Tonight the 59th Annual Grammy awards are on. I wasn’t sure if I was going to watch (tonight, at least. Gotta love the DVR age), but I do have it on. Earlier tonight I was looking through pictures of stars on the red carpet, which was depressing because I didn’t recognize half of the people pictured. I’ve learned that is a sure sign that you’re getting older, and this is most prevalent with the Grammys and the MTV VMAs — guess those shows (or music in general maybe) just skews younger?
Anyway, the Grammys being on tonight had some friends and I talking about music this afternoon, and after watching Ed Sheeran perform (oooooooh how I love him), it had me reflecting on the ways music has been a part of my life over the years.
I have always loved music. I think most people at some point in their lives form an attachment to music, and it seems to be especially crucial and important when you’re struggling through those high school and college years. There’s something about music that transcends other forms of entertainment. It’s more abstract, more visceral, leaves more to the imagination. Music has a way of touching the deepest parts of us as humans, and reminds us that we are not alone. Marilyn Manson said “Music is the strongest form of magic,” and I couldn’t agree with that sentiment more. I think it’s the closest thing to real magic we have in this world of ours, and music is capable of making me feel things that no other form of art does.
My love of music started young, if not current. The earliest memory I have that relates to music is also tied to my dad, which is not surprising to me. I surely got my deep love of music from him, though our musical tastes aren’t all that similar. Anyway, I was maybe five years old, and I distinctly remember sitting down in front of my dad’s stereo as he put his big headphones over my ears (they were probably bigger than my head). The sounds of “Daydream Believer” by the Monkees engulfed me, and I was in heaven.
That experience kind of sums up the relationship I’ve had with music my whole life. I have so many vivid memories of specific songs, whether they are tied to memories of other times in my life, or the song itself was so powerful that I remember where I was when I listened to it at a very specific time.
I’ve always been a pretty eclectic music lover. When I was younger, I was kind of at the whim of whatever my parents played when I was around. My dad’s favorite bands include Rush and Elton John, along with a bunch of harder rock hair bands. Some of the CDs/albums I became obsessed with when I was young thanks to my dad were Permanent Vacation by Aerosmith, 2112 by Rush (“Lakeside Park” is such a great song), and Long, Cold Winter by Cinderella. He would wake us up on the weekends by blasting Rush or Judas Priest on the stereo, which was not much appreciated by any of his children.
My mom, on the other hand, isn’t quite as musically inclined as my dad. So, the influence I got from her was a LOT of exposure to Oldies 104.3 from pretty much birth through 5th grade or so. It was what we listened to whenever we went anywhere with her, which was….all the time. I’m not complaining about this — the Oldies station gave me a great appreciation for the music of the 50s and 60s that I might not have gotten otherwise. “Breaking Up is Hard to Do” by Neil Sedaka was my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE SONG IN THE WORLD thanks to listening to that station. I also have fond memories of “Dancing in the Street” by Martha Reeves and the Vendellas, because that was one of my mom’s favorite songs. It was thanks to her influence, I believe, that my late grade school/Jr. High years one of my CD obsessions was Chicago’s Greatest Hits. I belted out songs like “Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” “Love Me Tomorrow,” and “What Kind of Man Would I Be?” like my life depended on it. Nevermind that I probably didn’t understand most of what was being expressed in those songs at the ripe age of 9 or so, I felt those songs, felt Peter Cetera’s pain. I’m surprised that CD survived my non-stop playing of it, honestly.
When I was in 4th grade, my parents moved us out of the city and into the suburbs. I found myself transitioning from the life of a sheltered Catholic school girl to a girl in public school. There was a whole world of things I knew nothing about — clothes and current music topping that list. In 4th grade, friends exposed me to current music, outside of what I was exposed to at home. I discovered Ace of Base, and after hearing “I Saw the Sign” (which I mistakenly believed was called “I Saw the SUN” for quite a long time” I was hooked. Happy Nation by Ace of Base was the first CD I owned that was actually MINE, and I played that out probably about as much as I played out my Chicago CD.
