Only Human with Joan Axelrod-Contrada: I’ve got the music in me

Published: 1/13/2022 11:51:44 AM
Modified: 1/13/2022 11:50:51 AM

A few years ago, my friend Sarita pulled me aside at the start of a dinner party.

“I know something that might really help,” she said.

The rubber bands across my chest tightened. Oh, no. Not this again.

Ever since my husband, Fred, was diagnosed with an untreatable, incurable disease, well-meaning friends had cornered me with tales of wizard-like doctors and miraculous alternative treatments. One friend even swore by the curative powers of lion’s mane mushrooms.

Sarita was a sufi-dancing former hippie, so I braced myself for the worst. Still, as I gulped my wine, I knew she had my best interests at heart.

“I’m all ears,” I said.

Her blue eyes beamed positive energy. “Have you ever heard of the Amazon Alexa?”

“No,” I said. “What’s that?”

She brought me over to the little black circular tower in her living room. “Alexa, play Stevie Wonder,” she commanded.

A blue ring lit up like one of Saturn’s rings as Stevie Wonder sounded on the speaker. I felt like I’d stepped into a sci-fi movie. Stevie Wonder’s feel-good soul got me grooving in place.

“I think this might really help,” Sarita repeated.

Her earnestness struck me as comical. Here I was, on the brink of losing the love of my life, and she’s trying to sell me on some gadget! I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Still, since I valued her friendship, I decided to follow her advice. To my surprise, it helped. With an abundance of love and 60s rock ’n’ roll, I lived to tell my tale.

Music can soothe us, cheer us on, and make us feel connected and powerful when our hearts are shattered. A song can tell a complicated story in three minutes. The best songs give us hope.

I began to see the new chapter in my life as something precious to be savored. One morning, in my early widow days, Alexa played a song I hadn’t heard in years: “I’ve Got the Music in Me” by The Kiki Dee Band.

The song began with the primal sound of drumming. Sometimes I wonder if I got my love of rock ’n’ roll from my days in the womb. I heard my mother’s heartbeat and wanted more of that kaboom, kaboom, kaboom. Whatever the case, I started dancing around the kitchen.

Kiki sang with the power of a whole choir rising from her diaphragm. Nothing got in her way. Not fear. Not worry. Whatever happened, she’d get by. I knew I would, too.

I had the same kind of aha moment watching the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. When Paul sang “All My Loving,” I imagined him singing it to me.

Sometimes fairy tales come true. I eventually found a boyfriend who wrote a song for me, and I married him. We raised two children with rock ’n’ roll as our soundtrack. When Fred got sick, I printed up lyrics to Beatles tunes so we could sing along. Once he passed away, I found it too painful to listen to those songs without him.

The Ramones came to my rescue during my hiatus from the Beatles. “I Wanna Be Sedated” wormed its way into my sweet spot with its combination of dark lyrics and infectiously bouncy beat. Joey Ramone’s voice conveyed the kind of punk rock attitude I needed to chase away my blues.

I also sought out feminist anthems to rekindle my sense of inner power. “I Am Woman (Hear me Roar)” by Helen Reddy, “You Don’t Own Me” by Lesley Gore, and “Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keyes fit the bill.

Once I started dating again, another song by Kiki Dee blasted from my Amazon Alexa like a rock ’n’ roll rocket. This time she teamed up with Elton John for the 1976 hit “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.”

Science backs up the therapeutic benefits of listening to your favorite tunes. Music triggers the release of the feel-good chemical dopamine, improves healing and reduces stress.

You, too, can use favorite songs to imbue your life with good vibrations. With the help of “I’ve Got the Music in Me, you might even find yourself dancing around your kitchen. Just remember to move those pesky chairs out of the way.

Joan Axelrod-Contrada is a writer who lives in Florence. She writes a monthly column for the Gazette, Only Human, that runs on the second Friday of the month. Reach her at


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