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Sunday Reflections: The soundtrack of our lives

Yesterday as I sat watching the Washington D.C. episode of Foo Fighters Sonic Highways, The Tween made a blasphemous statement: ” They’re just another boy band.”

“What?”, I replied, aghast. “There is no universe in which the Foo Fighters qualify as a boy band.”

“But they are a band, made up of a boys. Thus, a boy band.”

“You have so much to learn my young padawan, I have obviously failed you.”

We have a rule in my car: You don’t change the radio station when Foo comes on. I will barely slow down as I shove you out of my car if you do. I kid, I kid (maybe).

I’ve been thinking a lot about music these past few weeks, in part because I have been working on putting together a webinar on how we can incorporate more music into our libraries. I got some great input from author and songwriter Mary Amato, author of Guitar Notes and Get Happy, as part of my research. The webinar will go up here at TLT on Wednesday if you are interested in seeing it.

At the same time, I have started watching the fantastic new HBO series called Sonic Highways by the Foo Fighters. As you may have noticed, I am a huge Foo fan. This HBO series is perhaps one of the most ingenious album promotions ever put together (Dear Husband, you can pre-order the album for my birthday next week, hint hint) . It is, however, also a profoundly moving reminder that music is a great many things to a great many people . . .

Music is history

1 of 2 of the first albums I bought on my own, age 12

You can tell a lot about our cultural and one’s personal history through music. The Washington D.C. episode, for example, does not shy away from reflecting on the various ways that prejudice and discrimination impacted music, and the way that the music then came to reflect those struggles. The blues, rock and roll, grunge, hip hop . . . there is a musical timeline that runs through our nation’s history. Who we are, the struggles we face, the overall issues of the time period are often reflected in the sound and lyrics of the music of that time.

And if you think about it, you could probably put together a musical autobiography of your own. The music we listen to becomes a part of our personal history, reminding us of who we are at various times in our own personal history.

Music is geography 

Remember Seattle in the 90s? Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Jane’s Addiction? When you think of Nashville what do you think? How about Austin? Each place has its own musical style and moments. This, too, is part of how music can help us tell a story and learn about a place. Each location has its own feel and sound, which we can learn through listening to its music.

Music is unity

People often come together because of music, not just in terms of the great music festivals like Woodstock. But people find their people, their place to belong, by finding those who share an interest in the same types of music. That moment when you meet someone who shares the same musical tastes as you is often like finding a long, lost friend you didn’t know you were looking for. As Dave Grohl reminds us, “The message is we are people and we are all in this together.” For me, this idea was made reality as I watched the concert for 9/11 shortly after this tragic event gripped our nation. In this moment, the music did indeed bring us all together as we collectively mourned.

Music is memory

Hear a certain song on the radio and you can remember exactly where you were in certain moments of your life. When I hear certain songs I can remember now only the where and the when of it, but sometimes the feel of it. If I close my eyes at night and listen to “Half an Acre” by Hem, I can almost feel myself rocking my baby to sleep again. Sometimes the longing to hold my baby again like that aches so much I can barely keep listening to the song. Other times, it is just a warm reminder of one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

Music is story

Not only can music tell a story, but it becomes part of our story. It becomes a part of our cultural history. And it becomes a part of our personal narratives. Your senior year song, the songs of summer, the song you danced to at your wedding. The song or songs you listened to when you were dumped that helped you get over a bad heartbreak. The song you used to rock your baby to sleep with. It’s all a part of your autobiography.

Music is identity

Many people define who they are in part by the music they listen to. Punk, Hip Hop, Rap, Rock . . .  And it all circles back: this is my story, this is my tribe, this is me.

The music we listen to, the songs we sing and dance to, become the soundtracks of our lives.

