When a Percy Sledge song hits your ears, it can settle in your heart

The sad news of the death of singer Percy Sledge brought back memories for me, as I’m sure it did for most of you. His remarkable voice delivered unforgettable songs, one of which stirred recollections of a simple shopping trip. The rest of this column is what I wrote about that incident many years ago:

Music is a funny thing. It can draw you out onto the dance floor, drive you out of the embassy where you’re holed up, deafen you when it’s too loud, push you to road rage when it’s too obnoxious.

Music also can bring back memories stashed away deep in your head and heart, stir feelings you had left behind when you were someone else, take you back to that first time you heard it or the time you heard it while you were with someone special.

Recently, I was in an incompetent carpentry state of mind, but that’s the only kind of carpentry I know. I was working on a surprise for my wife for our anniversary: an arbor by the backyard fence where her wisteria could grow over, complete with a bench and places to hang other plants.

I had to get it done in one day, before she came home from work, but the job wasn’t going well. I was making up the plan as I went along, and as the sun climbed higher in the sky, I ran out of supplies.

I drove to the home improvement store to buy more screws and boards. While there I looked around to see what else I needed. I was near the back of the store, away from most other people. The elevator music coming from the store’s speakers faded out and was replaced by the decades-old When a Man Loves a Woman, by Percy Sledge.

The store’s ceiling was high, and the sound came down clear all around me as though angels were performing live in the rafters.

I hadn’t heard that song in a long time, and I had forgotten how beautiful Percy could sing. I stopped, looked upward toward the invisible angels, and slowly spun around and around so my ears would catch every note:

When a man loves a woman/Can’t keep his mind on nothing else./He’ll trade the world/for the good thing he’s found.

The song took me back to my dating years, and though I don’t remember the first time I heard it, I’ve always known it was the perfect song about devotion to the one you love. (It also was the greatest make-out song ever composed, but that’s another story.)

All too soon, the beautiful song ended, to be followed by another track from the latest Otis Elevator CD.

My brain returned to the present, my eyes focused on my surroundings and I realized I was in an enormous store full of fence boards and toilet-repair kits. The angels were gone, but for about three minutes I had been in heaven.

I bought my boards and drove home. The rest of the day, while I built that imperfect anniversary arbor, flowed like music, and I might have actually whistled while I worked.

Reach Glynn Moore at glynn.moore@augustachronicle.com.

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