By Hillary H. McGoodwin
A few months ago, I was in my humble office at the local homeless shelter; listening to Jimmy Smith with Metric up next (gotta keep social work zesty, ya know). I was filling out paperwork for a veteran with whom I was helping to find housing. As I play the air-organ, an elderly man appears in the doorway. The Christmas lights that adorn my office doorframe made him smile, and then the hearing of Jimmy Smith from my ancient PC speakers made his face light up. I invited him into my office. After collecting basic information from him, like his name, branch of military service, what brought him to the shelter, etc., I ask him if he likes music. The 56 year old Navy veteran lit up again and said: “Music is my savior”. I replied “Me too”.
We discussed his stroke, the subsequent abuse by his spouse, and how he had contemplated “checking out early” many times before but he knew that he just needed to leave and seek shelter elsewhere. This man arrived in my doorway with nothing tangible and only the clothes on his back but he was a walking well of musical knowledge. Part of my therapy with him was to explore music to get a better understanding of his life. It was not long before I learned his life is one long playlist.
Every event, positive and negative, is tied to a song or record. Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew eased his mind when his father killed his mother in front of him. Django Reinhardt was his grandfather’s hero and he remembers decorating the table for Thanksgiving with gypsy jazz filling the air, a week before he deployed for war, and that was the last time he saw his grandfather again. He remembers easing his war-torn soul with the funky bass-lines of Larry Graham. He remembers (and now loathes) Al Green for being the singer of his wedding song. He remembers Up on Cripple Creek playing on the taxi ride from his abusive home to the shelter. “Music is my savior” he said. “Music haunts me and helps me. Music helps me remember the good so the bad is endurable.” Music is embedded in his being. Music is his soul.
I have had the pleasure of watching this man rise up from unsurmountable odds to now being well on his way to living independently with a refueled sense of self. I have introduced him to new music so that he can make associations with them as he embarks on this new beginning. (He has taken to A Fine Frenzy). He told me the other day that Jimmy Smith’s My Funny Valentine will forever be associated with the day he came alive again. ♦
Hillary McGoodwin is a native Lexingtonian audiophile who coordinates a transitional housing program for homeless veterans at Hope Center.