Soundtracks to Life

You all know that I write a lot about books. What I don’t write a lot about is music, which is kind of surprising because after books and reading, music is to thank for many of my formative experiences.

I grew up participating in chorus (which was short-lived thanks to my utter lack of ability to carry a tune) and band, and listening to music of all genres has always provided quite a nice soundtrack to my life. I’ve been through more music phases than I can count, and most have been repeated at least twice: cheesy 80s synth, hair metal, piano rock (think Jack’s Mannequin), classical, country, classic rock, 90s pop (but not until way after the 90s)…the list goes on and on. And I’m always pleasantly surprised when a song comes on shuffle that takes me back to a time or a place that I maybe haven’t thought about in years.

But there occasionally comes a time when there’s a reason I haven’t thought about that time or place in forever. And there are songs that, despite the fact that I like them or maybe even love them, I don’t—or can’t—listen to anymore for a variety of reasons.

Breakup songs. Okay, we all went through our whiny emo phase, and Simple Plan was my emo band of choice when my very first boyfriend dumped me in tenth grade. And, you know, whenever else I was pining after someone who didn’t return those feelings for the rest of high school. Which was a lot, because high school.

But now, I’m nearly a decade out of high school and I’m happily married, and despite the fact that I liked a lot of those songs separate from their sad-breakup-song value, I feel almost like an imposter for listening to them. I can’t summon up the necessary angst anymore. I feel a shadow of it, but it’s mostly overwhelmed by a weird guilty feeling—my brain goes, “Why are you listening to this? You’re happy! You’re married! You shouldn’t be thinking about/feeling sad about other guys!”

And I remind myself that it’s a good thing that I don’t have these feelings anymore. But there are so many emotions connected to those songs that to listen to them when I can’t really feel those things anymore feels wrong.

Sad songs. Not just any sad song, although I’m really not a fan of sad songs in general. These songs are more personally sad—I would even say that most probably aren’t sad to the average person.

Take, for example, the song “Stolen” by Dashboard Confessional. (I know, I know.) I dated a boy in high school and this was sort of “our song.” We were only together for a few months (the end of senior year and the summer before college), but we had been good friends before and parted amicably when I went to college. The thing was, though, that I sensed he still liked me, and not wanting to string him along, I more or less stopped contacting him. We’d talk every once in a while, but never more than once every few months. By junior year of college, we barely talked at all.

And then, one morning in April during my senior year of college, I got a facebook message from his sister, asking me to call her. My sweet friend had passed away the day before.

Even though we hadn’t talked in almost two years by that point, losing him hit me hard. I cried for days and couldn’t even bring myself to go to his funeral, something I’ve never really forgiven myself for. It’s been almost four years, and I still think about him almost every day. And listening to “Stolen” is not even an option, unless I want to reduce myself to a sobbing puddle of sad. Just thinking about that song is sometimes enough to tip me over the edge.

Hopeful “I may not know who you are but I love you already” songs. The song that immediately comes to mind for this is Michael Buble’s “Haven’t Met You Yet.” Disclaimer: I. Love. This. Song. But I still feel a little disingenuous when I sing along because—well—I’ve already met Andrew. I don’t need to be joyfully dancing and singing around a grocery store about my future love, because I already have my love. You know?

In some ways, I can extend this to a lot of love songs—a lot of them are all “This is new! And I love you anyway! And no one understands us but that’s okay because we love each other!” Yeah, no, we’ve been together more than six years and we’ve been confident in our relationship from the beginning.

Obviously, there’s still plenty of music that I can and do listen to. And I do still listen to some of the above genres of music, just not quite as often as I used to and with less emotion than I used to have. But that’s part of life, no? Things change. Some of those changes are good, some are bad, and some are just…there. In the end, change is something that we all have to deal with, and we all deal with it differently. If feeling a little weird listening to former favorite songs is my worst side effect of growing up, I think I’ll take it.

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2 thoughts on “Soundtracks to Life

  1. I recently wrote on this topic, too. Music speaks to my heart, and my whole life has a soundtrack. Currently, “Happy” is my jam. I first heard it on my very first day in my new job. It was written for me.

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