The Songs That Define Us

Our twin girls, Rachel and Paige, just started Middle School, and in the course of this last summer, they seem to have transformed before our eyes.  As one would expect, there is a sudden hyper-heightened awareness to the things of their age, like appearance, style, clothing, friendships, pop culture.  And music.

It is one of our new family rituals now, that they would usurp control over the car radio during trips, commutes, and even errand running.  Step one: Slip into the back seat, talking non-stop.  Step 2: Flip from sports talk radio (my default setting) to the local pop station.  Step 3: Turn up nine decibels.  Rihanna, Shontelle, Pink, and Lady Gaga suddenly invade my Ford Explorer, and I find myself feeling really old, as I internally resist the urge to yell, “get off my lawn,” in a graveled raspy voice, and pop in a Steely Dan CD.

This is the way it has been for generations, I believe.  We define ourselves, in part, by the music we listen to.

I remember discovering AM radio when I was a very young boy, and listening to the borrowed records my big brother smuggled home on the living room stereo.  I remember my first day as a freshman in college, discovering the campus, listening to the amazing diversity of music emanating from each dorm room: Emerson Lake and Palmer, Bob Marley, Chick Corea, Fleetwood Mac, Toto, Zeppelin.  Having grown up with a fairly mainstream musical vocabulary, experiencing this new smorgasbord of eclectic styles was mind-blowing.  I remember getting a boom box for my birthday one year, and loading it up with as many cassettes as I could get my hands on.

And I remember welcoming these songs, making room for them in my cramped dorm room, ushering them into my life, as if they were old and trusted friends.

I placed these songs deep in my subconscious, next to the nursery rhymes I learned as a toddler and the classical music I practiced as a kid.  And like you—I am sure—whenever I hear them again, they evoke a memory, an emotion, a psychoacoustic response.  Such is the power of music.

Maybe it is more true to say that, for young people trying to sort out the essence of themselves, music becomes a canvas upon which they paint the lines and forms and colors of their portraits.  Because in truth, I didn’t like all of these songs at first.  I probably hated some of them.  But they became a part of me, and my memories, nonetheless.  The music we listen to becomes the soundtrack of the movie that is us.

Occasionally now, I’ll be driving the twins around town with one of their friends—radio blaring some diva-led, auto-tuned, drum-machine driven pop tune—and bopping in the back seat, all three of them will spontaneously start singing along.  And in those moments, I will momentarily picture them in the future.  They’re older of course, maybe in their thirties or forties, driving their children around town in an alternative-fuel powered flying car.  And without warning, this same song will come on the radio.

And they’ll smile a big smile.

What song from your past elicits a memory, emotion, or other response?  What songs have defined you?  Please blog me back.  I want to know…


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5 thoughts on “The Songs That Define Us

  1. This song whenever playing makes me stop, close my eyes and remember the days. It’s San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair) by Scott McKenzie. EVERY TIME! Driving? Pull over. Guess you had to be there.

  2. I grew up listening to U2, Tom Petty (my parents went to high school with him), Pink Floyd, Tina Turner… For me, music from these artists is comfortable, familiar, a long-time friend. And early ’90s stuff from, say, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, Nirvana, or Counting Crows always seems to take me back to the summer before my freshman year of high school, helping my mom in the mornings at Round Table Pizza while listening to KWOD 106.5.

  3. Genesis….Seconds Out + And Then There Were Three. I flash back to college days, humid summer all-nighters in an eight track recording studio in Cincinnati…time to spend hanging out with friends, Frisbee golf, InterVarsity. Why does it have to be such a long time ago?

  4. Today when I stepped out the back door I heard “Smoke on the Water” playing. I instantly was back in Jr. High remembering the day I was teaching my friend Anne to dance to that song. Many times over the years we have recalled that sweet memorary and broke into dance together. Anne is no longer alive but the music and memory live on.

  5. Jr Year of highschool I was on the snowboarding team. Every week I listened to the same Blink 182 CD on the way up the mountain. Anytime I hear a song off that CD it fills me with a sense of adventure.

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