Since I was a kid, I have loved music. “Loved” in typical ways, such as buying albums (back when that was a thing) and going to concerts. And “loved” in slightly obsessive ways, such as creating original artwork for my custom mix tapes, maintaining dedicated servers for instant access to my massive music collection (a prescient, but sadly unmonetized, precursor to today’s streaming music services), and, most recently, immersing myself in the strange underworld of music memorabilia collectors. Like many contemporary love affairs, mine began with a Prince song.

In the early 80s, my mom drove my little sister and me from our farm in New Carlisle to preschool in north Dayton. Every school day, we’d cruise on Route 201’s rolling hills past vast corn and soybean fields, speed down Interstate 75, then weave through the downtown streets past Stanley Avenue. At the end of the day, our mom picked us up, and we drove the same route in reverse. Forty minutes there, forty minutes back.

Decades before iPhones and iPads, our only entertainment during those long drives was music. My mom would blast her favorite songs from the car stereo, playing everything from John (Cougar) Mellencamp, Duran Duran, and David Bowie to Midnight Star, the Gap Band, and Kool & The Gang. Cassette tapes littered the console and passenger seat of the car. I can still hear her flipping the tape over when the “A” side of the album had ended. No radio station disc jockey could match my mom’s taste for music that made you want to move.

Prince Vinyl for his album "1999"

One early morning drive, my mom popped in the latest Prince tape, 1999. The album had just come out, but we had already listened to it on so many drives that I knew every lyric by heart. As soon as I heard the synthesizer’s opening chords in “Little Red Corvette,” I began to sing along: “I guess I should have known by the way you parked your car sideways that it wouldn’t last…” My mom stopped the tape. “What do you think this song is about?” she asked me. With the unselfconscious naïveté of a six-year-old, I answered, “It’s about a little red Corvette.”

Stifling a laugh, she said, “Songs are about more than what they say.”

Stifling a laugh, she said, “Songs are about more than what the words say.” Then she explained what she meant, forever changing how I would listen to music. She guided me patiently through the song, hitting play, stop, and rewind over and over. She didn’t break down every line’s meaning – probably the right call when it comes to Prince – but she gave me the tools – and the confidence – to discover them on my own.

She opened my eyes to the song’s layers – the rawness of the beat, the cleverness of the wordplay, the richness of the imagery – and how they all came together in this perfect whole that could have only been created by the genius that was Prince. She taught me that while the beat might initially draw you in, the lyrics are what hold you there long enough to understand – and to feel – something deeper. And she gave me a glimpse of a captivating new world of beauty and emotion that I wanted to explore and inhabit.

That was the singular moment I fell in love with music.

Music has been a constant presence in my life ever since. It fills every space – physical, emotional, and spiritual – I find myself in. It has opened me to new experiences and perspectives. It has amplified my triumphs and celebrations and assuaged my troubles and defeats. It has given shape to unfamiliar emotions and contained the overwhelming ones.

Music has taken on a new role as I’ve gotten older. As the years pile on, my formative experiences grow increasingly distant, but music keeps their memories vivid and fresh. It allows me to not only remember, but to feel different aspects of who I was. When Bob Seger comes on, I feel the freedom of my sixteen-year-old self driving way too fast along a darkened highway. When I hear “Little Miss Magic,” I feel my newborn daughter in my arms. And when “Love the Lonely Out of You” plays, I feel the same stirrings of love and hope in my heart that I did in my early days with Lizzy. Music reminds me not only of the things I’ve done, but of the complete picture of who I am.

Thinking back on the daily drives with my mom, I imagine that she must have felt something similar. A young mother bearing the relentless, often unappreciated responsibility for two small children, she played her music to remind herself of who else she had been and still was. And she shared that music with us so that we might glimpse that extraordinary person, too. 

These days, I’m in the one in the driver’s seat, playing my music for my own kids. I hope they develop a wide appreciation for good music of any genre. I hope that the artists and songs I cherish move them, too. I hope they listen closely and feel something deeper. But most of all, I hope that music enriches their lives as much as it has mine.

Me at the wall where Prince had his first promo photoshoot.
Me at the wall where Prince had his first promo photoshoot.

“I guess I should’ve closed my eyes

When you drove me to the place

Where your horses run free”

Like the songs you hear on King’s Passage? Then check out the KP Jukebox playlist on Spotify!