I found my soul in music. I don’t mean everlasting life or the forever of heaven where spirits go after physiological death on Earth. What I mean is the heartbeat, euphoria, aching pain of the soul.
I learned a lot about life and music when I was four. The neighborhood kids were all together at a McDonald’s outside a department store. It was early in the morning. One parent watched all us kids play while the other parents waited in line for TicketMaster to open. We ate little greasy McMuffins, rubbing our hands on the colorful balls in the playpen. Our parents told us later how they sprinted through the store to get concert tickets to The Eagles. Back then I didn’t know the greatness of The Eagles, or that it was their first tour together in fourteen years. Our parents didn’t get the tickets after a witchy woman shoved her way past them and got the last ones. The disappointment was palpable.
It all started for me the next year. I remember going to kindergarten with my best friend. We played together every day and when we got our first CD we memorized every line. It was the height of 90’s grunge so as young ladies who better to listen to than Alanis Morissette. I am eternally grateful for the badassery instilled in us by Jagged Little Pill (and also shocked that our parents let us listen it!). We’d walk in a straight line around the playground, teacher in front and teacher’s aide in back. Us girls were somewhere in the middle, humming and singing “You Oughta Know,” self-censoring the F-bombs. To this day I’ve still got a foul mouth. I’m thinking this might be why.
The 90s and 2000s paraded a train of music both intoxicating (post-grunge) and embarrassing (Spice Girls). In elementary school my love of music deeply challenged me. I became confounded why long division wouldn’t stick but every word and pitch of *NSYNC would. The battle was real – long division and pop lyrics battling for territory in my brain. Pop music won.
Later, I’d listen to anything from Nelly to Taking Back Sunday – especially if an older boy recommended it. But I came to the conclusion that good music is just good music. Whether it was Country Grammar or Cute Without the E. And I stand by that now – good music is good music. The through line is always artists’ soul.
One of my most vivid adolescent memories is completely woven into a song. Imagine this – fifteen and going on my first driver’s ed assignment. I completely dreaded it. Some out of touch middle-aged person judging my bad driving skills. When I arrived at the student center the dread became even worse. Matt was my driving instructor. He was young, with tight jeans and scruff. How am I supposted to keep my shit together now?
He wanted to practice merging lanes. So we went on the freeway. He wanted to thrift shop for a Member’s Only jacket. So we drove to Long Beach to thrift shop. It felt like a playdate for teenagers. Except he wasn’t a teenager and it wasn’t a date. He put in the cassette, linked to an audio jack for his iPod. Music flooded the speakers (and my life forever).
Come pick me up. Take me out. Fuck me up. Steal my records.
Those sensual lyrics and soulful harmonica. Okay maybe it was a date.
My life has not been the same since. I seared those song lyrics into my brain, repeating them over and over so I wouldn’t forget. I got home and ran upstairs. Then I Googled. Ryan Adams. His music remains my favorite to this day.
In college, I thought music died for me. Everything else seemed to die for me, all interests lost. I was a ghost of myself, translucent and numb. I was so fucking numb. From depression, alcohol, anxiety, Prozac (although this little pill helped me in the long run). But then glimmers of hope shined through.
Miley Cyrus, Party in the USA. Unexpected glimmer.
Miles Davis and reading next to my studio’s fireplace. Deep, soul-warming sparkle.
My husband and I have been married almost three years now. Favorite detail of our wedding? The party favor. A CD, all songs hand-picked and thoughtfully arranged – a soundtrack. When I think of our wedding I think of our vows and family together, but before anything else, I think of our soundtrack.
Music has been a faithful companion. It comforts when sad, livens a dead party, and digs the painful out. I feel life in songs and learned to write from lyrics. Still, I find my soul hidden in music.