As will often happen in our house, der Meister and I were recently discussing music. Our conversation came about because of a Father’s Day book I presented to der Meister entitled This is Your Brain on Music. Conversations of this sort usually take a variety of turns, this time covering, among other things, the skill of various music artists, the production value of various songs, and the reason for the various knobs and buttons on your music system.

Music is amazing. It makes those tiny goose pimples rush up and down our arms and up to our hair because the music or voice just did something so glorious that it makes our indescribable emotions want to pop out of our skin. It takes us back to our childhood of playrooms and make-shift stages, junior high school bus rides, and road trips. It warns us that a movie is taking a menacing turn and makes our children hide their eyes and cower in our shoulders. It makes our feet dance, sets the mood with a few choice notes, and conjures up entire story lines based on what we’re hearing. Music means something to us, often certain songs specifically. With this is mind, as part of an autobiographical project, I had my students create a playlist of ten songs that they felt represented them, with an explanation of why that song was chosen. This was cool because as the lists came in I could unmistakably see my students represented in their playlists and why they chose the songs they did. For the most part, they didn’t just choose songs for shock value or because “it’s cool” (which was against the rules, anyway). The songs meant something to them, reminding them of specific events, people, or moods. 

I tried this for myself wondering what I would come up with. I had made various lists of “favorites” before, but what ten would I choose if they had to represent me? It was hard. As I listened to different songs, I found myself thinking of who each song reminded me of rather than wondering how it represented me. I realized that by reminding me of my loved ones, they did, in a way, represent what mattered in my life, hence they were a part of me.

Both my parents love Bruce Springsteen and depending on the song, either one of them will come to mind. However, while hearing The Boss convince us that we were born to run, I think of my mum and how if she were in a crowded room and that song was in the background, she would belt out “woah!” with the man, with an fist punch to the air, indifferent everyone else around because, hey, “I’m singing with Bruce! Bruuuuuuccce!” After a rough day at school, Bruce and I would rock out together on that long drive home until I was sane and calm again.

As Tom Petty runs down his dream, memories of driving to California come to mind, as does memories of driving with my dad in general. We’d talk about the songs we’d hear on the radio, and on this particular drive he pointed out some of the lyrics from this song. I now know that Tom Petty is cool because he, too, wuh-wuh-wuh-wuh- wonders about Mr. Shannon’s runaway.

While hanging out with some friends when I was younger, we were tapping our feet or clapping against our legs to some music going on in the background. As I tapped along to the music, I noticed my friends glance at me then suddenly announce with disgust, “E, you’re off!” I didn’t know how to explain to them that I was tapping to everything I heard going on in the music, not just the beat. It’s what I heard and what didn’t. (Maybe dancing had something to do with that.) It wasn’t until later that I learned words like syncopation and down beats. Now I can point to Jimi Hendrix during his bought with manic depression, which brought about fantastic rhythms, beats, and sounds, to explain what sometimes goes on in my head when I hear music.

Other artists and songs come to mind, of course, but again, I have to distinguish between what I love and what represents me. One of those could be ELO reminding me to hold tight to my dream, which reminds me of my first year-long job search. Their message also came to mind at the end of this school year, and still pops up recently. Another would be Los Lonely Boys admonishing those nay-sayers and skeptics to leave me alone; I’m gonna do it my way because I believe that miracles happen.

So, I’m curious.

What are some songs you would choose for your playlist?

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