A friend of mine recently asked me to make a playlist for her. She wanted a playlist of songs that I believed one needed to hear in their lifetime. I told her I would, but it would take some time. This is no easy task. There’s a lot of music that I think is important and beautiful and worth listening to once. The easiest thing to do would be to just give her Taylor Swift’s discography. But I know this wouldn’t be honest. Don’t get me wrong, I love Taylor more than I probably should but she isn’t the only artist I’ve ever loved. Although, she may have been the first.
I remember the first time I heard her. I watched her first music video, for “Tim McGraw”, climb up CMT’s Top 20 countdown with my mom. Taylor Swift entered my life just as I was realizing I didn’t have to like the same things my mom or dad or brothers liked. Everyone in my family had carved a musical niche for themselves and I was searching for mine. Mama listened to country. Dad listened to rock. My brother’s listened to rap. I settled for whatever Disney offered. I was 9 when Taylor Swift released her first album. In the following years, I listened to every song, learned every lyric, and waited for more. I grew up with Taylor Swift; her shift in musical style mirroring my own preferences in some ways. Her radically different 1989 came out my senior year, a time when almost everything was changing in my life. I latched onto Taylor Swift every time I needed something that was mine.
This idea that music can belong to someone has followed me my whole life, and when my friend asked me for a playlist, it was my first thought. Any definitive playlist that I would create wouldn’t just be ‘my’ music. It would be incomplete without music from everyone else who has influenced my musical tastes. But if I included every single song that is important to me and that I think is important to everyone else, this theoretical playlist will never end. With that in mind, I decided to make a minimalist attempt: two songs per person, one that evokes a specific memory and one that I simply associate with the person. Here it is.
- Mama. I believe my mom has had the strongest musical influence on me, mostly because of the volume of music she exposed me to. Most of my memories of my mom have music floating somewhere in the background. Choosing one song for her is especially hard because of this. But, I know I should choose a classic country, probably by George Strait, whom she idolized much the same way I do T. Swift.
I remember hearing “Ocean Front Property” and being utterly confused at first. Mama, with her ever-enduring patience explained multiple times before I understood that Arizona was a landlocked state and you therefore cannot buy ocean front property there and the whole song is just a big metaphor that I didn’t understand but I knew that mama loved the song, so I did too.
“I’ve got some ocean front property in Arizona, if you’ll buy that, I’ll throw the Golden Gate in for free.”
The first song I remember hearing after mama died that I really connected to was “Hear You Me” by Jimmy Eat World. Something about it perfectly captured what I was feeling, so I think of her every time I hear it.
“So what would you think of me now?/So lucky, so strong, so proud/I never said thanks for that/Now I’ll never get the chance”
- My aunt Linda, coming in right behind my mom, inspired me to love two very different genres: contemporary christian and oldies. We share a favorite band (The Beatles) and a favorite Beatle (Ringo). But every Sunday, she either played a christian channel or a cassette tape with church songs for kids. This tape, which she played for like 3 generations of kids, was a musical staple in my childhood.
There was one song that she continually brought up for 17 years. Finally, after she had been asking her daughter and then me to dance to this song, I secretly arranged a duet with me and her granddaughter to dance to “Held” by Natalie Grant. It was a beautiful dance that I loved and she (of course) cried for like ten years.
“This is what it is to be loved/And to know that the promise was/When everything fell we’d be held”
This may seem completely out of left field, unless you know Linda, but a song that I always associate with her is “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child. Trust me, it makes sense.
“You thought I couldn’t last without you, but I’m lastin’/You thought that I would die without you, but I’m livin’/ Thought that I would fail without you, but I’m on top”
- Pretty much anytime I went anywhere as I kid, my dad was driving, and classic rock/metal/etc was coming from the radio, and to be honest, I loved it. I owe a lot of my extensive knowledge of random musical facts to him sharing his knowledge. My dad and I have always butted heads about pretty much everything, but music has always been the best way to ease the tension. Like with my mom, I have a lot of memories to pull from here. My dad’s favorite musician is Ozzy, and I remember around my 16th birthday he bought a new collection of Ozzy CDs that were on constant rotation in his car. The only song I knew all of the lyrics to was “Crazy Train” and I would wait for the song to come on so I could sing along with Ozzy and my dad and feel like a cool kid.
“Maybe. it’s not too late/To learn how to love, and forget how to hate”
Of course, my dad and I do not have a perfect relationship. That being said, “The Greatest Man I Never Knew” by Reba reminds me of him, because I often feel disconnected from him much like the narrator of the song does from her father. (Disclaimer: my dad has told me he loves me many times throughout my life unlike the guy in the song).
“The greatest man I never knew came home late every night,/He never had to much to say. Too much was on his mind.”
- My brothers (minus Steven because honestly, his music tastes are the same as my mom’s) listened to rap. For better or for worse, I inherited a love for Eminem from them that follows me to this day. They used to blast his music in their bedroom, making the walls shake. I distinctly remember them repeatedly listening to “Cleanin’ Out my Closet” and not understanding the lyrics until much later in life. Oh well.
“I got some skeletons in my closet/And I don’t know if no one knows it/So before they thrown me inside my coffin and close it/I’mma expose it”
As for associating a particular song with Bubba and Daniel, every single Eminem song makes me think of them, especially “The Way I Am”.
“And I am, whatever you say I am/If I wasn’t, then why would I say I am?”
But I associate “She Thinks His Name Was John” with Steven because he played this song a million times and probably still does. Like mama, he’s a big fan of Reba.
“She lays all alone and cries herself to sleep/’Cause she let a stranger kill her hopes and her dreams”
- Mikaela and I play this game where one of us sings a lyric, then the other one must sing another lyrics using one of the words the previous person sang. It lasts forever, Mikaela always wins, and it’s always hilarious. One thing I’ll always remember about Mikaela is that she introduced me to Demi Lovato, for which I’ll always be thankful. After being shunned by a boy in high school, we used to roll down the windows in the parking lot and scream along to “Really Don’t Care” at the top of our lungs.
“But even if the stars and moon collide/I never want you back into my life/You can take your words and all your lies/Oh oh oh I really don’t care”
And Mikaela is like the coolest person I know, so naturally, when I hear “Wanted: Dead or Alive” by Bon Jovi (or maybe it’s because she’s dramatic and reenacts this scene from Rock of Ages)
“Sometimes I sleep, sometimes it’s not for days”
- Justin exposed me to the soundtrack of this video game Life is Strange and it surprisingly has some seriously beautiful music. I remember being in the passenger seat of his car, listening to “Santa Monica Dream” and looking at his face and feeling super mushy and happy and in love.
“Goodbye to my Santa Monica dream/Fifteen kids in the backyard drinking wine”
I’m such a sap when it comes to this boy that pretty much every love song makes me think of him, but the first time I remember hearing a song that really echoed how I felt about him was when I heard “Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran. So sweet.
“And I’m thinking ’bout how people fall in love in mysterious ways/Maybe just the touch of a hand/Oh me I fall in love with you every single day”
I’m missing such a huge amount of important music here, which I expected. So this was just a small look into the weird soundtrack of my life. I think it’s pretty great though.