A relatively new addition to the “Soundtrack of My Life”, Michael McDonald’s Sweet Freedom wouldn’t have even been included had I created this list when I first intended to. I’ve always thought it was a great song, but didn’t really have any sort of personal attachment to it nor did it have any sort of special meaning to me. If you’ve ever listened to X-Lapsed, you’ll know that this is the song I’ve been using as an outro for years now.
Early on during the run, I was asked why I’d picked this song. Usually my podcast music choices serve a purpose, ya know? Once in a Lifetime by Talking Heads makes sense as the intro to X-Lapsed, as it asks a bunch of questions… as though the asker has no idea what’s going on, or how they wound up here. This very much fit the tone of my show, as a fella who had no clue about how things in these books got to this point. It’s also an amazing song… might even be on my list of “perfect songs”. That said, it’s not necessarily a “Soundtrack of My Life” song, unless I take the full X-Lapsed context and experience along with it… frankly, at this point, I’ve used the show to “define” myself for far too long.
Sweet Freedom, though? Like I said, I was asked why I chose it for the outro. I believe it was my friend Jeremiah who asked during a guest-spot he did very early on in the run. I had no answer. Part of me wanted to lie and suggest that there was some “deeper meaning” to the choice… one that he’d have to figure out. You know, all of us fake-ass creative types wanna seem far more profound than we are. The truth, however, was simple… I just liked the song. I’ve always enjoyed what we now refer to as “Yacht Rock”… though, I didn’t realize it was even considered a genre. Since around 2017 or so, upon realization that it is… a genre, I went deep down the rabbit hole. It’s been one of my top stations on Sirius XM ever since. If ya don’t know, and I’m sure ya do – Yacht Rock is basically soft rock from the late 70s into the early 80s. It’s a bit nebulous, I guess, there are songs I consider to be part of the genre that many don’t… and vice versa.
Anyway, familiarizing myself with the works of Michael McDonald (solo or as a Doobie Brother or part of Steely Dan), I was stunned by just how amazing his voice is. Humans shouldn’t be able to hit high notes like that… and yet, he does. Sweet Freedom not only had the excellent vocals, but the music was wonderfully upbeat — most Yacht Rock has a more melancholic tone. Sappy and sad rather than hopeful and bright. Sweet Freedom stood out… and I’d listen to it as often as I could… including, at least once, every single day when editing together the latest episode of X-Lapsed.
I can’t listen to it anymore, however — which, I guess makes it a kind of ironic addition to the Soundtrack?
Now comes the “why?” of it… and yeah, it has to do with my dog. Again. Sorry about that. Maybe the sooner I get it all out of my system, I can get back to “normal”?
He passed at around 1am. The afternoon before was when it became clear that he was dying. Like I mentioned a few posts ago, he had been degrading for a little while… and, his cancer had become terrifyingly aggressive. He still had the same little personality though. The things we tell ourselves when faced with the obvious… humans are pretty amazing in that way. I don’t know that any other living organism can experience and exhibit “denial”. He was still eating every day… though, less and less. His little back legs were wobbly. The cancer mass grew itchier and itchier — he would scratch at it constantly. We tried putting him in the wheelchair we’d bought him a year prior… but, he wasn’t having it. I tried using his inflatable donut collar in hopes that he wouldn’t scratch at his face… that didn’t work either.
This… oddly, only fueled the feeling that, he was still the same boyo. He was the most stubborn little thing… as it turned out, he’d remain this way until literally seconds before his passing.
Where was I? The afternoon before. I went into the bedroom to change clothes so I could head out and pick up whatever it was we were going to have for dinner. I found him sleeping in his normal spot, next to my side of the bed. I could immediately tell that something just wasn’t right. Something with his breathing. I just knew we were about to go through the one thing I’d been scared of every day for the past fourteen years. I’m kind of fatalistic… always worried about death, and assuming that it’s always just around the corner for the people I care most about. I’m not as concerned about my own mortality… but, if I don’t get a text from the wife telling me she got where she’s going — I enter into a panic. How she still puts up with me, I’ll never know.
But here we were.
I picked him up and brought him into the wife’s office… just to confirm that I wasn’t letting my paranoia run off with me. Unfortunately, this was one instance where I’d turn out to be right.
Our pup absolutely loved going for car rides, which I’m aware isn’t all that hot a take. If these were truly his final hours, we wanted to give him one more ride… and so, we did. He was unresponsive and confused… his breathing had returned to normal… but, it was still clear that he wasn’t going to “kick out” this time. He’d managed to trick us several times before — especially in later years. We’d all but counted him out… and, he’d miraculously spring back — reminding us that he was made of far stronger stuff than we’d ever thought. This time? Well, I can lie to myself in many situations… but, not this time.
Anyway, we loaded in to the car and just drove around. Like I said, it was the afternoon — I’m pretty sure I was still wearing my pajamas. Eyes puffy and red. We must’ve been a sight. My wife was holding him in the passenger seat… we were both talking to him… but, like I said — he was unresponsive.
We pulled up to a red light, the Lake Pleasant and Happy Valley intersection… and, I swear to you what I’m about to say is true – Sweet Freedom started to play on the radio… and his tail started to wag… the ol’ happy “pug thump”. Halfway through the song, he’d lifted his head up — and for just a moment, there was clarity in his eyes. He knew we were there… he knew he was out for a ride. When the song ended, the tail stopped wagging, and his head went back down.
He’d always been a musical pup… a connoisseur of music, even. His breeder was a pianist, so he’d been surrounded by music since the day he was born. There were always certain songs that would cause him to perk up… and do the “pup head tilt”. Some songs he hated as well! He knew what he liked… and what he didn’t! A couple off the top of my head — he had a love/hate relationship with the theme song to The Office. It always got his attention… it was just whether or not he was in the “mood” to hear it. The opening to Days of Our Lives was one that he always enjoyed though. It really was weird to see these reactions. And now, here’s Sweet Freedom being forever linked to his final moments.
Throughout the evening and into the night, there were a few more cognizant moments… but, none like during Sweet Freedom. I swear, during the couple of minutes that song played — he was “back”. More aware and alive than he’d been in days/weeks at that point. I think it was probably the last time he really “saw” us.
For this reason, it’s now part of the Soundtrack of My Life… and the one song on it, that I can no longer listen to. At least not right now. Maybe when I’m in a better place… or more at peace I can add it back to the rotation… remember what it “gave” to me, rather than focusing on what that day took.
I know these can’t be pleasant reads — and, I know strangers on the internet couldn’t care less about a dude crying over his dog, when they likely came to this site to hear me talk about how Rob Liefeld can’t draw feet and how cool 1st Issue Special is. So, sorry about the change in tone — and thank you for reading, if you still are.