“Ah, music! A magic beyond all we do here!” – Albus Dumbledore
“With music, you don’t often have to translate it. It just affects you, and you don’t know why.” – David Byrne
I have the most eclectic taste in music of anyone I know. Survey the couple of thousand songs in my iTunes library and you’ll have a hard time pinning down a particular favorite genre or artist. You’ll find everything from George Jones to Van Halen, and from The Commodores to the Electric Light Orchestra. A recent training hike music shuffle took me from Kirk Franklin to Frank Sinatra to Def Leppard. That’s a little weird, I know. Although I’ve been inspired and motivated by music during each of my five decades of life, I suppose I like the 80s music of my teenage years the best. In fact, if you’re putting together an 80s music trivia team, you’d be well served to pick me first.
While I’ll have access to thousands of songs to listen to on the Appalachian Trail, I decided to put together a 15-song playlist to listen to as I begin each morning’s hike. (After that, I’ll listen to birds and talk to other humans.) Each song has a special and unique meaning to me. Together, they will energize me as I take on rain, pain, and elevation gain. Yes, after prayer, coffee, and a bagel covered in peanut butter, it’s music that will fuel the first few miles out of the gate each day. Hunter Thompson puts it this way:
“Music has always been a matter of Energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel. I have always needed Fuel. I am a serious consumer. On some nights I still believe that a car with the gas needle on empty can run about fifty more miles if you have the right music very loud on the radio.”
Here then, are the songs that will fuel my journey as I hit the trail each morning for the next 6 months, and why they made the cut.
Revelation Song – This amazingly uplifting song, awarded Worship Song of the Year at the 2010 Dove Awards, was recorded by contemporary Christian group Phillips, Craig and Dean. Band member Randy Phillips explained the group’s rationale: “This song captures the moment of looking up into Heaven, peeling back the curtain of eternity so we can peek in. If you keep your eyes on the Dow Jones or nuclear weapons in North Korea, you’ll always be nervous. Look to the awesomeness of God instead.”
I can’t think of a better way to start the day than to look up to the heavens at the awesomeness of God and sing, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, holy holy is He. Sing a new song, to Him who sits on, heaven’s mercy seat. Holy, holy, holy…the Lord God Almighty…who was and is and is to come!” I get chills every single time I hear this song. It’ll be even chillier when I hear it on Mount Washington.
I Lived – This inspirational song was recorded by American rock band One Republic in 2014. Band member Ryan Tedder, who wrote this song for his 4-year-old son, said “The whole idea, to quote the late great Robin Williams from Dead Poets Society, is ‘carpe diem’.” He said, “It’s absolutely universal and applicable to everybody.” Regarding the lyric “With every broken bone, I swear I lived,” Tedder said, “So for every day that you’re on this earth, for every minute that you have, the whole idea is doing nothing less than exactly what you feel you’re supposed to do and squeezing every last drop out of life every day, regardless of the difficulties or trials that you face.”
As great as the song is, the music video is even better. It’s dedicated to Brian Warnecke, a 15-year-old fan of the band, who suffers from cystic fibrosis. Just as the song inspires Brian to keep fighting and to live every day to its fullest, it will inspire me to keep hiking and to try to live my life to the fullest as well. To Brian and my fellow thru-hikers, I hope we each can say, “I owned every second that this world could give. I saw so many places, the things that I did. With every broken bone, I swear I lived.”
Mighty to Save – This 2006 worship song was released by Hillsong Church, although I’m going with the Hallal Music version. As a hiker, I love the line, “Savior, he can move the mountains” although I really just want him to help move me over the next mountain. The song reminds me of God’s love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. It also reminds me that, despite my fears and failures, I need to try to let my light shine…to help and encourage others whenever I can. If I don’t do that on the AT, it will have been a failed walk, regardless of how far I go.
Home – This 2012 song was the coronation song for American Idol winner Phillip Phillips. According to co-writer Greg Holden, “the song is about a friend who was going through a very difficult time, and it was his way of reaching out and saying that ‘you know someone’s here for you’”.
