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SCOTT SIMON, Host:

You wouldn't ordinarily tell a young person who wants a career in music to get hit by a car, but that's what's happened to Melody Gardot.

First, though, some of her music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOODNITE")

SIMON: (Singing) Goodnite, close your eyes and just sleep tight. I'll lie awake and watch you dream, to be sure that all of your dreams are pure.

SIMON: A young woman who had an extraordinary, sultry voice is now 23. Four years ago, she was hit by an SUV while riding her bicycle. Her injuries were serious and left her unable to sit up for more than 10 minutes. She had short-term memory loss and acute sensitivity to light and sound.

She'd played the piano before the accident, and a doctor told Melody Gardot to use music as a kind of recovery therapy. Since she couldn't sit comfortably at the piano, she picked up a guitar. Now, she's a professional musician with an album out, "Worrisome Heart."

Melody Gardot joins us from the studios of WHYY in Philadelphia. Thanks so much for being with us.

SIMON: Oh, thank you for having me.

SIMON: And congratulations. What an achievement this is.

SIMON: It's quite a surprise, quite a turn of events.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Well, help us understand that turn. Where did life find you when you were 19, just before that bicycle ride?

SIMON: I was in school, and I had no intentions of pursuing music. I was actually more interested in art. So you know, this bizarre, bizarre day, my life kind of turned around in the blink of an eye.

SIMON: Well, and you wouldn't ordinarily say for the better, but something extraordinary just happened to you, didn't it, over these past four years?

SIMON: Yeah, via the - well, the advice of a doctor, I was turned on to music and therapy and things that it can do. Music is one of the only things that helps to rebuild neural pathways in your brain, so while I was sort of floating about without any progress, he mentioned music therapy as a very viable way to try and regain some of that and just improve on what I had already had.

So I started - and it just turned into a completely different process altogether. It went from private to public almost right before my eyes.

SIMON: Without further ado, let's hear a bit from the title track, "Worrisome Heart."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WORRISOME HEART")

SIMON: (Singing) I need a hand with my worrisome heart. I need a hand with my worrisome heart. I would be lucky to find me a man who could love me the way that I am with this here worrisome heart...

SIMON: What drew you to this particular kind of music?

SIMON: Well honestly, this is sort of coming as second nature. I didn't listen to a great deal of jazz, but when I was taught piano, I was taught classical, and then I got to a point where I started incorporating blue notes by instinct, and my teacher freaked out, and so he introduced me to Ellington, and that was the only real concept of jazz I'd had up until that time, and I don't have the musical background so strongly that I can communicate easily with my fellow peers, like as far as musicians go.

So the group of guys that I work with are fundamental in making things actually happen. My way of explaining things is in an art form. So I'm like, you know, go to the next frame, and they're like, you mean the next bar? I'm like, yeah, the next bar.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WORRISOME HEART")

SIMON: (Singing) Worrisome, troubling, baggage-free, modern-day dame, a worrisome, troubling, baggage-free, modern-day dame, ain't nobody the same.

SIMON: Now may I ask, delicately because we mentioned you have short- term memory loss, does that make your life as a composer and, for that matter, performer more complicated?

SIMON: Oh yeah, in many ways. It comes both in personal and professional doses, where you know, when I write songs, they happen in about a 20-minute window, and my goal is to record them simply because I need to go back and learn them. It does come back to the fact that I can't retain that information as I would have normally.

So it's a challenge, and even on stage, you know, if I get distracted, part of the issue that I have cognitively is related to sequencing. So if you asked me what letter came after N, I'd have to go through my brain A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O - okay - because I have to go from the beginning to end. I can't just stop in the middle.

That said, if I'm in the middle of a song and something happens and I lose my train of thought, if I get distracted, and I'm at the bridge, and I have to go and find where the next word would be, I literally have to go through the song in about four bars, which is like 10 seconds. So in my head, it's just hysterical.

SIMON: It doesn't work to just write yourself a lot of Post-It notes or something?

