of the book is just as tedious.
One of the best parts about this endeavor is learning tidbits about singers and songs that I’ve loved for years:
John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful played harmonica on the Doors’ Roadhouse Blues, changing his name on the album credits so his fans wouldn’t be upset.
Stevie Wonder played harmonica on Chaka Khan’s song “I Feel for You” after attending Marvin Gaye’s funeral. Listening to it, you can almost hear Wonder’s joy and appreciation for life. I’ve loved that song for years, yet never focused on the harmonica part until I realized who was playing.
For me, the background to a song has always been as interesting as the song itself. When he was writing his song “Melissa,”, Greg Allman couldn’t come up with a suitable girl’s name until he walked into a convenience store and someone yelled, “Melissa.” David Lee Roth wrote the words to nearly every Van Halen song after his bandmates wrote the music.
Next up: Sinead O’Connor’s new memoir narrated in her delightful Irish accent, which was suggested by one of my sisters with an equal passion for rock memoirs. I don’t know her music that well, but that’s half the fun of this endeavor. It opened my horizons during a bleak period of entrapment, giving me a mental as well as a physical escape. And for that, I’ll be eternally grateful.