The REAL soundtrack to my life


Mar 26 2007, 2:19

I've been thinking a lot lately about how music has influenced my life. Most people like music, but not everyone seems to attach as much special meaning to it as I do. I've realized that most of my favorite bands, are my favorites because they came into my life at critical points and their music helped me through difficult times. And so, here are the artists (or songs) I've been most attached to, and how they've shaped me.

Phase I: Various children's music
When I was very little, say preschool age, my mom would play children's records for me. Really old ones from when she was a kid in the 60s. This was when I first got attached to music, listening to kid versions of old movie songs like "Getting to Know You", "My Favorite Things", and "Do-Re-Mi". But my favorite song by far was "Over the Rainbow". For reasons beyond the scope of this blog, I always felt lonely and scared as a little girl, and even when I was very little I could understand the meaning of this song. I really wanted to go over the rainbow, where dreams came true and I could really be free to be myself. It's also a special song because it reminds me of my grandmother. I think it was her favorite song, and she'd help me look for real rainbows when she took me places.
Key song: Over The Rainbow
"If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow, why oh why can't I?"

Phase II: Elvis Presley and various hippie music
When I got a little older, maybe six or seven, my mom started encouraging me to listen to more grown up music that she loved as a child. This phase seems like the best time to point out how crucial my mother was in developing my love for music. Music always played a key role in her life, and she wanted to be sure I would get all the joy from it that she did. She succeeded in doing that: most of my happiest childhood memories are tied to music. Exposing me to the music that made her happiest was an expression of love. So, at this point we'd listen to Elvis records all the time. My mother is a huge Elvis fan, and my early childhood was probably the height of her obsession. I realize now this was probably her way of comforting herself after my father left, but at the time all I saw was the joy she got from the music, not the sadness that led her to it. But I digress. The point here was that when Elvis was playing, happy times were guaranteed in my house, and that's all that matters to a child.
Around this same time we would also listen to 60s radio a lot. Now, this was the part my mom perhaps didn't count on: the music made me into a bit of a hippie. All children love the idea of peace and love, but the 60s protest music really worked a kind of rebellion into my soul. Not a bratty kind of rebellion, but a quiet strength of will and faith in my own ideas. This has been my greatest asset throughout life, but it was probably not fun for my mom who was trying to teach me Christianity. But I think this music taught me a more accurate Christian outlook than church did: it taught me to love others and want peace. It also inspired a lifelong obsession with San Francisco, which will become important again later.
Key song: San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)
"In the streets of San Francisco, gentle people with flowers in their hair"

Phase III: The Beatles
This is another one that came courtesy of my mom, this time in middle childhood. When I was about seven I wanted to learn to sing very badly. So my mom put on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and sat me down with the record jacket, which had the lyrics printed on the back. I must have listened to this entire album every day for at least a year. Now, Sgt. Pepper was important in my life around second grade, and in second grade my life was being torn to hell. My mom was having serious mental health issues and my grandfather was very ill. Worse, I was now old enough to notice when things weren't right. So I escaped, into Baby-Sitter's Club books and Sgt. Pepper. I'd even connect the two in my mind: I imagined scenarios involving BSC characters to go along with She's Leaving Home and Within You Without You, the latter of which I thought was about autism.
Beyond being an escape, Sgt. Pepper also did more for my imagination than anything else. I may have been a young girl living in the American south, but when I listened to Good Morning Good Morning I could clearly picture narrow English streets with people rushing around in overcoats, and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds opened my vocabulary to words like "turnstile" and "cellophane". I sincerely believe that this album made me smarter.
My mother's issues were eventually sorted out, but my grandfather died that year. We moved in with my grandmother and it just wasn't as easy to enjoy records in her cramped house, with the record player shoved back in a corner. But I never, ever forgot how important Sgt. Pepper was to me.
Key song: The Beatles - Within You Without You
"Try to realize it's all within yourself, no one else can make you change"

