How music heals — even amid a winter storm

Stevie Wonder is shown in 1974, one of the years covered in his 1982 compilation, 'Original Musiquarium I.'Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

January 17, 2023

Editor’s note: Classical host Ward Jacobson reflects on the many ways music can heal the mind, body and soul as he recalls a snowy day in the Twin Cities, right after a blizzard, when the songs of the legendary Stevie Wonder came to the rescue.

Ward Jacobson
Ward Jacobson

The healing quality of music is a beautiful thing. I take advantage of it almost daily.

During the first week of January, just south of a thousand inches of snow fell in the Twin Cities over the course of a couple of days. In the midst of it all, I was encouraged to join my spouse in a 3.5-mile walk around the neighborhood loop along the west and east banks of the Mississippi River, where the snow lay blissfully unshoveled — that is, until we arrived in the St. Paul portion of the loop walk, where (predictably), shoveling had already happened. Keeping with the Twin Cities’ tradition, Minneapolis had already hit snooze on the snow-removal alarm.

It was a rigorous hoof through the weighty, water-laden snow but, upon arriving home, instead of a rest, I pushed on and shoveled. 

And shoveled. 

And shoveled.

By 5 p.m., I was completely spent — thoroughly exhausted. But a red lentil soup had been promised for dinner.

To the kitchen. 

Food preparation music was needed. For no reason, I randomly chose two recordings by Stevie Wonder — 1970’s Signed, Sealed and Delivered (which includes the best cover of the Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out” that you will ever hear) and the 1982 compilation Original Musiquarium I (which is about as cool a name for an album as you can get).

Almost immediately, I realized my body might have been speaking to me from within to make that second selection. Suddenly, it all started coming back.

My first summer as a 21-year-old was 1983, and Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquariam was my nearly constant companion during those balmy months of June, July and August. That music would accompany me while riding my Panasonic 10-speed (no helmet, just a Sony Walkman — it was a different time) from 42nd and Holdrege to downtown Lincoln, Nebraska, where I would engage in wise-assery with the likes of the marvelous Jon Ratliff and Kirk Benson, while tending bar or making sandwich spread at Barrymore’s in the Stuart Building. Or maybe I was headed to Avery Hall on the University of Nebraska–Lincoln campus for summer school sessions of the core 400-level journalism classes. Or zipping west down I-80 on the weekends in the old family car — a silver, ‘78 Pontiac Bonneville, pointed toward the farm in Polk County to help my dad with field work or irrigating, get my laundry done, and load up on my dear mom’s many culinary creations.

21! That’s nearly two-thirds of me ago. 

Stevie Wonder Original Musiquarium
'Stevie Wonder's Original Musiquarium I' was released in 1982.
Tamla Records

Sadly, I had kind of forgotten about Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquarium. It’s mostly a compilation album of some of his older stuff with four or five new tunes thrown in. It is soulful. It is melodic. It is, at times, deep. Full of rhythm. It is a showcase for the man’s musical brilliance. 

As the ‘80s progressed, Stevie seemed to move into a different realm of more pop-happy music. Original Musiquarium must have left my consciousness after Stevie wandered a bit too far off my preferred music path.

“I Just Called to Say” — sorry, I’m not really listening anymore. Yes, there were others, too. But that’s a subject for another day. 

My point here is this: Rediscovering Original Musiquarium literally altered my body chemistry that snow-packed evening in Minneapolis. Right off the bat, the musical segue that transitions from “Superstition” into “You Haven’t Done Nothing” (with background vocals by the Jackson Five) is enough to turn any Grumpy Gus into Fun-Loving, Funky Fred. By then I was already doing the old white guy overbite while sock-sliding on our tiny, wooden, kitchen dance floor. Shame and modesty be damned!

And at that point, you’re just getting started. 

From the powerful “Living for the City” and “Front Line,” to one of the strongest pop songs ever written, “You Are the Sunshine of My Life.” Then on to Sides 3 and 4, filled with the likes of “Higher Ground,” “Sir Duke,” “Boogie on Reggae Woman” (a song that cannot be heard without moving some part of the body, no matter how embarrassing!), “I Wish,” “Isn’t She Lovely,” and closing with the fabulous “Do I Do,” featuring Dizzy Gillespie (“Earl! Earl’s playin’ by hisself, Man!”). Folks, it’s close to 90 minutes’ worth of music. And on that particular night, it rocket-launched me 90 minutes away from Grumpy Old Man Land. It was the summer of 1983. I was 21 again!

Healing.

For some people, it’s yoga. For others, it’s a long walk, maybe a mani or pedi, a long sit in the sauna or an extended soak in the hot tub. Cleaning the house. Walking the dog. Cuddling the cat. Really good weed.  Whatever it takes. All I know is this — I’d be in the deep, dark waters without music. It is the essential salve in my world. And for the next blizzard, I'll probably need a different tuneful prescription. But on this snow globe of a January evening in Minnesota, it was Dr. Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquarium that delivered the meds.

Signed. Sealed.

Healed.