1:30pm

Thu December 1, 2011
Music

Winter Songs: Dreaming Of 'California' From Far Away

Originally published on Tue February 14, 2012 1:24 pm

The songs we turn to during winter months are as distinct from the light, joyous anthems of summer as tank tops and shorts are from the mittens and scarves we pull out of the closet when a chill creeps into the air. This season, we'll ask musicians, writers and listeners to tell us about a song that evokes winter for them, along with a memory or story that goes with it.

To kick off the series, All Things Considered host Melissa Block spoke to novelist Ann Patchett, author of The Patron Saint of Liars, Bel Canto and Run, among others. She shared a story about the song that helped her cope with her parents' divorce, and with moving to a strange new place.

When Patchett, her sister and their recently divorced mother left their home in California a week before Ann's sixth birthday to move to Nashville, Tenn., The Mamas and the Papas' "California Dreamin'" took on a new level of significance.

"It was just before Thanksgiving. It was gray, it was freezing cold, and my father still lived in Los Angeles," Patchett says. "I would listen to that song all the time and I would think, 'Everything would be all right if I could get back to California. If I could only get back to California.' "

The parallels with her new life in Nashville didn't end there.

"What I really loved about that song was [that] not only had I come to Tennessee; I had been enrolled in a Catholic girls' school," Patchett says, "so that line, 'Got down on my knees and I pretend to pray' seemed incredibly scandalous to me when I was a kid; that you could go and pretend to pray. And I remember going to Mass in the morning, and I would get down on my knees and close my eyes and sing 'California Dreamin" in my own head. And it became sort of the prayer to California."

Now, as a married adult still living in Tennessee, Patchett says she no longer longs for California, but that she always feels better when she hears "California Dreamin'," especially when the leaves are brown and the sky is gray.

All Things Considered wants your winter song stories. What do you listen to when it's cold or dark, when you need to warm up or celebrate the chill of the season? Tell us about a song and the memory it evokes here.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

A couple of years ago, we kicked off a series called "Summer Songs." We asked listeners to write in and tell us about a song that evokes summer, and a memory or a story that goes with it. We also put that question to a lot of musicians and writers, and we loved what we heard. So now, why not? We're going to do the same with winter songs, and we're going to launch the series today with the novelist Ann Patchett. She had told us a funny story about her iconic summer song. And since I was interviewing her recently, we figured she might have a winter song up her sleeve. She did.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALIFORNIA DREAMIN'")

BLOCK: "California Dreamin'" by The Mamas & The Papas.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALIFORNIA DREAMIN'")

THE MAMAS & THE PAPAS: (Singing) All the leaves are brown. All the leaves are brown. And the sky is gray. And the sky is gray. I've been for a walk...

ANN PATCHETT: I left California the week before my 6th birthday, and my mother and sister and I moved to Nashville, Tennessee. It was just before Thanksgiving. It was gray; it was freezing cold. And my father still lived in Los Angeles; my parents had gotten divorced. And I would listen to that song all the time, and I would think, you know, everything would be all right if I could get back to California - if I could only get back to California.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALIFORNIA DREAMIN'")

PAPAS: (Singing) California dreaming. California dreaming on such a winter's day. Stopped into a church I passed along the way. Well, I got down on my knees, got down on my knees. And I pretend to pray. I pretend to pray. You know the preacher likes the cold.

PATCHETT: Well, actually, what I really loved about that song was not only had I come to Tennessee, I had been enrolled in a Catholic girls' school, and so that line - got down on my knees and I pretend to pray - seemed incredibly scandalous to me when I was a kid; that you could go and pretend to pray. And I remember going to Mass in the morning, and I would get down on my knees and close my eyes and sing "California Dreaming" in my own head, and it became sort of the prayer to California.

BLOCK: Really? That was the soundtrack.

PATCHETT: It was. And oddly, as I have grown up, the song has meant different things to me. And it is the song now that actually really always makes me happy when I hear it because I love the beat of it. I love the rhythm and the sound of it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALIFORNIA DREAMIN'")

PAPAS: (Singing) All the leaves are brown. All the leaves are brown. And the sky is gray. And the sky is gray. I've been for a walk. I've been for a walk. On a winter's day. On a winter's day...

PATCHETT: It's funny because, of course, now, I'm still in Nashville. I'm 47 years old. I'm really happily married. And it is cold and rainy outside today. And I don't want to be in California, but I always feel better when I hear that song.

BLOCK: Are all the leaves down and the skies are gray?

PATCHETT: All the leaves are down, and the skies are gray. Absolutely.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALIFORNIA DREAMIN'")

PAPAS: (Singing) California dreaming on such a winter's day. California dreaming...

BLOCK: Ann Patchett, thanks so much.

PATCHETT: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALIFORNIA DREAMIN'")

PAPAS: (Singing) ...on such a winter's day.

BLOCK: And this winter, we want to hear your stories. What's your winter song? And no, we're not talking about holiday music. We're talking about a song that evokes winter for you and is linked with a certain memory, place or time in your life. Maybe it's the song you turn to when it's cold or dark, when you need to warm up or when you want to celebrate the chill of the season. If you have a winter song memory to share, please go to npr.org, click on Contact Us at the bottom of the page, and don't forget to put Winter Songs in your subject line. We'll hear some of your stories on the program throughout this winter. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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