When I hear this song each morning, I’ll think about Janet. As a highly mobile military family and now full-time RVers, we think of home not so much in terms of brick and mortar, but relationships and experiences. I’ll be motivated to finish the trail to see her, because to me she is “home”…at least until I get to the home sung about in the Revelation song.
As a thru-hiker, I also find meaning in the lyrics, “As we roll down this unfamiliar road”…and “just know you’re not alone.” Later, he says, “Don’t pay no mind to the demons they fill you with fear. The trouble—it might drag you down. If you get lost, you can always be found.” So I’ll think of my wife and remember that she’s right there with me in spirit. If I keep walking, and block out the “demons” of fear and doubt, I’ll eventually find my way back to her…to home.
Mirrors – Justin Timberlake recorded this song in 2013 for his 20/20 Experience album. According to JT, it’s a love song about a person’s other half and is inspired by the marriage of his grandparents. He said, “One of the most valuable things in a relationship is being able to constantly change and be individual, but look to the other side to the person that you’re with and know that they’re changing as well individually, but somehow you two can mirror each other and be the other half of that world that you both create.”
That is really cool and deep and meaningful, but honestly, I just like the way the song sounds. Rolling Stone critic Jon Dolan describes Timberlake’s singing on the song as “replete with laidback soulfulness, mountain-climbing croon and falsetto butter.” Falsetto butter? Did he just call JT margarine? I have no clue what that means but I think I agree with it…especially the mountain-climbing part! All I know is this song became popular as I was training for the Disney Marathon, and it got me through the final mile on many, many training runs in and around the Fishhawk subdivision of Lithia, Florida.
Beautiful Day – My first experience with U2 music was listening to Sunday, Bloody, Sunday in my friend Jeff Goss’ car as we drove to school and around McGuire AFB, NJ during our senior year of high school. Windows rolled down. Music blaring. Yes, that was us. By the end of the year, the lyrics “how long, how long must we sing this song?” began to take on new meaning. Although that song is a classic 80s song, I instead went with the more recent Beautiful Day. Lead singer Bono explained that the upbeat track is about losing everything but still finding joy in what one has.
On the Appalachian Trail, I will temporarily lose an awful lot, but not everything. This song will remind me that no matter how bad the day may seem (weather, hunger, homesickness, etc.) it can actually be a beautiful day if I look for the joy in it. Psalm 118:24 states, “This is the day the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.” In fact, if (when) I start whining, I hope someone out there will remind me it’s a beautiful day.
Don’t Stop Believin’ – For starters, Journey’s Escape album came out in 1981 at the height of my music listening teen years. It would become my most listened to album of my high school years, a title held by Styx’ The Grand Illusion during my middle school years. Escape was the first album that I remember thinking that every song on it was really good. While loudly singing Open Arms alone in my room as a 9th grader, I realized just how bad of a singer I was. Even the dog walked out.
Steve Perry was inspired to write Don’t Stop Believin’ while on tour in Detroit in 1980, staring out a hotel window at 2 a.m. Perry said, “I was digging the idea of how the lights were facing down so that you couldn’t see anything. All of a sudden I’d see people walking out of the dark, and into the light. And the term ‘streetlight people’ came to me.”
Anyway, I jammed to Don’t Stop Believin’ as a high school student. Then, thirty years later, I watched my own students at Foundation Christian Academy jam to the same song as part of a campus-wide lip dub. Thus, the song reminds me not only of my high school years but the fun that I had teaching and getting to know the youngsters at FCA.
The Spirit of Radio (Live) – This song was released by Canadian rock band Rush towards the end of my 8th grade year. I had a room to myself down in the basement in our Dover, Delaware home and I would listen to Rush and Cheap Trick at Budokan (“I want you…to want…ME!) on my totally cool 8-track tape player. I played air guitar and air drums while singing along with Geddy Lee’s high-pitched voice. Years later The Spirit of Radio would become an “insanely hard” song to master on Guitar Hero. On the trail, I will focus on just hiking and singing the song, but will imagine my friends Jeff Hernandez and Jonathan Smith right behind me, deftly handling the air guitar and air drum portions of this song, respectively. If I make it to the halfway point (approximately Harpers Ferry, WV), I will replace this song with Rush’s Limelight and/or Tom Sawyer for a little variety.
