The sound of music

27Aug11

When I was three I brought in “Lola” by the Kinks for show and tell. Let’s ignore the fact that my mom, who was a teacher at the preschool I went to, allowed me to bring in a record about a man hooking up with a transvestite. I got my first 45 single when I had just turned five. It was “Mandy” by Barry Manilow, although I was also partial to “SOS” by Abba. Growing up my parents listened to a lot of music and I always asked for records for my birthday and Christmas. My ninth birthday was a highlight, when my parents bought me The Wall. Again, probably not showing the greatest judgment. I spent lots of money on music growing up. I was extremely reluctant to go from LP to tape because I loved the whole album experience. You can’t put a penny on a tape player to make it stop skipping.

My musical taste has varied widely, although from high school on I’ve probably leaned more toward the “alternative”. (Ok, so there have always been the blips on the radar. “Love Song” by Tesla was the first mp3 I downloaded and I own the entire Public Enemy discography.) What’s probably been most consistent is that I get really attached to songs and that music can really affect my mood.

Listening to a really good song can create one of those rare (for me) moments where it’s all about what’s happening then, not about all the stuff in my head. Sometimes it’s the music, sometimes it’s the lyrics but there always has to be something that speaks to me. It could just be something really catchy or it could be so amazing that I have to close my eyes to appreciate it. There’s always a best part of every song too. If I really love a song I can listen to it on constant repeat so as a result I tend to have strong associations between music and life events. Trashcan Sinatras, REM, Pearl Jam and the Singles soundtrack are college. Smashing Pumpkins, Concrete Blonde, Green Day, Counting Crows, Barenaked Ladies and Live are my early twenties. David Gray, the Jayhawks and Travis are Bellingham.

Right now I cannot stop listening to LCD Soundsystem, Arcade Fire, Mates of State and Neko Case. They will probably become permanently associated with being 40 and all that it entails. When I listen to a song that I associate with a particular time in my life, it brings me back almost instantly. It’s like a visceral response.

There have been times when music said what I couldn’t, times when it perfectly complimented a moment, and times that music was the only thing that got me through. “How Soon is Now?” by the Smiths, I’m talking to you. I don’t know that I would have survived my unmedicated bouts of depression without music to alternately cheer me up or help me wallow. Other than lying under the stars in my yard, good music is the closest I get to being zenlike.

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