I don’t write much about my story as a musician and music lover. I was doing that Facebook meme that’s going around with the top ten high school albums, and it made me feel all nostalgic, and nostalgic for more than just the albums themselves, but the cassettes and the sort of cruddy boom box I had in my room. I remember taping the radio. I think a lot of us did that. By the time I was a teenager, vinyl was on the way out, and in any case, I didn’t have a stereo with a turntable, though my dad did, and it was so much more convenient to listen to cassettes with Walkmans as ubiquitous back then as iPhones are today for listening. I remember going to bed listening to my Walkman, which wasn’t a real Sony kind (though I think most of us called those cassette players Walkmans, regardless of the brand, sort of like Kleenex). Mine had an auto-reverse feature, so I would have the music playing all night, and as long as the batteries held out, it would be playing in the morning when I woke up, too. I remember sometimes the players would try to eat the tapes, and the tape would crinkle up like an accordion. The only way to fix it was to gently pull the tape out and use a pencil or pen to wind it back around the cassette spools. Sometimes, the tape would break, and you could fix it with Scotch tape, but afterwards it would always have a place that would skip.
Once I went to college, I got a real CD player, and I used to go to downtown Athens, GA, where I went to college, and look for used CD’s I could add to my collection. There used to be two really good music stories downtown. I am not sure if they’re still there; I haven’t been to Athens in a long time. I was really trying to figure out who I was back in those days, and I listened to a lot of different kinds of music. I had a roommate who played bass, and I pilfered her music collection and combined it with my own by making mix tapes. I loved making mix tapes, and I was told more than once that I was pretty good at it. Composing the correct order of songs and stretching to the end of the tape was an art of sorts.
In those days, music seemed like it was everything, and I still listen to some of the things I listened to back then. When I was in high school, I started playing guitar and took guitar class. I loved picking up instruments and seeing if I could play them. My sister starting playing clarinet, and I picked it up and worked my way through beginner exercises in her lesson book. The neighbor boy picked up the violin, so I borrowed it and tried a few of the exercises in his lesson book as well. When I was in eighth grade, I found a French horn tucked away among the school instruments. My eighth grade band was pitifully small, so my director was glad to let me take it home and see if I could make it work. I did. I played it most of that year, along with the flute, which was my first instrument, and I even had a solo in one of our concerts. I botched it, unfortunately, out of nerves. I never really liked being on display as a musician, and it’s probably that feeling, as much as anything, that prevented me from ever making a real go of playing music. I liked to blend into a large band. Anytime I had a solo or had to play in a small enough group that my contributions would be noticed, I hated it. But there was still something in me that wanted to be a good musician, even if just for myself. I bought myself an electric guitar for Christmas last year. I had wanted one forever. I immediately signed up for a guitar course—which turned out to be a really great course—through Berklee College of Music on Coursera. I love taking the odd online course here and there. So much fun to learn. And most of the courses I have taken have been music courses. I took a two-part introduction to the History of Rock, a Beatles course, and a Rolling Stones course. The guitar course was the first course I took that involved actually playing, and it could be brutal. I had to record myself doing exercises set by the instructor, and I was graded by my peers. If what I turned in didn’t sound good enough, my peers didn’t pass me, and that did happen. I could re-record the lesson and try again, which I also did. I learned more about music theory and good musicianship in that course than I did in seven years of band classes and two years of guitar classes in school. The band instructor at the school where I teach is a fine guitarist himself and has offered me lessons. I need to take him up on it! He said he would give me enough material in a single lesson to keep me busy for a month.
Like a lot of people, I really found music an escape when I was in high school, and it was then that I really started listening to it a lot. Around my mid-thirties, I started realizing I was disconnected from what was happening in music at that time. I think that happens to most people, but most people are okay with it and continue to enjoy the music they liked in their formative years in high school and their twenties. I wasn’t having it, though. I made myself listen to the music that was out there, and I found a new connection to music that I had come pretty close to losing. I discovered artists I had missed out on, like Jeff Buckley. I rediscovered my old loves. I found new favorites, like Jack White and his work with the White Stripes and the Raconteurs.
I am really glad I did wake up, if that’s what you want to call it, and return to that love of music. I’d like to think I will be the kind of person who tries to keep an ear to the ground and listen for new artists. One line I just love from Love Actually is a response of Karen’s after her husband Harry asks her what she’s listening to and seems surprised she still listens to Joni Mitchell: “I love her. And true love lasts a lifetime.” Of course, perhaps neither of them realize that they are also sort of discussing their marriage. But I think Karen is right about true music love, too. I do have some true music loves. True loves that have lasted a lifetime.
Here is a randomized list of 100 of my favorite songs, and when I say random, I mean it. I used a randomizer website to shuffle the order. So not carefully ordered like my old mix tapes, but still something of the flavor of those carefully curated music collections. All of these songs mean something to me, and many are old favorites, going back to childhood.