There are a few songs in my life that have burrowed themselves deep into my core, weaving their melodies and lyrics so tightly through memories or moments that it's nearly impossible to untangle the associations. Songs which, upon hearing just the first few opening chords, transport me back to a specific moment in time. They conjure vivid flashbacks, incite wistful recollection, or ignite piercing emotions. They are joyful, or sorrowful, and they take me backwards through these 28 years, reminding me of who I used to be, ways I used to think, and highlighting all the tiny, seemingly inconsequential moments that when added up, make me who I am today. They're melodic little time machines. And they exist for everyone.
A few years ago one of my favorite bloggers wrote one of my favorite of her posts about this very thing. Emma of emmasthing took us all on a trip down her personal memory lane, via song selections. I was so inspired by the post that I immediately began curating my own soundtrack, and encouraged all of my friends to do the same. The words "powerful," and "cathartic" were used pretty frequently to describe the process, and I vowed that if I ever started a blog, I would share my "transporting" songs and hopefully inspire some folks to do the same, much like emma had inspired me to do. So.... now that this little blog is up and running, I figure this is as good a time as any.
To frame the project, I selected songs tied to moments throughout the past decade. For me that means ages 18 through 28 - which, let's face it, are some really juicy years when it comes to songs imprinting themselves on psyches. When I first put together my list in 2013, it was just shy of 40 songs. In the interest of maintaining readers, I created an abridged version - 15 songs for 10 years of living. This process was so fun, I can't suggest enough that you consider creating a soundtrack for yourself. Pull out your old records, cassettes, and CDs, try to remember what you had on your iPod mini, and dive deep into the nostalgia.
1. High and Dry - Jamie Cullum
It's 2005 and I'm driving with my dad up the 101 highway in his white Chevy truck - the one that I would soon put a large dent in by trying to squeeze through a small driveway with a large eucalyptus tree. I'm in my senior year of High School, and I am waiting to receive admittance or rejection letters from the schools I've applied to. My dad and I are on a trip to check out the three Northern California schools in consideration, though I think we were both the most excited about UC Santa Cruz, one of my top choices and his alma mater. The sun is setting on the golden hills bracketing the 101, my feet are on the dashboard, and I put on this song. I remember feeling overwhelmed thinking about how excited I was to go to college, how nervous I was to leave home, and most poignantly, how much I love and would miss my family. I remember looking at my dad and realizing how far and few between moments like this were about to become, and trying to commit every detail of that exact minute to memory so I could always recall the feeling of being my dad's daughter before college and distance and new freedoms. This song brings me back to that moment (love you, Dad).
2. I Want to Break Free - Queen
I'm done with AP tests and High School graduation is a week or so away. I'm driving to school in my blue Geo Metro hatchback, with Queen blaring on the radio, pumped on life, so ready for the next thing.
3. Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois - Sufjan Stevens
It's freshman year at UC Santa Cruz. I'm in my dorm, the sky is dark, and it hasn't stopped raining for over a month. I'm low - possibly the lowest I have been for such an extended period of time. While I'm having a great deal of fun, and loving my classes, I'm thoroughly depressed, and my playlists from that time reflect it. In making my selection for this list I wavered between some of the more melancholy songs I was drawn to as a freshman, and some of the more hopeful and optimistic songs that illuminated the stretches of darkness. "Chicago" from Sufjan's Illinoise was an illuminator, but I inevitably chose the first track from the album. They're both transporter songs, but this one reflects more of where I was that year.
4. Madvillain - All Caps
Sophomore year. I'm baking scones or muffins or something in the Stevenson coffee shop, surrounded by fantastic people, feeling like a badass.
5. Weird Fishes/Arpeggi -Radiohead
I listened to In Rainbows a lot while I interned in New York during the summer and fall of 2008. For the first few months of the 6-month internship, I lived in my best friend's boyfriend's apartment in the East Village (while he was in California with her). Every morning I would take a slightly different route to get to CityKids in Tribeca, and this song brings me back to walking down Lafayette, or Church, or Broadway, looking up at the buildings and reveling in the fact that I lived in such an amazing city.
6. You Only Live Once - The Strokes
This song has actually marked quite a few monumental occasions in my life. I listened to it at the top of Half Dome, and when I crossed the finish line of the Nike Women's Marathon, but I first put it in rotation right around the time I graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 2009. I had just begun to really feel hopeful again after a breakup, and this song marked my rounding a corner of sorts. It's my go-to "you just accomplished something big - way to go" tune.
