In High Fidelity, Rob Gordon attempted to organize his record collection in biographical order. As any obsessive music lover (and narcissist) knows, that’s a huge fucking undertaking. Sure, you start with the first song you ever latched on to as an individual human being, but then it starts to get fuzzy.
You may have heard The Ramones as a nerdy Little Leaguer when your older brother decided he was punk rock. Then, years later you’re in college and that girl in your Intro to Sophocles class wore a Ramones shirt with the sleeves cut off, offering sideboob to anyone who glanced her way, and in that moment you realized you were 100% head over heels for this girl and were obsessed with The Ramones from that point on. See, it can be complicated.
To say my life has been influenced by music is an incredible understatement. The core of my being was formed by the notes I heard in a car seat as my mom hummed along to L.A. Woman, the notes I cried to when my seventh grade crush danced with that BITCH ASHLEY at the sock-hop, the notes that inspired me to finally try and become the person I want to be. I’m not just some music lover; music seeps into my DNA. The biographical organizational system, while daunting, makes sense to me.
I’ve noticed though that there are specific songs, rather than albums or artists, which represent times in my life. They stand out because I can describe exactly where I was, what I was doing, and who I was with when I heard them. Not just heard, but absorbed; they were added to my library of experiences that formed who I am.
The Beatles – Strawberry Fields Forever
I’m five years old, and I’m sitting in an empty storefront. There are boxes and boxes around me, waiting to be unpacked. It’s like Christmas, even though I know the boxes are for the store, and not for me. My mom and dad are installing a display fixture while I’m on a folding chair with a book about a cartoon dragon with a New Age theme. We’ve been listening to The Beatles for a while now, and I’m not bored. They are familiar; their music has been with me since the womb.
As I watch my parents I pretend to read. I assume the dragon wants to be friends with the fairy, and there are crystals involved though I’m not sure to what extent because the words are meaningless. The first few notes of Strawberry Fields Forever come out of the boom box and I am struck.
Lennon’s voice fills the empty store in a haunting and beautiful way, and it’s like I’m hearing music for the first time. I have of course heard this song before but there is something about listening to it in this moment, in this place, which makes it real. It’s at this moment that I’m overwhelmed with love. I love this song. I love my mom and dad. I love my newborn sister. I love Bunny. I love Grandma and Grandpa. I love.
Alkaline Trio – Clavicle
I’m 17 years old, and I’m driving to Naperville. Sarah is in the backseat bitching because Aimee put one of her “emo” mix CDs on, but we lovingly tune her out. It’s July, it’s fucking hot, and we’re young. I’m infatuated with the guy who works at Caribou Coffee, I think partly because he looks like my crush at school. I wonder out loud if he recognizes us from being frequent customers. Sarah and Aimee both think he might, but I can tell they’re just humoring me.
As we zip down the back road, too cool for the main highway, fireflies sparkle in the fields around us. Up to this point, the mix CD Aimee made has filled the car with Weezer, Saves the Day, and Smoking Popes. Things are pretty chill until Clavicle starts, and Aimee and I lose our collective shit. I drive faster and we scream the lyrics, not really caring that Sarah is suffering in the backseat.
I feel free and invincible; these girls are my sisters by choice, and nothing can stop us. We don’t know about the boyfriends we’ll gain and lose. We don’t know about college and the distance that comes with it. We don’t know about the seven years we won’t talk because of words we should have said. Driving through the country on this summer night, we are alive.
The Velvet Underground – Rock and Roll
I’m 29 years old. I’m on the bus to my job on the south side of Chicago. It’s fucking crowded, my ear buds are getting itchy, and I can’t see out the frosted windows. I’m getting motion sick so I focus on the music – the only shield between me and my surroundings. Out of respect and obligation, I choose The Velvet Underground, a band I should know more about as a self-proclaimed Cool Girl. As the man next to me steals another inch from my seat, I close my eyes and lose myself in Lou Reed’s voice.
I’m soon comprehending the lyrics to Rock and Roll for the first time; I’m mesmerized. Lou is singing about a girl named Jenny and the simple words flip a switch in me. As he reaches the chorus I’m startled into enlightenment. This is it. I’ve found The One. I’ve been searching for a song to sum up my existence because as a music obsessive, it’s something you MUST do. I know I’m not the first person to call this song their own, but I don’t care. The oppressive air of the bus fades away as I dwell in the feeling of wholeness. She started dancin’ to that fine fine music, you know her life was saved by rock and roll…