A week ago I took The Tween to the Texas Teen Book Festival where we saw several authors talk about music and their books. Len Vlahos, the author of Scar Boys, shared that the song “These Boots Are Made for Walking” was a huge inspiration to his book. Then he said everyone should go home and watch the dancing in the video, which The Tween did. Over and over and over again. And in that moment, this song became something more to me. Now it wasn’t just a song, it was a moment – a memory – that I shared with my child. It imprinted on us both in the way that it seems only music can. It became a piece of thread that helped knit us together.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbyAZQ45uww]

Months ago on NPR they discussed recent research that states there is just something about the age 14 and music. About how the age 14 was such a huge formative year and you developed a strong musical sense of self at this age. And I kept thinking, if music is so important at the age of 14, maybe we should be doing more music in our libraries. Well, maybe *I* should be doing more music in my library. The truth is, there are lots of libraries that are doing great things with music. Arlington Heights Memorial Library, for example, has a digital media studio where you can record your own songs. We can do more than just check out CDs to bring music into our libraries.

I always feel most like myself if at some point during the course of the day I am able to put my headphones on and go outside and just walk. I have been doing it since, well, probably the age 14 now that I think about it. For many of us, music is such an important part of our lives.

At the Texas Teen Book Festival Gayle Forman, author of If I Stay, suggested that kids shouldn’t like their parents music. She maintains that teens today need to find their own music, their own musical identity. And although that may be true, that day on the drive home I found an “oldies” station and asked The Tween to listen to some of the songs that I loved when I was her age. She was thankful when the station went out of range, but it was also a nice moment where we shared some of the stories of my childhood. Because music is story, and in that moment I was sharing my story while she was writing hers.

Come share with me your favorite musical memories in the comments. I want to hear what’s on the soundtrack of your life.

Edited to Add: TLT’er Amanda MacGregor shares her personal musical soundtrack at her Cite Something blog here: http://www.citesomething.com/2014/09/29/writing-soundtrack/. In it, she also links to a great Slate piece called Musical Nostalgia. Thanks Amanda for this article, it’s perfect!


  1. My favorite songs are “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night, because my dad and I bonded over that song when I was a kid. I loved singing about Jeremiah, although I likely had no clue what I was saying. I just liked that he was a frog.

    Now, my favorite songs are Tori Amos's “A Sorta Fairytale,” because the line, “Like a good book, I can't put this day back,” just feels so right. And “Iowa” by Dar Williams. It's about opening up and letting go and the way we interact, especially for those of us from New England. Really, though, Dar and Tori and Ani DiFranco rarely seem to be able to go wrong in my mind.

    When I'm not listening to women folk singers, I tend to listen to a lot of Green Day and the American Idiot album still feels really relevant to me and to my concerns about how we commercialize even feeling lonely.

  2. I listen to a somewhat wide range of music (90s rap? Yes, please. Country? Yep. Boy bands–and real ones, not Foo Fighters? I'll take that, too), but I always find myself coming back to the same artists and genres. In particular, I always come back to country (esp. Eric Church, Johnny Cash, Luke Bryan, and Lady Antebellum, as well as a variety of songs), Backstreet Boys, and classic rock (esp. Crosby, Stills, and Nash/Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young).

    I also have many favorite songs by people who aren't necessarily my favorite artists: Drink to That All Night by Jerrod Niemann, 'Til Summer Comes Around by Keith Urban, and Sunny and 75 by Joe Nichols, just to name a few.

    This a topic that's close to my heart. Music is my other big passion, and honestly, I could go on about it all day.

  3. Sarah,

    Man – Joy to the World is such a great song. And I'm a huge fan of Tori Amos and the American Idiot album as well. Also, I am thinking about my senior year in high school and how I bought the Kate Bush album. Now I'm making a list of more songs to share with The Tween.

    Thanks for sharing your stories with me. I think those memories of childhood can be so amazing.


  4. Funny story: The Tween apologized to her dad the other day because she said she liked the new Nick Jonas song Jealous. I like that song too. We were both like, you don't have to apologize for liking the music that you like. I actually have the first Nick Jonas solo album on my phone and listen to it. No shame.

    I was more an 'Nsync fan myself than The Backstreet Boys. But we can still be friends 😀

    Love what you love, no shame in that!


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