5th grade, though, was when my real musical awakening occurred. My dad took us to his friend’s house one day over the summer, and I met a boy who would become one of my best friends for a decent amount of time. His friendship meant a lot to me, and one of the greatest things that came out it was an appreciation for music I never would have imagined would be for me. It was Jamie who introduced me to Green Day, and more than any other band or artist (with the possible exception of Hanson), discovering them changed my damn life.
You have to understand. I was maybe 10 or 11 at this time? My years in Catholic school contributed to my being a fairly sheltered, naive child. I was a goody-goody. Green Day was like nothing I had ever experienced before. They were loud, they swore, they were rebellious and kind of dangerous, and I FUCKING LOVED THEM. I remember listening to what must have been Dookie at Jamie’s house, and falling in love with “Basketcase” in particular. I knew I wanted — no, needed — a Green Day CD. I wanted the one with “the paradise” song. I got Kerplunk which did have “Welcome to Paradise” on it, but none of the other songs I expected. It didn’t matter. I loved it anyway. I soon followed it up by purchasing not only Dookie, but also every other Green Day CD in existence. To my amazement, my parents didn’t seem to be bothered by this aggressive, loud music I had become enamored with. Maybe it was because my dad’s own music could often be loud and angry, and maybe it’s because I was hitting adolescence so they figured they might as well just embrace it. Maybe it was because Jamie’s parents let him listen to it, so they didn’t feel they could bar me from it. Whatever it was, I’m so glad they allowed it. I distinctly remember Insomniac being especially poignant for me when it came out — it tapped into a sense of rebellion that really spoke to me at the time, and I loved it more than I can probably put into words today.
Green Day opened up a whole new world tome, because I recognized that there was a lot more music out there than I had ever realized. Green Day led to Offspring and 311, which led to Blink 182. Alanis Morrissette released in 1995, and I also adored her, although I hit the roadblock with her I hadn’t with Green Day – my dad did not want me to have that CD. I’m still not sure why — maybe I should try asking him today. Maybe it was because an angry female seemed like a bad influence. Maybe it was because sex also played into her own brand of vulgarity (not that I knew what “going down on” someone in a theater even meant at that age — naive, remember?!). Whatever it was, I met resistance. While I did end up getting Jagged Little Pill (and loving the crap out of it), it took some wearing down to achieve.
I stuck with the punk/grunge phase for a few years after that. Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness by the Smashing Pumpkins was another favorite of that era, and when Bush’s Sixteen Stone came out, I thought it was heaven-sent. Tragic Kingdom by No Doubt also got big about then. Every single one of these CDs felt absolutely life changing for me when they came out. Junior High brought a solid attempt at liking Dave Matthews Band because my boyfriend in 8th grade loved them (I faked it alright for awhile and liked a couple of songs okay, but really…I just never got that one). It also brought Hanson, which was truly a life changer, on par only with Green Day. Other key CDs from this time included What’s the Story Morning Glory (Oasis), Third Eye Blind, All the Pain Money Can Buy (Fastball…whose song “Out of My Head” is currently being covered in a rap song), and A Place in the Sun (Lit).
High School saw a shift in my musical tastes. I didn’t stop liking any of aforementioned bands (or the ones not mentioned), but I did find myself shifting towards the pop spectrum of things. Mariah Carey’s Honey CD was huge, and the boy bands were starting to enter the Horizon. I got really into pop and R&B in high school. TLC, 112, Backstreet Boys, ‘N Sync, 98 Degrees, Aaliyah, Alicia Keys, Matchbox Twenty, All Saints, Janet Jackson, Madonna — these were all key artists on the playlist that was high school.
