My Life in 15 Songs

I celebrated another birthday last week. It’s amazing how the older you get, the faster the time in between them seems to go. Thanks to my Mom, birthdays – whether mine or someone else’s – will always be a big deal for me. And as someone who thinks about things WAY too much, they are always a reflective time. So when Rolling Stone arrived in my mailbox last weekend and there was an article by James Taylor (yes, that James Taylor) called “My Life in 15 Songs,” it sparked an idea for a blog post. Could I put together a list of just 15 songs that define me and catalog my life so far? Worth a shot…

I will warn you, it isn’t pretty. In writing this, I took HUGE strolls down memory lane. It got emotional. I laughed. I had to stop writing because I was crying (there may or may not be an Easter Egg related to the tears). Some of the music isn’t good, but I guess that’s part of the point of doing this. I tried not to pick my favorite bands and favorite songs – often, I think those things are tied to the “big moments,” though. I instead tried to think about the catalyst songs. The ones that maybe kicked off those major moments. I’m still wondering if I picked all the right songs, but if I spend any more time on this, I’ll never publish it.  It’s taken me almost a week to write this post as it is.

I at first thought I’d link to videos and things, but in the end, I got tired. So I just made a Spotify playlist. Not everything is there, but for the ones that are missing, I put up some alternatives.

So here you go. The good. The bad. The ugly. The downright “I can’t believe I’m putting this on the internet.” My life in 15 songs. What are YOURS?

1974 – “If I Were A Carpenter”, The Four Tops
My Dad swears that this song was on the radio as he was driving my in-labor Mom to the hospital to have me. I was the first kid…I guess it’s the kind of thing you remember. Plus, my Dad and I are very much alike in the whole linking life events to music thing, so I’ll take him at his word. The Four Tops version was a remake of the song, which was written by Tim Hardin, and had already been made a hit by Bobby Darin. Either way, I suppose I need to start my 15 songs with this one

1984 – “Born in the U.S.A.”, Bruce Springsteen
I don’t honestly remember which Bruce Springsteen album or song was the one that started my lifelong obsession. Dad used to give me tapes all the time, probably extras he ordered from Columbia House, but I don’t remember what came first; it may have been Nebraska or Born to Run. But I do remember all of Born in the U.S.A., so I’m using the title track as the “defining” life moment. I remember sitting in my room at the ripe age of 10, with the tape liner notes spread out, studying the lyrics so I knew all the words. I remember watching MTV at DeAnn Kenelia’s house, wishing I was a yet-as-unknown Courtney Cox dancing in the dark with Bruce. I remember wishing I knew why Bobby Jean had left. Thirty years later, and I have so many countless memories all tied to this man’s music. To try to pick one song is impossible, so I have to pick one near the start.

1984 – “Sunglasses at Night,” Corey Hart
First song loves are as memorable as first crushes. I was nine, and Corey Hart was sooooo cute. I remember sitting on the front porch at 39 Park Drive with my brand new boom box, playing First Offense over and over again. And this song was probably my first exposure to understanding “stereo sound” – the way the opening intro bounced back and forth from speaker to speaker. I loved it. To this day, I still love Corey Hart. You can all shush.

1986 – “You Give Love a Bad Name,” Bon Jovi
Growing up in New Jersey in the early 80s was something. First Bruce went big time…and then Bon Jovi came along. We had two of the arguably biggest rock stars in the world from our state, and we were so proud. Along with Ricky Schroeder, Bon Jovi posters went up on my wall – Jon with his scarves and big hair. I have this clear memory of sitting in the back of the bus on the ride home from school, all of us a bunch of pre-teens who didn’t understand what the lyrics meant but knew every word, belting this song out at the top of our lungs.

1988 – “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” Def Leppard
In the summer of 1987, I turned 13, and we moved to a new house. It must have been a big deal for my Mom. She and Dad had split up eight years before, and she’d been renting a house ever since. This one was hers. For me, it meant switching school districts, and no 8th grade graduation. In my old school district, you graduated in eighth grade. In my new one, you graduated in seventh. It also meant starting high school, because in my new district, eighth grade was in the high school. It was a weird time for me. New friends, new school. A year or so earlier, I had started writing stories and poems, so I got a typewriter for my birthday that year, which led to lots of stories and poems. Then we got an assignment in science class to write a story about our first person experience with a natural disaster. So I wrote a story about an earthquake (the opening line references driving in a convertible blaring Bruce Springsteen, I shit you not). Mr. Benfer, my teacher, sent it to Mrs. Hendricks, my English teacher. She had me enter it into the county Arts Festival competition. I felt so sick to my stomach the night before, because you were going to get critiqued. When I got to the competition, everyone was older than me, and I was scared to death. The person doing the critique calling out a line that I had in the story about lights falling to the ground and popping and cracking, saying she never would have thought to write it that way, but it was great. I can’t remember the results of the fair, if I placed or not, but I know that I spent that next summer banging away on my typewriter, cranking out stories, because I knew in the pit of my stomach I wanted to be an author. And Def Leppard, and this song in particular, was the soundtrack. It’s funny what your brain remembers, isn’t it? (Note: on the Spotify playlist, this is the re-recorded version of this song. The original is not available on Spotify. Sad face.)

