Calle, the protagonist of my young adult novel, Songs for a Teenage Nomad (Sourcebooks 2010), has been to fourteen schools in eight years, forever moving about California with her nomadic mother. Since her mom’s not the type to keep photo books, Calle collects songs as a way to chronicle her life, as a way to root her to a shifting past. When she hears a song that reminds her of a memory, she writes down the memory in her song journal, fastening her past, her childhood, to the page. She is not a musician nor a song writer, but for Calle, music shapes her life because it is at the core of many of her significant memories. Her own individual playlist helps her make sense of a life that is always on the move.
For me, music has always been a sort of time machine. I can’t listen to Jack Johnson’s On and On CD without remembering the hours I spent rocking my now six year old daughter to the music when she was just a baby. When I talk with people about my novel, I am always struck by how many people have their own soundtrack. Just this weekend, I was chatting with a friend of mine while we watched our daughters playing in the pool and she told me about a memory she gets every time she hears the song “Take My Breath Away” by Berlin. She remembers being sprawled on a beach at night near her Washington State home at her birthday party right before her freshman year of high school. It was a big transition time for many of her friends but in that moment under the dark sky scattered with stars, she just felt completely at peace, a feeling that returns when she hears that song even accidentally on the radio now.
Sometimes the memories are specific, immediate – like walking into a convenience store last week and hearing a song that I used to warm up to for college basketball games (“Back in Black” – ACDC), but sometimes the memories are more bittersweet, more lasting. My husband lost a close friend to him in his mid-thirties, a dear friend he had bonded with in college over a love of Bruce Springsteen. Now, when my husband listens to Springsteen, he is always reminded of his friend and his too-short time with us.
Whether fun, silly, romantic, poignant, or just that feeling of being vaulted back to a specific (and often random) place in time, music reminds us. We each have our own individual playlist, that specific tapestry of songs that exists in our wake. The cool thing, though, is that this time machine feeling is universal, this role that music plays in our lives connects us – even if the music is different.
What is the soundtrack of your life?
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