About three years ago I was diagnosed with an illness that causes severe fatigue. Around the same time Donald Trump announced his campaign for President. One attack on the body and one on the spirit. 

Around the time the jaw-dropping Republican debates started (look at that face, low energy Jeb, bleeding from wherever), I turned off the TV early each evening and went to bed with a good book and WFMT’s classical music. I often leave WFMT on all night; music is very comforting during the odd toss-and-turn-all-night. And I’ve read a ton of books — lots of history in my old age as I try to piece together the truth about my country, good and bad. Not to spoil Thanksgiving and all the Indian/Pilgrim cutouts, but did you know that Andrew Jackson ordered troops to burn Native Americans alive?

I love classical music, with the exception of long operas. I don’t get rap and hip-hop, although I understand their cultural importance.

I asked some friends to pick a few pieces of their favorite music — stuff they could listen to over and over if they were, say, in a gulag or stranded on a deserted island.

People in my age group, myself included, are crazy about Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Luciano Pavarotti (two of us love La Boheme), and shared my love of Willie Nelson  (any man who has a daughter should listen to Willie Nelson’s Scarlet Ribbons with at least one hanky in hand).

We like our old musicals, especially with Fred Astaire both dancing and singing, and the big bands — can anything beat Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing”? We like Patsy Cline and James Taylor and Leonard Cohen. And the coolest person — when cool was really cool — says she can listen over and over to an album by John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, recorded in 1963.

Drop down a decade or so to friends who were teenagers when the Beatles crashed the party. One remembers: “I was 16 years old when the Beatles came to New York in the early ’60s. My father bought me my first 33 record of their songs. We were in heaven in Connecticut as we listened to their music on a New York radio station (with Murray the K), watched them on Ed Sullivan and wore the record down playing it over and over again.”

And then came Aretha Franklin and Paul Simon. One of my friends put her favorites in images: “Aretha’s voice is so powerful, she could inspire me to build a yacht out of coconut shells and get off the island. Paul Simon’s Graceland takes my mind to places around the world. It always sounds fresh and new, even though I have listened to it dozens of times. At the end of the movie, St. Vincent, Bill Murray sings out loud while listening to Bob Dylan’s ‘Shelter from the Storm.’ It’s a great visual memory that I would enjoy over and over again.”

My longtime CSO partner says, “I could go on and on because I love music in so many genres: classic rock, pop, jazz (yes, of course, Ella and Dinah and others), cabaret and opera which are so close in the feeling they convey, symphonic music (I’d take the American composers like Copland and Bernstein and Barber and Floyd) and a few select European classical composers.”

Another in that age group reports, “Lyrics are critical to my enjoyment of music. I love poet musicians like Leonard Cohen (my favorite of all time) and Tom Waits. The rock operas Tommy and Jesus Christ Superstar are the music of my youth, and I still love them. Next to Normal is in a category of its own; I have seen it 15 times.”

Finally, I heard from two men who are married to each other, for whom music, theater, and musical theater define their lives. Their lists of favorites were so long that one pal said, “How big is the vehicle that will take me to this deserted island?” I guess I should have replied “Think raft, not destroyer.” 

At any rate, in addition to their very comprehensive list of faves, they both agree that anything by Joni Mitchell or Stephen Sondheim would be to them like Tom Hanks’ volleyball, Wilson, in the film Castaway.

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Mary Kay O'Grady

Mary Kay O'Grady is a former high school English teacher and later owned her own public relations business, The O'Grady Group. She has lived in Oak Park for almost fifteen years. She is currently the chairperson...