SIMON: If I did that, my house would be entirely covered with yellow, yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: It would be terrible.

SIMON: A design statement, I suppose. You also, as I understand it, suffer from acute sensitivity to light and sound.

SIMON: Yes.

SIMON: That's got to be a problem when performing.

SIMON: Yeah, it makes it somewhat masochistic. I mean, it's like if you were afraid of heights and you decided to be like a skydiver, you know, I mean, it's - or if it happened that that was your career path, I mean, it's sort of ironic.

I have - because of the damage to my spine, I have a nervous system disorder called an autonomic nervous system dysfunction. Say that five times fast.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: I'm sensitive to light and sound, and so I wear glasses, and I have earring - or not earring devices, hearing devices. And those help to bring my level of sensitivity down so that I'm able to do what I do, and it's sort of a catch-22 because to be honest with you, being on stage and performing is the 30, 40, 50 minutes of most pleasurable experience that I have because it's during that time that I don't really feel any pain. And it's - I think it's transcendental, and I also think it's kind of like when you have a headache, and someone punches you in the stomach, you forget all about your head. So with performing, I'm so focused and so intent that I forget about those things.

So it's wonderful for me, and I really look forward to it, but on the flip side, it's quite difficult.

SIMON: Another song of yours we want to hear, "Some Lessons."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOME LESSONS")

SIMON: (Singing) Well I'm buckled up inside, miracle that I'm alive. I do not think I can survive on bread and wine alone...

SIMON: When did you write this song?

SIMON: The first song I wrote after the accident, a few months afterwards, and actually it was more of a bodily function than a willing decision.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: It wasn't really a conscious effort, and it surprised me. Of all the songs on the record, that's the one that's the most difficult to perform, and I have since restrained from doing it, but I think it was a helpful thing that I wrote that song. It helped me move past a lot of things.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOME LESSON")

SIMON: (Singing) Some lessons we learn the hard way. Some lessons don't come easy, and that's the price we have to pay. Well, some lessons...

SIMON: Do you enjoy writing songs?

SIMON: I don't know if enjoy is the right word. It's necessary in so many ways, and it's surprising. I love the fact that I'm able to do it and have the experiences that I'm having now. I think it's the most wonderful, circular kind of existence, where you're creating, and other people are reacting, and so what you're putting out, they're giving back to you.

You know, it's a constant sense of renewal. So yes, in that sense I do, I love being a writer. I love having the opportunity and the blessing of being able to do this all the time, but in many ways it's kind of like I don't have a choice.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: If I didn't, I wouldn't feel like I could function.

SIMON: Do you hear music differently now?

SIMON: I don't know that I necessarily hear music differently so much as I appreciate a different style of music. Like, I think I'm more open than I was before, as far as sonic, you know, capability is concerned and also just as far as my pace and general way of life. So yeah, having had slowed down so much, I appreciate slower music.

I think I needed a soundtrack to my life before that was sort of like (makes noise) because I was going, you know, a million miles a minute. But now I'm like uh-uh, I don't need any of that. Like all the music I listen to, it's like Perry Como. I mean, it's anybody who's dead or dying.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Perry Como, I think he's just left us, if I'm not mistaken, right?

SIMON: Did he really?

SIMON: Yeah, I think a few months ago, yeah.

SIMON: My grandfather used to sing that song...

SIMON: (Singing) Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, never let it fade away...

SIMON: Put it in...

SIMON: Or it was something like that, yeah.

SIMON: That's it, yeah.

SIMON: That's the one that said...

SIMON: (Singing). (Makes noise).

SIMON: I can't remember. I can't remember the lyrics. I just remember him humming it to me. That was a good song.

SIMON: To remark on the obvious, you have really caught a falling star.

SIMON: I know. I'm not one to wake up in the morning and forget that. I forget a lot of things, but I don't forget that.

SIMON: Well Ms. Gardot, just a pleasure to talk to you. Thanks so much.

SIMON: Oh, it's lovely to talk to you too.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: And this is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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