New releases by both Janet Jackson and Madonna also caused me to go back and experience some of their older music for the first time. While I was certainly alive in the 80s when they were both really big, those were what I call the “dark years” for me. I don’t remember any music in the 80s from living in the 80s — I was too busy listening to The Who and whatever Dick Beyondi shared on 104.3. As a result, I missed about a decade of music. One of my favorite Christmas presents in high school was my very own DVD player, along with a DVD of Janet Jackson’s Design of a Decade music videos. Adore. I also have a very distinct memory of listening to The Immaculate Collection on repeat while studying for an AP Biology test my senior year in high school. “Crazy for You” got me through the creation of that notecard that evening. I also choreographed a dance to “The Rain” by Missy Elliott with two of my best friends, which we performed in front of our Junior Year English class (yes, that really happened).
College brought yet another shift in musical tastes. The Hanson love was still strong, and kind of saw a resurgence during my college years. At that point, they had grown and evolved significantly, and they had some really great opening acts for their tour during those years. I discovered Ingram Hill, Michael Tolcher, and Pat McGee band thanks to them being opening acts for Hanson, and I really loved all three. I also found myself rediscovering some pop/punk music again. A good friend introduced me to Something Corporate and Motion City Soundtrack, and even dragged another friend to see Motion City Soundtrack with me. My cousin (I think) introduced me to the song Konstantine by Something Corporate, which is almost 10 minutes long, and which I belted out alone in my dorm room more times than I can count. I still love that song.
It was also during college that a girl who I knew through the Hanson fan club was looking for someone to accompany her to Alanis Morrissette’s Jagged Little Pill 20th anniversary tour. On a whim, I decided to join her and am so glad I did. Not only was Alanis AMAZING, but her opening act was Jason Mraz, who performed a capella for his entire opening set. He blew me away. Like, literally, left me breathless and in awe of his voice and performance. I had known who he was prior to that concert — “The Remedy” and “You and I Both” were tough escape in those days — but I hadn’t thought he was anything special. After that show he went down in the Janine Hall of Fame along with Green Day and Hanson, and quickly became one of my absolute favorite artists. He still is.
In college, I also met the man who would one day become my husband, and the early days of our relationship involved a lot of music sharing. Thanks to him, I discovered the true wonder of John Mayer, as well as got introduced to bands like Zero 7 and the Perishers. Our first bond was made over music, and that made our relationship and the music we shared together that much more special.
My relationship to music has changed as an adult (like, post-college adult), but it’s still special. I still need music to get me through, though I listen to it in a way I never would have imagined in high school or college. I listen to pretty much all of my music by streaming it through Spotify, which would horrify my 18-year old self. But the times they are-a-changing, and apparently I’ve changed with them. I don’t seem to listen to full CDs from start to finish anymore, at least not new ones. Instead of CDs, it’s all about playlists. I discover new music by happening across it, and adding things, song by song, to a playlist of my favorite discoveries. It’s a more piecemeal way of experiencing music, but it doesn’t make the music any less meaningful or powerful as a result. I also find myself reminiscing more. It dawned on me recently that the 90s are actually hitting “oldies” status in the current day, which is sort of horrifying to me. That was my DECADE, man! Don’t tell me it’s dead!
I still know current music well enough. I can recognize songs that are popular, even if I don’t always know who they are by. I’m probably more out of touch than I used to be, but I’m not completely gone yet.
The fact is this: Sometimes, nothing in the world can make me feel the way music does. Watching Ed Sheeran on SNL last night (and on the Grammy’s tonight), I just smiled, and felt all warm and fuzzy inside. Lady Gaga’s Superbowl performance last weekend was one of the highlights of my year so far. Memories of my first time seeing Green Day consist of just a sense of awe and excitement that surpassed pretty much anything I had felt up to that point in time. There is virtually no feeling in the world that rivals the first day of nice weather after a long winter, when you can roll the windows down, turn the music up, and just drive and sing. Many moments when I have experienced pure joy in my life had something to do with music, which really does make me think that there has to be some magic hidden within.
If you made it this far, thanks for sticking around. And if you feel like it — share that music that’s changed your life. I’m sure there’s something 🙂