Musical Memories: The Soundtrack of My Youth

I have been purging quite a bit lately. No, I am not bulimic, but rather I am trying to get rid of the “stuff” that seems to fill every nook and cranny of my apartment. Clutter, things I don’t need, items that simply take up space and contribute to my never-ending anxiety.

After more than six months, I figured it was time to box up what remains of my husband’s books, CDs and DVDs (and continue to wait for him to come and pick all of his stuff up, HINT HINT). In going through this exercise, I decided that it was finally time for me to part with the hundreds of CDs I have collected since high school, if not earlier (remind me when CDs became the norm over tapes and vinyl? oooooof I am old.). Copied into iTunes long ago, I was ready to dispose of the little plastic cases and silver discs whose only purpose these days is to collect dust that my Merry Maids never manage to eliminate.

The process of boxing up hundreds of dusty CDs reminded me how a simple CD cover image can bring back so many memories and transport me back to a time and place in the past. Even beyond the music, my CD collection includes the tell-tale identification of which CDs resided in one of my many dorm rooms: my initials written on each case and CD with a pink paint pen, providing a somewhat chronological look at their purchase date.

To entertain you with the evolution of my musical tastes, I compiled a list of the 10 CDs that inspired my greatest emotional reaction over the past few weeks. I am by no means saying these are the best or most meaningful albums in my collection; rather, to paraphrase Rob Bass, the ones that recently brought me a moment of “joy, and pain … sunshine, and rain”.

So in no particular order … (and no judgement please! …)

God Street Wine: “$1.99 Romances”. Hello, freshman year of college. This album coincides with other college-era favorites including Phish and Dave Matthews Band, and is also representative of my mellowing music tastes (at least during my grungy college days that may have also involved many mood-altering substances).

James: “Laid”. For whatever reason, the title song defines my relationship with my BFF. Back in the cassette tape days, we recorded this song from a CD over and over and over. It filled the entirety of both sides of the tape, which we listened to on the way out to the bars in Buffalo, then on the way back home. The song didn’t grow old then and it doesn’t now. (p.s. hi Pretty!!!)

Tripleswift: “Fuzz”. A local Portland, Ore. band; I had the pleasure of dating its bass player as they recorded this album and played various dive bar gigs around the greater Portland metropolitan area. For this 20-something, being a groupie was a blast.

Les Misérables: Original Broadway Recording. This wasn’t my first Broadway musical, but it really was the first time when I understood how deeply music could move you. While many cheered on Susan Boyle and her Britain’s Got Talent audition of “I Dreamed a Dream,” I think it brought tears to the eyes of those of us who knew the song (including yours truly, if “tears in your eyes” means “bawling uncontrollably”). In case you haven’t seen it, check out the audition on YouTube.

Madonna: “Ray of Light”. This CD was released around the time I moved from Washington, D.C. to Portland. I remember dancing around my new (furniture-free) Portland apartment to this CD to celebrate my arrival. (that’s about as long as I enjoyed living in Portland as well, but that is a topic for another blog post).

U2: “Achtung Baby”. I still think “One” is at the top of the list of best songs of my generation. Or the 90s at least. I remember buying this CD for a high school boyfriend, and seethed with jealousy that his undeserving ass owned the CD before I did. Yay, high school love!

Alphaville: “Forever Young”. Long before it regained popularity from Napoleon Dynamite and Jay-Z, “Forever Young” (for whatever reason) was the soundtrack to my middle school and high school years; it was the theme song of my senior prom and my 8th grade “class night”. For all I know it was also the song of my 5th grade elementary school graduation, because let’s be clear, when you’re about to turn 11 you really want to live forever … and ever … and ever … forever young.

Mr. Big: “Lean Into It”. Oh, the memories of driving around the suburbs of Buffalo in my 1986 Mazda 626 with my friends Cheryl and Janice as passengers, the windows down (even in the dead of winter) and singing “To Be With You” at the tops of our lungs. No, I’m not sure why we did this either.

Austin Powers: “The Spy Who Shagged Me”. Specifically, the Madonna song “Beautiful Stranger”. This is the song I will always associate with Sept. 11, 2001. If you recall, that Friday after the attacks was a “day of remembrance”. My friend Kim and I attended a memorial service near our office in Portland. Our office then closed for the day, so we decided to take our mourning to the local bar. At 11 a.m. And stay there for a good eight or so hours, polishing off drink after drink. Laughing, crying, and longing to return “home” to the east coast from our current, miserable, west coast city. Her husband (who did not have off of work that afternoon) finally came to pick us up, as we had hit the “too drunk to drive” state before noon. As he drove us back to their house on a gorgeous September afternoon, this song came on the radio and I decided to pull my best Madonna impersonation. In case you aren’t familiar with the video, I worked the fabulous dance moves … in the moving vehicle with our very sober driver … that appear at the 3:04 mark.

So there you have it. It’s a bit strange to think that now, people carry their entire music collections on a laptop or phone; no more lugging around hundreds of tiny plastic boxes that enabled us to listed to music one artist at a time.

But it was fun while it lasted!

What about you? What CDs, songs etc. take you back (for better or for worse) to another time and place?


Life After Normal

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