It’s totally inspired by the joy and gratitude and meaning-of-life thoughts that come with parenthood.” — McKinney James Releases “Hits Me”

Donna Block

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“Hits Me,” written shortly after your son was born. “It’s totally inspired by the joy and gratitude and meaning-of-life thoughts that come with parenthood.” Deeper understanding of human emotions through watching your child take their first steps, dealing with their tantrums, to watching them become more and more independent. How have you seen your children’s development affected by listening to or playing music?

Hits Me was one of those singles Eric and I held onto for a bit. The emotions associated with pregnancy, birth, parenthood―profoundly magical and life-changing events―can be consuming. Caught up in the wonder of it, everything I was bringing to studio at the time screamed “Whoo-hoo, I’m a mom!” We were compelled to let Hits Me rest, wait until the oxytocin wore off, you know, and see if it still stood on its own. With the underpinnings of an uplifting folk-pop sound coupled with poignant lyrics, Hits Me easily transcends parenthood with its universal seize-the-moment battle cry. It’s about life, really. The fragility and the beauty of it. Those moments, whether on top of the peak or down in the valley, that “hit you.”

We need look no further than The ABC Song to understand how pivotal music is to learning and development in children. Not only is music/dance inherent in helping the body and mind work together―improving motor skills, memory, concentration―it allows children to experiment with the sounds and meaning of words in a playful way. A powerful example for them that learning can indeed be fun. Then there is the social-emotional aspect of music, an essential outlet for all to explore and express feelings and make sense of experiences.

My daughter creates as naturally as she breathes. From drawing and painting to writing her own short stories and comics to creating wildly imaginative games at play. She excelled with language arts and verbal expression of emotion from the time she could wrap her tongue around sounds. Inversely, she is very technical when it comes to music exploration. When listening to music she does so with intent to memorize and pick apart lyrics, wanting to understand exactly what the artist is conveying. When playing music―by ear, a skill that escaped me―she pecks it out on the keyboard, enjoying the linear pattern her eyes see, which she then puts to memory. A member of her school’s musical theater troupe, she will be the first to tell you that she thoroughly enjoys the acting but not so much the singing because her voice doesn’t quite match her expectation of it. However she will also tell you that the music is important because it adds so much to the overall tone of the play/musical. She has even muted the TV while watching certain scenes from movies that have soundtracks/scores, as an experiment, and says, “It’s just not the same without the music.” So in her development I would say music has nurtured a technical streak, grit and perseverance (breaking down music is no fast, easy chore), and integrity and humility in recognizing personal trials and triumphs in music exploration. Within the theater troupe itself music has helped our students develop tenacity, teamwork, courage, public speaking/performing skills, and ultimately self-confidence.

On the flip side of his sister, our son is more action-oriented. Turning over, crawling, and walk-running before he was talking, music is to be moved to, of course. Who has the time to break it all down when it can be so easily felt, a medium of physical and emotional expression. We have introduced him to scales and such on the keyboard, but he’d rather push the demo button and act out whatever it is he feels in the songs, which usually involves a self-choreographed dance (athletic in style, his attempt at breakdancing) or a “battle” of some sort where he wields paper swords or Hulk fists or Thor’s hammer! In that regard, music is helping him to fine-tune motor skills, explore his identity, and enjoy a powerful form of self-expression. A deeply sentimental soul who is rather private with his feels in general, music has a way of allowing him to access and express those emotions. I love watching him watch movies with sweeping scores. He sees himself there in the characters’ shoes, from laughter to the triumphant swell of his chest to tears, music encouraging his ability to empathize with others. Although he doesn’t recognize it yet he has the makings of a nice vocal instrument — naturally able to match pitch, a broad range, and a smoky lil rasp to his tone.

New avenues/sources of creativity as you see with a fresh perspective through a child’s innocence, curiosity, and unique way of seeing the world. Bruce Springsteen has said that becoming a father made him realize that his music was about more than just himself. He began to write songs about social and political issues that affected his children’s future. Music transcends generations — which current issues would you like to address in song lyrics?

Now you’ve gone and done it―sent memories from my life flying through my mind to the soundtrack of The Boss! From growing up imagining how I might triumph in the world to No Surrender to doing just that, surrendering/trusting in love with Tougher Than the Rest epitomizing for me my husband.

Philosopher Osho summed up brilliantly the feeling of becoming a parent: “The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new.” It’s a rebirth of sorts. Only natural that Bruce Springsteen (and every other parent in the world) experienced new meaning, a new life perspective, expressed in his art/music on the heels of becoming a father. It reminds me of a podcast a dear friend shared with me a few weeks ago about “happiness” and how studies show that happiness (not to be confused with contentment) kinda takes a dive after becoming a parent, lol…but meaning inversely jumps through the roof.

Hits Me is an example of that renewed meaning. Prior to becoming a parent music was mostly an expression of romantic love and adventure and making sense of my life’s experiences up to that point. The shift in priorities and perspectives that come with parenthood naturally broadened for me topics about which to consider in the songwriting process. My children, my greatest teachers, have helped my aging calloused soul to remember that life is meant to be lived, and that the living is oft done not in the milestones but in the smallest of moments: “…the story of life I found it, living in the spaces between…in a heartbeat, make a memory, and breathe…it hits me, life gets me, makes me more than I could ever be…”

There are many sources influenced by parenthood, including Billy Joel’s “Lullaby,Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings,” and Harry Chapin’s “Cats in the Cradle.” Which songs would make your playlist of songs inspired by parenthood?

The Mother by Brandi Carlile

Forever Young by Bob Dylan

Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World by Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole

Joy of My Life by Chris Stapleton (originally written and recorded by John Fogerty, perhaps the only love song he ever released, but it certainly applies to bebes/parenthood)

Even Though I’m Leaving (I Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere) by Luke Combs

McKinney James

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