Phase IV: Alanis Morissette
Most people will be surprised by this phase, since they've never heard me talk about Alanis. I really don't listen to her anymore except when I'm feeling nostalgic, because quite frankly, her voice grates on my ears. But when I was in intermediate school, I was addicted to Jagged Little Pill, which was the first album I ever purchased for myself (but not my first CD - I owned it on cassette). By this time I was ten or eleven and mature enough to really analyze lyrics, and Alanis gave you a lot to analyze. Everyone seems to remember this album as being full of anger, but I really didn't see that except in a few songs. Instead, this was the album that helped me grow up. The lyrics expressed mature, grown-up emotions that I wasn't used to, and it took away some of my naive innocence. I probably uttered my first swear words while singing along to this album, and I remember wondering if "Mary Jane" was a lesbian song - I decided I thought it was, and I also decided I didn't care. In fact, it was my favorite song on the album. My favorite songs have always had a theme of personal liberation, and this one expressed the frustration of watching a close friend lose hers, and tried to encourage her to get it back. It always encouraged me to keep mine, too.
Also, remember those seeds of rebellion the 60s music planted? By now the plants had sprouted, and Alanis watered them with songs like Perfect, a bitter song about parents who expect too much from their kids, and Forgiven, which was about the damage that religious guilt does to young people. So while Alanis hasn't stayed as a favorite artist, I can't deny the influence this album had on who I am.
Key song: Mary Jane
"You're the last great innocent, and that's why I love you"

Phase V: The Beatles, part II
When I was in middle school, I mostly stuck to the music of my peers, which wasn't terribly meaningful. But it was around this time that we bought a cassette version of Abbey Road. I'd spent the last several years establishing emotional independence from my parents, and now I needed to build a bridge back to them. The Beatles helped with that. When I was learning to drive I needed constant music - no bad songs or commercials coming on the radio to distract me. So I'd put in Abbey Road while I was driving. Meanwhile, I was also learning to play the piano. I had a big "fake book" and I'd ask my mother and grandmother to pick songs out of it to play. Usually the ones they knew that I also knew were the Beatles songs. My grandmother always had me play Yesterday, and that song still reminds me of her.
Key song: You Never Give Me Your Money
"Soon we'll be away from here, step on the gas and wipe that tear away"

Phase VI: Queen
It was right before I entered high school that I discovered Queen. My teen years were difficult due to some emotional issues that came up, and I spent a lot of time alone, feeling bad about myself. I was also a walking identity crisis, and I'd do almost anything to fit in. Liking Queen gave me an identity of my own; it was a special joy I had that my peers didn't. I bought the gold Greatest Hits box set and would listen to it all the time. Much like all the special albums from my youth, the lyrics expressed mature emotions that, although I was starting to feel them myself, I couldn't quite name on my own. Queen helped me to know myself better. Songs like Innuendo and One Vision reawakened my childhood thoughts of peace, while songs like The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke expanded my imagination and fostered my sense of humor. Queen also helped me grow up in another way: like it or not, I had to deal with Freddie's death. When you listen to the later songs and especially watch the videos, his illness is right in your face, and you can't ignore it. So I think dealing with that and learning about AIDS helped me get a sense of bigger problems in the world at a young age.
Finally, Queen helped me through a hard time in high school when I had mono and had to be alone a lot. I'd spend a lot of time on the internet browsing Queen forums. This kept me connected to other people even while I was mostly confined to my room, and kept me connected to feelings of joy when my life was a depressing wreck, especially later when I lost my grandmother.
Key song: The March of the Black Queen
"Blue powder monkeys praying in the dead of night"
(That line isn't necessarily special, I just like it)

Phase VII: Erasure and Depeche Mode
When I was just 18, I got into a serious relationship with a guy named Jon. This relationship started out well but slowly became a nightmare. I became completely emotionally dependent on Jon. I couldn't go anywhere without him, and I basically did the things he wanted me to do. I even mostly only listened to the music he did, and hung out with his friends, etc. He was like a black hole that I was being sucked into, but I couldn't see it because I couldn't see light around me. This probably sounds silly, but music got me out of this relationship. In the Queen section I mentioned they helped me to have my own identity. Well at this point I was once again aching for my own identity, anything I could grab that was all about me and not about Jon. One day I found that while flipping channels, probably while Jon was not home, because I ended up watching Logo, the "gay channel". They were showing a concert by Erasure, a band I vaguely remembered liking as a kid. So I watched. At first all I noticed was how alarmingly gay the whole thing was, especially since the first thing was men dancing around in cowboy hats and assless chaps. But once I turned it off, the songs were stuck in my head and I was desperate to find anything that sounded like them. But nothing ever did. I finally got hold of some Erasure songs, and put them on a mix CD with some songs by Depeche Mode, another band I'd liked when I was younger and was now getting back into.
Now, this mix CD started a fight with Jon. I loved it so much and was feeling the joy of liking something that was all mine. Jon did not feel quite so much joy in my independence. I'd ask nicely if I could play this CD while he was driving me to a friend's house, and he said yes. He then proceeded to complain about it to our friends: "She makes me listen to Depeche Mode! In MY CAR!" Which of course is silly since he'd agreed to let me play it. But my ability to be attached to something I liked that he didn't was the first step in finding myself as a separate person from him. Several months later I finally got the courage to leave. I'm now attached to those bands more strongly than most others, and I really think it's because, in a way, they saved my life.
Key song: Breath of Life
"I never had a point of view, 'cause my mind was always someone else's mind"