1993 – “I Wanna Be Sedated,” The Ramones
Yes, this song was released in 1978. But I’d never heard it until I got to college. If there’s one giant theme to my life at all, I’d probably say that it’s looking to belong. And there’s probably no place I’ve ever felt more like I belonged than Washington College. From the moment I first visited the campus, I knew in my heart it was home. And my freshman year, I got put in a triple room on a floor that was comprised mainly of girls from one sorority – Zeta Tau Alpha. Within a week of starting college, I wanted to be one of them. And six months later, I was. ZTA is one of the best decisions I have ever made, and the women that became my sisters were more than friends. They helped me figure out who I was, challenged me at every turn, and made me a better human being. This song was a Zeta song. Whenever it was on, you’d hear a chorus of “I wanna be a Zeta…” I still can’t hear it without wishing I could step out my door and walk down the hall into a sister’s room to talk, laugh, or cry.

1993 – “Mr. Jones”, Counting Crows
Crap, where do I even START? Fall of 1993, August and Everything After and Counting Crows came screaming into my life. I didn’t know it then, but this band would become pivotal in my musical journey. Then, “Mr. Jones” was a fun song that was a constant in my sophomore year. Over the next year, I came to know that record like the back of my hand, and my love affair with Adam Duritz’s writing began. It was three years later that Counting Crows became the soundtrack to the relationship that would change my life and move me to North Carolina.

1994 – “Let Her Cry, “Hootie and the Blowfish
It’s funny. By 20, I’d had a few boyfriends, but my first true love never became my boyfriend. We met during my senior year in high school (this is hotly contested – he swears he met me earlier), became great friends and were utterly inseparable, but didn’t talk after I went away to college. Early that summer between sophomore and junior year in college, Kimmy and I were out at a local diner late night, and driving through town on the way home, got behind his very distinctive vehicle. We honked and waved, pulled over in the middle of town at like 1 AM, and stood in the street talking for half an hour. That was the start of it. We were both big music lovers, and we used to make each other tapes all the time. He was dee-jaying at his college radio station and sometime that summer of 1994, handed me a tape and just said, “You’re going to love this band.” Cracked Rear View was the soundtrack to that summer and our friendship. Our feelings ran a lot deeper than friendship, but we never acted on it – until the night before I left to go back to college, when he kissed me and everything hinged on that one second. But we were both too chicken. He went back to college and back to his girlfriend, and that fall, there were many drunken phone calls as my heart broke. Thank GOD I had a single room that year – because I played “Let Her Cry” on repeat for months.  (How is this song NOT on Spotify? Jesus. You get a link to the video instead.)

1996 – “Crash Into Me,” Dave Matthews
My friends will find this one funny, because I’m not a Dave Matthews fan at all. But safe to say, there are probably a few moments in a gal’s life that she truly remembers forever. This song…was THAT one, if you know what I mean. And we’ll move on…

2001 – “Lost,” Wil Seabrook
If you ever want to know how I came to love independent music like I do, it all starts with Wil Seabrook. I’ve told this story more times than I can imagine on this blog over the years… A year and a half after moving to NC with my boyfriend to start our life together, we called it quits. I was devastated and spent the next year trying to figure out if I was going to move back home. I was living in a state where my only friends were the ones he and I had made together, and a handful of work friends. I missed my family. I was completely lost. And then driving back to Charlotte after a trip home, somewhere on I-85 outside of the city, I was listening to a local radio show and heard this song. Later that week, I found Wil’s CD at Best Buy, and soon after, I saw him and the band perform in-store at that very same Best Buy. I’d never met a band that I liked before, and the guys were so super nice. I spent the rest of that summer going to shows around Charlotte to see them. I started a fan website (really!). And my first foray into being super fan began.

2002 – “All Right,” U-Phonik
This is the song I’m dreading writing about. It actually STILL HURTS, so I’m going to keep it short. My dear friend Joe once told me that I had a serious case of L.S.S. That’s short for Lead Singer Syndrome. In this case, it’s very true. I fell in love hard with the lead singer of a local band – this was the first song by them that I remember hearing. I got hurt hard, through no one’s fault but my own. If there’s a reason I don’t date, this is it. The upside to the worst heartbreak of my life: I got really skinny. I miss that part of it. (Afraid this one isn’t on Spotify, either. However, you can hear it – and even download it! – on ReverbNation.)