7. White Winter Hymnal - Fleet Foxes
I'm in Yosemite with my family and my sister and I are enamored with the Fleet Foxes. We're driving the most beautiful winding roads through the valley, staring up at massive granite rock walls, trying desperately to get our parents to put the album on and just drive quietly, listening, and soaking it in. Our parents actually like talking to us, though, especially when on little family vacations, and especially when in cars, so it didn't quite happen like that. To this day, this album makes me think about Tanner, and Yosemite, and feeling content surrounded by my family in one of my most favorite places on Earth. Oddly enough it also brings me back to the few days I spent in DC with my best friend for her birthday - I have a distinct memory of hearing it play at her party just before she blew out some candles and the night ramped up.
8. Red Right Ankle - The Decemberists
Ahh. Cue Ryan. At the beginning of our relationship, and even just before we had started dating, Ryan and I would drive up to San Francisco to visit mutual friends. The Decemberists, the Postal Service, and the Avett Brothers frequently provided background music to our nervously flirtatious banter and laughter. This song is driving in Ryan's Honda, headed back to Santa Cruz, on the precipice of falling in love. Five or so years later I would walk down the isle to it on our wedding day.
9. Lisztomania - Phoenix
The entire Wolfgang Amadeus album brings me right back to my first few years out from undergrad. I'm living in Santa Cruz in a beautiful apartment with dear friends, dating Ryan, working at the most trying and inspiring job I'll ever hold, and generally having a blast. I remember my mom and dad telling me that the years just after undergrad are some of the most fun of your life - more fun than college, even - because you hit this perfect equilibrium between freedom and responsibility. You're working and (hopefully) making a little money, but you really only need to take care of yourself, and you have your whole life stretched out ahead of you. The possibilities are endless. I took those words to heart. Wolfgang Amadeus is simply a party of an album, and "Lisztomaia" is the disco ball.
10. Perth - Bon Iver
It's 2011 and Ryan and I are now living in San Francisco so I can pursue a Master's degree. I'm working at an elementary school out in the Sunset district (aka the foggiest part of SF), and taking a bus most mornings that picks me up on Haight St., just across the park from our apartment. I remember boarding the bus on many a mostly-sunny morning, and watching the fog seep out through the streets we passed with increasing density as we neared Ocean Beach. Justin Vernon's voice seemed to somehow match the fog. This second album from Bon Iver is 100% our first few months in the city.
11. Losing You - Solange
The immeasurably fashionable and very dear Jessica Church first introduced me to this song, and it became an anthem of sorts. Not for the lyrics - but rather for the amazing video and Solange's incredible outfits throughout. I most likely first heard the song and watched the video at Jess and Luke's apartment, between rounds of Cards Against Humanity, surrounded by some of the greatest people. 2011 and 2012 were excellent years for our San Francisco crew, and "Losing You" was present for some of the best moments those years had to offer. It's a song I used to play on repeat while having solo dance parties in my car on the way home from work on Friday nights. So basically it's a gem.
12. Sonsick - San Fermin
I'm nearly done with grad school and I have started to take on more responsibility at the nonprofit I work for. Balancing work and school and a move to a new apartment have made me somewhat fragile - I'm holding it together, but barely. Both Tanner and NPR introduced me to San Fermin, and I had a moment with "Sonsick" one Thursday evening standing outside the SFSU library after a full day of work. I remember mentally listing all the things I had to accomplish that night, and feeling complete, somewhat crippling overwhelm engulf me. "Sonsick" brought me back to reality, and reignited a fire and drive that had been nearly extinguished. To this day it's my "I know this feels insurmountable but you can do it" fight song.
13. Dissolve Me - Alt-J
It's 2014 and I've received a Master's degree and a promotion. Ryan and I have settled into our new little apartment, and for the first time since moving to San Francisco I feel like I finally have the bandwidth to enjoy living in one of the world's greatest cities. Alt-J's 2012 album (I was a little late to the party) accompanied those first months where I felt like my eyes - free from the weight of grad school - were finally opened to how amazing this place is.
14. You and Me - Penny and the Quarters
I'm making breakfast with my fiance on a regular Sunday morning. We're drinking coffee and reading the paper and maybe going over our plan for the day while a soulful mix is queued up in the background. We particularly love this one song by Penny and the Quarters. Fast forward 10 months later and we're dancing for the first time as husband and wife while "You and Me" plays sweetly behind us. It's near and oh so dear.
15. Jackrabbit - San Fermin
It's today! Like right now! This morning! I know this was a long post - thanks so much for sticking it out. My last song is something that I've been listening to over and over again in the past few weeks. Work was a little challenging several months back, and I finally feel confident and excited for what lies ahead. For me "Jackrabbit" is about pushing forward, persevering, fighting on, etc. - which is just what I plan to keep on doing. I'm in a place now where I want to do it all, as best as I possibly can, and hold onto the joy. Onward to great things with great love!
Thanks for stopping by and giving my list a listen. I now challenge you to go ahead and create your own soundtrack - something tells me you're going to enjoy it!