“Pick It Light, Pick It Soft”

It’s not often an entire album leaves a mark, reorganizes the brain, and truly opens the mind. The kind of music in aggregate that makes even my toes remember the first time it played over a set of boom box speakers.

Long ago, working in a now disbanded music store, I discovered such an album. At the time, I was obsessed with Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, and others. Then this guy with long, wavy black hair, a mustache, and hopeful brown eyes walked in. He looked a bit like Carlos Santana. He said he was working a bar in a cover band. He played contemporary songs and some “classics.” But he heard a song the day before. He didn’t know the name. Just the melody and a bit of lyric.

“How does it go?” I said.

“Pick it light, pick it soft,” he said. “Pick it light..... pick it soft.”

I ran “pick it light, pick it soft” in my head over and over again. Santana stood at the counter for a bit racking his brain. “No clue,” I said. “No clue.” The guy left.

It had a nice sound this “pick it light, pick it soft” as he sang it. So I ask my co-worker Tribe Called Quest. And like any true music aficionado, he knew exactly what the song was.

He went, “picket lines and picket signs, don't punish me with brutality.... it's marvin gaye." Then he walked away with what seemed like a nice groove in his head.

Naturally, I picked up the album and took it home that night. I listened to it over and over and over again. The seamless transitions between songs. The tone. The textured instrumentals and vocals. The unity of the album. The mood. The beauty. I was floored. I slept well that night and awoke a new man.

Today, the album sticks with me because it opened my mind to the world. To all the pain, misery, and injustice in it. And I learned what a well-made album is. Each time I listen to it now, I’m inevitably encouraged, inspired to work toward making change. Not only in my life. But in the lives of others. The album allows the world into my now opened mind. It reminds me that there are other people in this world who experience the same pain, love, joy, anger, and everything else, as I do. And that people come from different places. Harlem. Los Angeles. Mobile, Alabama. Hà Nội, Vietnam. And everywhere else. I realized that night long ago that I was part of a larger world. But I was 17 and told no one.

So here’s to Marvin now. I owe a lot to him.

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