A song is arguably the most powerful medium by which to capture any moment in time. Play me any cut from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and I am ten years old again; it’s early summer and if I close my eyes, I can smell the chlorine from the neighborhood swim club, the hot asphalt on the street of our cul-de-sac, the sounds of kids playing Kick the Can at the edge of the woods.
When I hear “Mairzy Doats” I am five, and I can feel the shag carpet under my feet, the scratches on the LP from which the singing voices warble, and I can see the stripes on my little sister’s corduroy slacks as she dances in a circle and bounces up and down.
But when I hear “Hi Ho The Rattlin Bog,” it’s not just one image but a string of connected scenes; I see my father leading the song under a porch on a cool summer rainy evening to a whole group of amateur singers. I see my music class in fourth grade catching on to the chorus of the song. I see my sister Katrynaon stage, leading the song and using her whole body to show how the tree grows from the bog to hold the promise of the future in a bird’s nest on the twig of a branch.
Hearing the song evokes the entire gestalt of my upbringing, ringing me with an essential element of my culture, connecting me to my ancestors. When I sing this song to my own children, I am inviting them into that ring. I am initiating them into the tribe just by sharing a song that is part game, part fable, part romp. I am playing with them, yes, but I am playing with them in a way that is as much about me and my joy as it is about theirs. And I am including them in a circle that started with a moment my own parents gave me, thus connecting my children to my parents, and to the child that I used to be. “Rattlin’ Bog” is different from “Mairzy Doats” and the Beatles because my parents gave it to me, as surely as if they had tied it in bows and wrapped it in fancy paper. They gave it to me with deliberation, and they gave it to me from a place deep within their own childhood experience.