Spots of Time

April 08, 2003

The Soundtrack To My Life

Every time I travel, I chose a theme song for my trip. It helps me to set the tone for the journey and usually invokes a variety of emotions in me when I hear it – inspiration, melancholy, and wistfulness to name a few. The first time I travelled on my own I chose “Good Riddance” by Green Day. To this day that song reminds me of my first trip to South America and hearing it floods my mind with fond memories.

For this particular trip I went a step further than just choosing a song. In anticipation of travelling for such a long time, and as a result of the influence of my very musical household in San Francisco, I decided to put together a collection of CDs to take with me. I wanted music that would inspire me when I needed inspiration, would pick me up when I was lonely, and would, when needed, remind me why I was travelling in the first place.

Last night after work, feeling a little low and missing my friends, I went home and put on one of the CDs – entitled “Wanderlust.” The first song on it was “Wide Open Spaces” - my chosen theme song for this particular travelling adventure.

The Power of Music

It took me longer than most to realize the power of music. Though I was properly introduced at a young age – my first 45 was Elvis Presley – “Hound Dog” on side one and “All Shook Up” on side two – it wasn’t until I was older that the magic of music really became apparent. That said, it still amazes me how listening to songs from my past throws me back in time – reminding me of school dances and first kisses, of boyfriends and best friends, and of good times and bad times.

In junior high I went through a phase where I became obsessed with knowing all the words to popular songs. Every night I’d listen to “Jam it or Slam it,” a radio program that played a new song and then asked listeners to call in if they thought it would become a hit. Looking back, I now realize my obsession was a desperate attempt to fit in after moving to a new school. Somehow I was sure that I would be cool if only I knew all the “in” songs. Thankfully my musical taste has evolved from this time period of radio popularity but there is still a little part of me that feels out of the loop when everyone but me knows all the words to a particular song.

My musical tastes have almost always been influenced by others. I can’t listen to the Grateful Dead without thinking about my post-high school pre-college summer romance with a college-aged “dead head” that was pre-med (a combination that only now seems odd) who listened to them constantly. University opened the door to an eclectic mix of music – a college boyfriend made me a mixed tape that I lament losing to this day. It included classics by Louis Armstrong and Harry Belafonte and introduced me to musicians like Jackson Browne and Harry Chapin. It also taught me that there was amazing music to be found in all genres

While music certainly helped me celebrate the good times, it was even more necessary to make it through the bad times. John Denver will always remind me of my mom, even though I don’t know for certain if she was a big fan of his music. I just remember one night during the summer that she died staying up late and watching his “Wildlife” concert on PBS. My mom, who was sick at the time, was asleep in the same room and I remember lying on the floor, close to the television with the sound really low, watching and crying softly so I wouldn’t wake her.

A Vital Part of Life

Music heard while travelling almost always cements itself into my memory. The Gin Blossom’s “Hey Jealousy” and Counting Crow’s “Mr. Jones” will always remind me of my study abroad trip in Salamanca, Spain. Shaggy’s “Angel” brings back dancing in the nightclubs of Cuzco in Peru. Two of my friends, after different trips to Europe last year, came back with the hit song that put Kyle Minogue back on the US charts – I’m sure neither of them can listen to the song without being back in France or Germany, at least for a second.

But it was living in San Francisco that made music a vital part of my life. After my failed attempt to “become cool” through musical knowledge in junior high, I decided to let friends do all the work of introducing me to their favourites. Trena's introductions brought me Dar Williams, Lyle Lovett and Mary Chapin Carpenter. My first job in San Francisco, as a publicist for musical theatre, educated me on the world of musicals – from “Rent” to “Evita” to “Phantom of the Opera.” Roommates Kelly, Michelle and Kate educated me on everyone from John Mayer to India Arie to Nelly to Eminem. And, my education continues every day.

Last night, while listening to “Wanderlust” and a couple of other CD’s I had made for my journey, I came across a song that will forever remind me of two people who were a big part of my music education – my old roommates Kelly and Michelle. Throughout the evening my selections had me reminiscing about my life in San Francisco – my old apartment, my friends, and the city. One song – the last song on one of the CDs, brought back a particularly vivid memory. I’m sure that I will never forget the night in San Francisco – one of my last nights before I left for Australia – when a vinyl clad prostitute, a big-haired beauty queen and a blond dominatrix drove wildly through the streets of San Francisco singing a certain song at the top of their lungs. Thanks for that memory girls – I’ll never forget it.