Counting Stars – A second One Republic song made the cut for two reasons. First, it’s got a great rhythm to it that makes you want to hike fast. Second, I love the opening lyrics… “Lately, I’ve been, I’ve been losing sleep, Dreaming about the things that we could be. But baby, I’ve been, I’ve been praying hard, Said, no more counting dollars…We’ll be counting stars, yeah we’ll be counting stars.” For me, it’s a reminder of a process that Janet and I worked through a couple of years ago, and a decision that came out of it. We were comfortable, making okay money, buying increasingly nicer homes, and accumulating material possessions. I guess you could say we were living the American dream. Most of my military peers retired and then returned as well-paid contractors, with the potential for double pensions down the road, tremendous wealth, and an even more comfortable retirement. We made a conscious decision to divert from that path, sell our house, and unload most of our possessions. Rather than work another two decades accumulating wealth and things, we decided to travel the country by RV, serve others, and accumulate experiences/memories. Metaphorically speaking, we’ve chosen “counting stars” to “counting dollars”. While that decision is not possible, practical, or desirable for everyone, it has worked out well for us so far and we have no regrets.
Lose Yourself (Radio Friendly version) – Rapper Eminem wrote this song while filming his first movie, 8 Mile, and the song is featured in the movie. The movie is based on his life growing up in a poor Detroit neighborhood, dreaming of rap stardom.
The first time I heard the song, I had no clue what he was talking about. The best I could tell, a Globetrotter named Rabbit was throwing up his mom’s spaghetti on his sweater. Over time, I have come to appreciate his passion and borderline anger in the song. Elite runners and other athletes, of which I am not, often use anger or a “killer instinct” to succeed. As strange as it may sound, you can get “angry” at the runner in front of you, generating a little extra fuel to catch him, especially at the end of a race. In the movie, the young rapper is trying to succeed and make a name for himself in the highly competitive rap world, and he’s facing a once-in-a-life opportunity. He realizes the magnitude of the moment, and he is, quite simply, all in. His passion, anger, desperation and focus combine to help him achieve his dreams.
Like the previously mentioned song Mirrors “fueled” the training for my second marathon, Lose Yourself did the same for my first. I’m hoping I will find it just as inspirational going up and down the 400 mountain ranges of the AT. The last 10 words in the song are perhaps the most inspirational…”You can do anything you set your mind to, man.” Powerful words. Like Rabbit, I feel like I realistically have one shot, one opportunity, to thru-hike the trail. Will I capture it, or just let it slip? Yo.
Crazy Train – This heavy metal offering from Ozzy Osbourne is supposedly about the Cold War and learning to love in a world gone mad. For me, it’s just a fun song with a lot of energy. I picture a bunch of us crazy thru-hikers getting up to head out each morning aboard our own “crazy train”. I imagine the guitar player from Mad Max Fury Road out in front of the pack, and I’m in the back yelling, “All aboard! Hahaha!”
Fun Fact: The sound at the end of the song is a studio engineer saying “An Egg” through an oscillator. Ozzy had asked him what he had for breakfast that morning. Now you know.
What Goes Around…Comes Around – This second JT song to make the cut is about a relationship that collapses because of cheating. Specifically, JT’s friend Trace Ayala was dating the actress Elisha Cuthbert (known as Kim Bauer in the television series 24). Ayala let a friend crash at his place, and the friend took up with Cuthbert, which Ayala found about later in a tabloid. The lyrics “Don’t want to think about it. Don’t want to talk about. I’m just so sick about it. Just so confused about it” were actually spoken by JT to Trace as they discussed the sad situation.
The closest connection I have with that situation was my relationship with Karen R. in 5th grade at Reilly Brown Elementary School in Dover, DE. She was the prettiest girl in our school…long brown hair with a darling Michael Strahan-ish gap between her front teeth. She was way out of my league. Still, I had the guts to call her and ask her to “go steady” with me on a Monday of Spring Break week. Amazingly, she said, “Yes”. I think it might have been my 8-track tape player. Anyway, she called me back on Wednesday to tell me that she thought we should see other people. It had been two days, folks! I hadn’t even seen her that week! Am I still bitter? You bet I am! I told my best friend, Jeff Ensslin, about it as we headed to the creek behind Fiddlers Green to go fishing. He said something to the affect, “Don’t want to think about it. Don’t want to talk about. I’m just so sick about it. Just so confused about it.”
