Recently, a virtual friend—in the olden days we called them Pen Pals—and I opened the kimonos. We’ve exposed our guilty pleasures, the popular contenders for the desert isle list, the shower playlist, and even our closet loves, from our respective music libraries. OK, so maybe we’ve only scratched the surface, but we have started swapping histories and fessing up the nitty gritty. It’s early days yet. Time will tell just how much we reveal.
For some, divulging the contents of their music library to another is as personal of a story as it is spilling the beans on first kisses and intimate secrets. It can be awkward. It says things about you. It can end a friendship before it has a chance to bloom. I’d think twice about someone whose love for Yanni was boundless. As one would walk away from me upon learning that I have ABBA’s greatest hits in multiple languages.
It’s a dicey proposition talking truths about one’s self. I want to know the person I am inviting into my past is worthy of the story. Revealing my musical favorites, the why and how they came to be, is serious business. What if they balk my admiration and love of Dolly Parton? What if I don’t feel passionate about Dylan’s scratchy voice like my new friend might? Will we have a future as friends? It’s hard enough unraveling your complicated self without the added pressure of sharing musical preferences.
Regardless if you’re a music junkie or a top forty sort of person, music is woven into your histories. You might think Mumford and Sons are the names of a family plumbing business, and maybe you’ve always assumed Taylor Swift was the name of the seamstress who hems your grandmother’s polyester pants. Maybe if you lived under a rock you’d believe this was how the Sons and Taylor earned a living. Still, there is no denying the artist’s music has probably embedded itself in the recess of your subconscious.
The first time I heard “I Will Wait” I was sitting in the Post-Op Recovery room next to my dad’s bed. I had plugged into my iPod flipping through back issues of Travel and Leisure. I remember thinking how the magazines were the perfect distraction. Each turn of the page, I transported someplace exotic. Traveling from the drab room I saw myself wandering aimlessly down the cobblestoned streets of some little village in northern Italy. The members of family all lost own thoughts and prayers. All of us hoping against some serious odds the doctors were successful removing the nasty brain tumor that was causing blackouts and memory leaks when. Then, And I came home/Like a stone, pierced my imaginary Italian holiday, and brought me back to the present. Dad opened his eyes a few minutes later.
“Bren, I’m going to be a poet. Can you find me a notebook and a pen?”
“I Will Wait”, is personal.
These days of dust/Which we’ve known/Will blow away with this new sun.
The lyrics carried me through the multiple rounds of chemo while we all waited for the sun and the possibility of more time together. Do I want to tell someone why I like this song? Maybe not, but if asked I’d agree it was a catchy tune but I’d leave out what the song means to me, why, and where it takes me whenever it circles ‘round on the airwaves.
Of course, not every song in my library carries equal emotional weight. “Down on the Corner” by Creedence Clearwater Rival takes me to my childhood home. Mom and Dad were famous for the impromptu dinner parties, complete with good food, music, and dancing. Now when I hear CCR, I can’t stop my hips from swinging. I lift my arms and snap my fingers in harmony with John Fogerty’s backwoods yowl. And then there is Gage’s “You and I.” I apologize in advance if you happen to pull up alongside my little red Fiat when I’m backing Ms. Gaga. I can’t help myself I have to sing.
Year in year out I accumulate fodder for my musical memoir. For me, some chapters are tied into a single song. There are soundtracks from Hollywood blockers, Shrek, for instance is the summer I started scribbling down ideas for a novel, which after going through several rewrites is being published this year. It’s fitting that Loving is Good—the current title assuming the Editor doesn’t change it—grew from the song “You Were Always on My Mind.”
Exposing my lifelong collection of music is personal, it’s telling and not something I do lightly. How our brains (and our hearts) respond to music continues to intrigue me. Your musical choices can define you as well as unite us.
What song, regardless of where you are, brings you to your knees or causes your hips to sway?