2003 – “Haven’t Seen for Awhile,” Pat McGee
Anyone who even remotely knows me knows that The Rock Boat, my annual musical mecca cruise, is a huge part of my life. I have literally made some of my closest friends because of it (looking at you Christy, Michelle, Gail, Stacy, Libby), and have literally hundreds of other musical partners in crime thanks to this annual trip. But do you know how I came to be part of the crowd? So in the breakup sadness, I listened to a lot of music – my boyfriend and I had shared a mutual love of music, but on my own, I was finding new artists to love and carving my own musical path. One album was on continual repeat (so much so that my roommate at the time actually complained about how much I played it): Pat McGee’s “Shine.” I knew Pat’s music from college, but it wasn’t until 2001 or so that I got really into it. After the break up, I spent a lot of time hanging out with one of the few friends I’d made that my boyfriend and I didn’t share: Joe. Joe introduced me to some new friends he’d made, and the two of us became part of a group of friends that to this day I still affectionately refer to as “My Idiot Games Friends.” (Another story for another time, folks.) A bunch of the group had gone on this music cruise called The Rock Boat in 2002, and then were headed back for a second year. Pat McGee was playing on the cruise, and a few of the group convinced Joe and I to go. That cruise changed my life, obviously, and opened up my world to a whole lot of folks who I can’t imagine my life without today. Sort of ironically, the group that I went with that first year has never been back on another Boat.

2003 – Josh Queen, “Nantucket”
Neither Josh or I can clearly remember when it was we met. We both think it was in the fall of 2003… I have a vague recollection of it being when he was opening for Carbon Leaf, but that may have been the second time I saw him. I do remember this: it was at a no-longer-in-existence venue in uptown Charlotte called, somewhat appropriately, The Venue. And the very instant I heard him sing, I knew he was something special. This song is about a breakup, and I was two years post boyfriend, still reeling from it. It just resonated with me, I guess. After the show, I remember walking up to a guy I casually knew who seemed to know Josh and asking him all kinds of questions. Then I did something I still can’t believe I had the balls to do: when Craig told me he was acting as Josh’s manager, I told him I wanted to help him. I asked what he needed help with, and pretty much right there, he told me he needed help with the website. Mind you, I didn’t know SHIT at the time about running a website or an email list, but I learned fast. Somehow, Josh and Craig trusted me to do whatever I wanted. Run merch? Sure. Create and put together press kits? Why not! Over the next few years, the three of us became pretty good friends, but Josh and I especially. We’d get together to “talk business” and end up talking about music for hours on end. If Wil Seabrook made me a super fan, Josh Queen is the person that made me realize I could actually make a difference promoting music. I would have given my right and left arms for that kid to make it big. He got married a few years later and moved to Denver. We’re still in touch, and he’s still playing on occasion, so if you live in Denver, go see him. Request “Nantucket” for me. (This one’s not online. Anywhere. Except maybe here. JQ, let me know if you’re not okay with this.)

2004 – “Carousel,” Will Hoge
After my first Rock Boat, there was no doubt I was going back for a second year. The Rock Boat lineup for October 2004 included a guy named Will Hoge. I bought his CD and dug it. By this point, I’d started following a few local bands and artists. I’d first seen Matty and Temple Terrace over Halloween at Ri Ra a few years earlier and they became a music staple for me. But then TT broke up and Matty moved to Nashville. Matty’s most favorite artist in the world is a guy named Brian Vander Ark (BVA, for short), who some of you might know as the lead singer for a band called The Verve Pipe. So when BVA announced a show in Nashville opening for Will Hoge, it seemed like a good reason to road trip. Little did I know how popular Will was in his hometown. We got to the show and it was sold out. Somehow, a group of five of us charmed our way into the venue. We were, of course, there for BVA – the whole Will Hoge thing was just a bonus for me, since I was the only one in our group going on The Rock Boat. We watched, crammed behind a server station, as Will lit up the room, but everything changed when, at the end of the show, he got up on a table in the middle of the room and belted out this song a cappella. No mic. No instruments. Just him, singing. I’d never seen anything like it, and I instantly fell in love. The rest is history. 82 more shows later, he’s still wowing me.

2011 – “Hemlock,” Quiet Hounds
I will never, ever stop thanking my dear friend Allison for introducing me to what has been the most significant band to enter my life in the past five years. When I first heard “Hemlock,” I dug it, but was more intrigued by the mysteriousness behind the band. Then I kept playing their EP, and the more I listened, the more I fell in love. Then I saw them live, and my world got rocked. I’ve never been more inspired or motivated by a performance in my life. After that show, I had a chance to meet the band. Their love for the craft of music is extraordinary. Everything they do is so well thought out, so lovingly put together, so perfect. In addition to all of that, they have educated me on the technical aspects of music, challenged me to listen to songs on a deeper level, to reconsider art, and all of that has ultimately pushed me to be be a better writer (whether they know it or not, they have helped to spur this). Thanks, Hounds.

That is it. I’m spent. What a mess. But my mess. That was a lot harder than I thought it would be… Remind me of this the next time I try to make a “life post,” okay?

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