What's the song that saved your life?

Jun 16, 2014

There's a reason I've been asking this question.

Bryan Adams's Summer of '69 is catchy and powerful.
Bryan Adams's Summer of '69 is catchy and powerful.
Credit Bryan Adams Official / Facebook

I do a lot of reporting where I interview artists and people in the arts communities about why the arts matter.

I believe there is great value in these kinds of stories. But I realized I wasn’t talking nearly enough with non-artists about how and why the arts have mattered to them. I felt that if I couldn’t highlight why the arts mattered on an everyday level to everyday people, then I wasn’t serving our listeners very well.

Then I remembered a quote. 

“We all have a song that saved our lives in junior high,” someone great once said. (It may have been said by a famous person or by one of my friends – I really don’t remember, so apologies to the person I should credit.)

When I heard that quote I immediately knew my song. It was “Just Like Heaven” by The Cure in seventh grade at Holland Woods Middle School in Port Huron, Michigan. The sound of squeaky shoes in hallways came instantly flooding back and so did memories of my crushes at the time. I remembered my fierce love for my friends, and snapshots of what worried me. That's to say, a lot came back, by simply remembering one song.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized its potential genius. (So I dropped the part about junior high, and turned the statement into a question.)

One of R. Kelly's songs made Troy Gray realize he needed to change things in his life.
One of R. Kelly's songs made Troy Gray realize he needed to change things in his life.
Credit R. Kelly / Facebook

The mechanics of the question instantly launch you into personal and often tender territory, and into a crystalized moment of your life. Sometimes it’s like walking through a door that may have been closed for a really long time.

All triggered by a song.  

Of course, it’s not that way for everyone, as we realized when a team of interns and producers swung by Wayne Bowl in Wayne, Michigan, to ask people about the song that saved their life.

Sometimes, when you ask a person that question, they end up just wanting to sing you their song. That's what happened with Mack Ivory Sr.

Turns out the song he was singing was originally by Nolan Strong & The Diablos, a Detroit doo-wop group that was big in the '50s.

Sometimes with people’s answers, you get a taste of a bigger story. Like with bartender Valerie Martin. She mentioned a couple of songs, which included "Summer of '69" by Bryan Adams.

And sometimes you get a pretty complete story, like with Troy Gray. The song that saved his life was "U Saved Me" by R. Kelly.

All this week on Stateside we’ve got stories about a song that saved someone’s life. Interestingly, none of the answers are about love. They are about difficult, dark times, and how a song became a way to deal with and overcome a personal struggle.

We’d also love to hear from you about the song that saved your life. Call us and leave us a message at 248-962-3806. Or use the hashtag #songsavedme on Twitter.

If you'd like to hear the full story, listen below.