Phase VIII: Scissor Sisters
Almost immediately after leaving Jon, I faced a crisis I'd been hiding from myself: I was attracted to women.
Now that I wasn't attached to a man, I had all these repressed feelings rushing at me at once, and no idea what to do with them. This was a time of learning how to be me again, and I was thoroughly enjoying it. I joined a Unitarian-Universalist church, which I'd been planning on for years, and loved it. Immediately I volunteered to help at the gay pride booth. I also started watching Logo a lot, something I'd done in secret ever since seeing the aforementioned Erasure concert, but now I could watch it without being made to feel like I was cheating on my boyfriend (yes, he could make me feel like I was cheating simply for watching a gay TV channel). I was also working for a biology professor, and reading Randy Shilts' "And the Band Played On", which taught me a lot of gay history. It was in the midst of all this that I found the Scissor Sisters. My friend Buncy had me listen to I Don't Feel Like Dancin'. Eventually I got hooked on them and had to hear more of their music, so I bought their first album. I happened to buy it on a day when my ex's parents were threatening me and I was very distraught, so the lyrics to Mary were particularly soothing. As I became more aware of my sexuality, Scissor Sisters gave me a connection to gay culture, especially when they started appearing on Logo. I rushed out to buy their new album, Ta Dah, the day it came out. Now, for the third and final time, I found my sense of independence through a band. This was the time when I would stop listening to the trash on the radio that brought me down and made me feel bad about myself for not being a certain kind of woman. Scissor Sisters, with their wonderful positive energy, taught me to love myself for who I am and not to take crap from anybody. Their first album has more personal meaning to me than almost any other, second only to Sgt. Pepper.
Key song: It Can't Come Quickly Enough
"There's no indication of what we were meant to be, sucking up to strangers throwing wishes to the sea"

Whew. So there you have it: a musical journey through my life. That wasn't what I had in mind when I started writing this, but I'm glad that's how it turned out. Writing this blog has taught me what music really means to me and why I love it so much: good music can chase away the pain of a difficult time, and it can give you a sense of personal freedom. It's also taught me why my three favorite bands are my favorites, and it has nothing to do with how gay they are. I'll never take my favorite music for granted again.


  • djgizmoe

    Hey, a good, heartfelt entry. Wish I'd had music to help me out during my childhood crisis (junior high - 'nuff said), although I suppose Peter Gabriel and Laurie Anderson did help me to be proud of my weirdness at the time. It wasn't until high school when friends introduced me to Oingo Boingo and the late 80's industrial scene that I was actually able to draw strength from musical interests to block out the negative stuff at school. And just for the record, you don't have to be gay to enjoy Erasure and Depeche Mode (my mom became a HUGE DM fan after I started listening to them in the early 90's), although it helps to be a bit of a geek...;)

    Mar 26 2007, 2:53
  • djgizmoe

    Hey, a good, heartfelt entry. Wish I'd had music to help me out during my childhood crisis (junior high - 'nuff said), although I suppose Peter Gabriel and Laurie Anderson did help me to be proud of my weirdness at the time. It wasn't until high school when friends introduced me to Oingo Boingo and the late 80's industrial scene that I was actually able to draw strength from musical interests to block out the negative stuff at school. And just for the record, you don't have to be gay to enjoy Erasure and Depeche Mode (my mom became a HUGE DM fan after I started listening to them in the early 90's), although it helps to be a bit of a geek...;)

    Mar 26 2007, 2:53
  • djgizmoe

    Mar 26 2007, 2:55
  • discokewpie

    Hey I used to listen to Alanis Morissette all the time too. I prolly still would if that CD didn't get stolen and I didn't bother to replace it. It's a good thing one does not have to be gay to listen to Depeche Mode or Lyle would be a sad panda.

    Mar 26 2007, 3:06
  • MissMaryMac

    Mary is the song that made me fall in love with Scissor Sisters. My name is Mary, and alot of my close friends are gay. I always felt something special about the song. I read later that apprently it was written about a friendship between a gay man and a straight woman. Anyway, I love Scissor Sisters now. I really enjoyed reading about your musical journey.

    Mar 26 2007, 5:15
  • jPeMelin

    That was a nice musical bio. I feel like going back and analyzing my own musical development now! :D You are a good journal writer too. I often enjoy your musings.

    Apr 7 2007, 10:56
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