As for the song, though, I mainly like it because it has a good hiking rhythm to it. It’s also a song that reminds me of my two awesome sons, Jason and Kyle, as together we have jammed to that song hundreds of times since it came out in 2006.
I Was Brought to My Senses – Sting is one of my all-time favorite artists, and I could have chosen any number of his songs as a solo artist or during his time with The Police. His Mercury Falling album, and this song in particular, is about appreciating nature, the changing of the seasons, and relationships. Although the song wasn’t a big hit for him, I absolutely love it…especially while listening to it out in nature.
One of his fans perhaps said it best…“I think this is just one of the most beautiful songs in the world. Lyrically, musically, the voice, the guitar…It’s about when you first fall in love with someone and suddenly the world is brighter and more beautiful. You notice everything and just appreciate it all. The first verse he is wondering what could happen between them, he sees the birds, takes it as a sign, and makes his move. The rest of the song is that first morning after telling her he loves her. He sees everything even more clearly and wonders why he did not notice the rest of the signs before.”
I especially like the lyrics, “I walked out this morning…it was like a veil had been removed from before my eyes. For the first time I saw the work of heaven, in the line where the hills had been married to the sky. And all around me every blade of singing grass, was calling out your name and that our love would always last.” The song, and that line in particular, remind me of an awesome God who created the sky, mountains, and grass…and of an awesome lady who God also created and gave to me as a very special gift.
Paradise – Coldplay’s Chris Martin explains that the album Mylo Xyloto is a story. “It’s supposed to be about two people who grow up separately in a very big oppressive city, and they each are a bit lost in their lives. The pair meet in a gang and fall in and out of love before getting back together at the end. Paradise is about a girl really, the female half of the album, just about being a bit lost in the world and escaping through fantasy.”
The girl in the song has high expectations for life and dreams about them. But she grows ups, faces difficulties, and becomes disillusioned. Ultimately, she responds with optimism and hope for the future…”I know the sun must set to rise.”
I suspect thru-hiking the AT is something like that…high expectations, followed by difficulties and some disillusionment. That’s followed by optimism, hope, and perseverance…or pessimism, hopelessness, and quitting. I’m hoping for the former, so that I can reach the final summit singing, “Para-para-paradise, Para-para-paradise, oh oh oh oh, oh-oh-oh-oh.”
Give Me Your Eyes – Last but certainly not least is perhaps my favorite song of all-time (slightly edging out Don’t Stop Believin’). The song’s meaning originated with a discussion between Brandon Heath and his friend and fellow songwriter, Jason Ingram. “We had a conversation over Chinese food that we wished we could have God’s perspective on things”, Heath said. “If we did have His perspective, we’d wish we could have it for long periods of time, rather than just for a few seconds. That was the beginning.”
What a powerful concept…wanting to see the world as God would, and having a desire to view people with more compassion. We…well, let me just say I, have a real tendency to go through the day focused on myself. Am I comfortable? What and when will I eat next? Am I happy? Are all my needs being met? Jesus, on the other hand, went through life focused on the needs of others, showing compassion at every turn.
In 1 Corinthians 9:19, Paul says, “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.” Making oneself a slave to everyone is a foreign concept in the self-centered, big ego, materialistic world we live in today. Few choose Christ and His others-centered path, which may be why it’s called the narrow path.
So my hope is that this song will remind me, every morning, to try to live a little more like Jesus. “Give me your eyes for just one second. Give me your eyes so I can see, everything that I keep missing. Give me your love for humanity. Give me your arms for the broken-hearted…ones that are far beyond my reach. Give me your heart for the ones forgotten. Give me your eyes so I can see.”
I’d say that’s pretty good advice to end an AT thru-hike playlist with…and a blog.
P.S. 11 days till launch!
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