Music was the very first tool I ever used to handle my emotions. As a teenager, music was often the ONLY thing I had at my disposal to process emotions that would flood my system all at once. I was an only child with a single working mom, so I outwardly grew my self-sufficiency while subconsciously craving outlets to soothe my soul. Writing my thoughts in a journal often felt too vulnerable, and forget about cell phones, AOL instant messenger (with dial up!) was just making its rounds to a screen near you…
When I was 11, my friend Jessie and I could NOT stop singing to our very first CD album: Tragic Kingdom by No Doubt. Yeah. Try to get “Don’t Speak” out of your head right now! I didn’t lose a best friend or a teen lover to this song. But that line – don’t tell me ’cause it hurts – spoke deeply to me. I remember being at a tender age where I felt mute, unable to express everyday hurts like being picked next to last on a team, or having to fight for a seat on the bus since I was picked up at one of the last stops.
When I was 12, “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls was RED HOT. I love me some sappy, heartfelt, well-written songs, but I loved the freedom of belting this out and dancing with my hands high. The song is pure FUN, and my parents were recently divorced. “Wannabe” was the release valve I didn’t know I needed to let go and cling to the belief that “friendship never eeends”. Oops, I got another song stuck in your head, didn’t I?
When I was 13, my dad and I played a LOT of Jimmy Buffett and Garth Brooks. I cannot listen to “Margaritaville” or “Friends in Low Places” without instantly picturing my dad and his 6’1″ frame, salt and pepper hair, and black mustache. I spent a week with him in Florida that summer, and we tooled around the beach taking pictures, boat rides, and eating lots of seafood. It was the last time I saw him in person.
When I was 14, it was ALL about Britney and Christina (Xtina). My friends and I wanted to BE them, and there was no shame about it. I started gymnastics this year and would only compete on JV for one season. As an only child, this was the first time I felt I “belonged” to a group of girlfriends. Normal teenage drama would ensue over the years, but these times of making up dance routines, tying ribbons in our hair, and rooting each other on from the sidelines sticks out in my mind whenever I hear the divas that brought us 90’s girl pop.
When I was 15, Nelly’s “Ride Wit Me” was the anthem of our collective naivete as young, blonde owners of learner’s permits, itching for the day we could have our OWN car and play our OWN music. This era of rap absolutely defined my high school years, where your only concerns in the summer were finding the next pool to go to, warm late-night walks to and from local parks and neighborhoods, and being invited over for a home-cooked meal. I listen to the words in those songs now and am equally smacked with thoughts of, Crank up the throwback jam! but also, Black culture’s hip hop roots are deeper than mere entertainment; they masterfully use their pain to inspire and reignite creative expression in mainstream music.
When I was 16, I made an entire CD dedicated to my dad who passed away in a car accident. It was the only way I could process his sudden death without getting lost in what was and what could have been in his short life. His alcoholism had been the catalyst to my parents’ divorce, and I paradoxically adored his character and loathed his behavior that separated our family. Songs like “Fins” by Jimmy Buffett and “A Thousand Miles” by Vanessa Carlton helped me focus on his laughter, his warmth, and his big personality, keeping him alive in my heart in his best moments.
When I was 17, I spent freshman year of college dreaming with my roommate Kauai that Keith Urban and his “long lost twin” would come sweep us away, crooning “Somebody Like You” right to us. That song brings me back to sunny days with the windows down, breeze flowing, and off-key belting out words we longed for, as we dared to dream of a partner to spend our days with. Engineering textbooks be damned, we would not forget about love!
When I was 18, I dated someone who unknowingly opened up my WHOLE world to music. He introduced me to Pat Green, Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts, and a lasting favorite, Dave Matthews Band. It was a short-lived relationship in exchange for a life-long love of multi-genre, multi-generational music. Music hasn’t let me down yet, so I’d say I got the better end of the deal on this one.
These days, I listen to highly eclectic, highly tailored playlists. Apparently, I discovered 330 new artists in 2020 (thanks, Spotify!). I listen to anything from Taylor Swift (no shame, she’s such a talent), Yanni and Emancipator (when I need to focus at work), decades of pop hits (they’re just so FUN), contemporary Christian worship (nothing else gets into my soul like Red Rocks Worship and Elevation Worship), and whatever else my friends are playing that makes me go, Wait, who sings that, let me add it to my list…
Now it’s your turn. Silent or spoken answers welcome. How has music shaped your life?