When I started making this list, I tried limit it to songs that are really important to me for whatever reason. I wanted to tell the story of my life as soundtrack. However, I ended up with 58 tracks and hadn’t even made it halfway through my life so I had to stop and think again. I suppose the list would be shorter if I were still 21. Alas.
Music has surrounded me for my entire life. My mom had a fantastic record collection and was a big fan of turning it up loud. I have very vivid memories of stomping out of my bedroom in the wee hours of the morning to say “Mommmmmmm turn the stereo down, I’m trying to sleeeeep.” Even now, I will be flipping stations and one of the songs from my childhood will be on and I’m immediately 4 years old again, all chubby cheeks and tousled hair. One such song is Goodbye Stranger from Supertramp. It’s off the wildly successful album Breakfast In America and every time I hear it, I’m about 5 years old, in the backseat of my mom’s gigantic green Thunderbird, and we’re coming home from somewhere. It’s late and I’m trying to sleep, but the radio is turned up so I can’t. I don’t mind.
I grew up in the 80s and 90s, and MTV is very much a part of my DNA. Before MTV, most people didn’t think music could also be visual, but in many ways it is. I’m not a synesthete, which is kind of a bummer because that sounds like a cool thing to be, but I do “see” music when I’m listening. Sometimes it’s abstract ideas of shapes and color, but other times, I get a really strong vision for a video. MTV’s influence on me cannot be overstated.
Back in 1995, the movie Batman Forever was about to be released and U2 had written a song for the Zooropa sessions a few years prior that would fit in nicely with director Joel Schumacher’s vision for the film. I was still a huge U2 superfan at the time, so I managed to get a hold of an early release and I immediately thought that the video for this track should be animated. LO AND BEHOLD, not two weeks later, the video was released and there it was, in all its comic book glory.
1995 isn’t going to go down as the greatest year of my life, and it’s one I would gladly forget if I could. But however bad things got, there was still music. As Morrissey sings in the song “Rubber Ring: “and don’t forget the songs/ that made you cry/ and the songs that saved your life…” there are more than a few songs that I credit with keeping me here on earth.
Nobody does mopey better than the Smiths and the closest Morrissey ever gets to offing himself is in the song “Asleep.” He says “sing me to sleep/ sing me to sleep/ I’m tired and I/ I want to go to bed/” and later he wails “Don’t try to wake me in the morning/ ’cause I will be gone.” He asks the listener not to feel bad for him because he’s glad to go, and knows there is another world. Well, he thinks so, anyway. The idea that it’s okay to feel like this is like catnip to a moody teenager.
Before I was a moody teenager, I was what they now call a “tween,” and the best thing to happen to tweens in my boring Ohio town was the Friday-night dance party in the Methodist Church fellowship hall. It was called The Belfry, it cost $2 to get in, and it was the literal best thing ever. From 7th through 10th grade, the place was full of sweaty tweenagers dancing and flirting and HAVING DRAMA. It was GLORIOUS. Every time I hear Salt ‘n’ Pepa singing “Push It,” I am immediately transported back to that sweaty church hall, smelling like Love’s Baby Soft and Rave hairspray, dancing with my friends and not caring about anything else in the world. It’s been over two and a half decades since my last appearance at The Belfry, but I still get my dance on when Salt ‘n’ Pepa tell me to.
Lots of teenage romance at The Belfry, but not really any of my own. I was solidly on Team Dork until well into my high school years. But every now and again, there would be a boy or two who didn’t find me scary and we’d date for awhile. I started listening to Rush because of a boy and while he didn’t last, the three dorky guys from Canada have been with me for years now. When my husband and I were first dating, Rush put out a new album and, like a good girlfriend, I went with What’s-His-Name to stand in line at the record store so we could buy it at the midnight release. Then we went to a “pre-ticket” party thing where we had to endure lip-syncing contests, air guitar, air drum, and a room full of dudes dorkier than I’d ever been in order to get tickets. 10th row center was worth it, and even moreso when I turned to What’s-His-Name and said “they’re going to open with Dreamline.” He disagreed and thought they’d open with something off this new album and we bet $50 on it. I’m still waiting to collect my $50.
You can’t really dance to Rush. I’ve tried. I don’t have any real dance moves anyway – most of the time I look like I’m about to fall down. It’s fine. Anyway, after we all outgrew The Belfry, we found another place that did “Alternative Night” on Wednesdays in the summertime. My friends and I would get all goth-ed out in our ripped tights and babydoll dresses and scary boots and we’d go pogo and mosh and stomp around to the likes of The Clash, Joy Division, Siouxie and the Banshees, and Jane’s Addiction. Our parents didn’t get it, but then again, they weren’t meant to. We were free, man.
Eventually, I grew up, What’s-His-Name and I got married, and we did all kinds of adult-type things like buy cars and a house and have a kid. I still don’t think I’m ready for parenthood, but she’s ten years old now, so by the time I’m ready for her, she’ll be in college. When she was tiny, and didn’t speak English, she would spend hours screeching at me for being an inadequate human. To calm her down, I’d sing Gnarls Barkley’s 2006 jam, “Crazy.” Whether it was the song itself or my incredibly terrible singing, she would calm down and put me lower on the priority kill list that I know she has stashed somewhere.
I’m getting older now, and my hearing is starting to go at an alarming rate. I’ve worn hearing aids for the last ten years and I HATE THEM but the alternative is almost total deafness, which is not the most super-fun thing in the world. The upside is that I appreciate bass players a lot more than I used to, and speaker technology has improved quite a bit so I can turn it up as loud as I need to. People complain, but I don’t care. If it’s too loud, you’re too old.
This is in no way an exhaustive musical biography. A complete list would be pages and pages long, each song with a story or a smile to go with it. Someday, I’ll write my life story and book technology will probably be advanced enough that I can attach a soundtrack to it so you can listen along with me as we go. Until then, I have over 30,000 tracks in my iTunes library. These are just a few of them.