A Musical Autobiography Project

Music has always fascinated me in the sense that it helps shape a collective story. Think about the different generational stories that are created by the sounds of performers from Benny Goodman to Buddy Holly; from The Doors to Nirvana; from The Beatles to the Backstreet Boys.

I recognize there are some tremendous leaps there. Those acts generated buzz and helped to shape their respective generations.

But music shapes our personal stories, too. I’ve always been the kind of person who can hear a song from my lifetime and figure out when it came out based on the events in my life to which I’ve attached it. For example, certain songs remind me of listening to the radio late at night in 4th grade when I suffered horrible bouts of insomnia. I would just lie awake and hear the same songs on the radio over and over again, night after night. The Bangles’ song “Walking Down Your Street” will always remind me of when I took that cassette tape to first grade and the sub turned it on and my whole class danced.

Or, for my inner circle, “If You Leave Me Now” by Chicago.

Quite literally, I could write a post of thousands of words just recounting stories like that.

Songs from outside my lifetime are still categorized by the time when I was listening to them the most, or when they’re most applicable to what’s going on with me. For that reason, there’s some crossover.

Not everyone attaches sentiment to music, and I’ve realized this as I’ve grown older and people call me weird. Still, I think it’s awesome that my mind just files music like this. It’s actually allowed me to keep some of my memories fresh (I’m one of those people who is terribly concerned with the fading of anything — memories, knowledge, friendships, etc.).

For a long time, I’ve thought about how my own music collection could be transformed into something a bit more autobiographical. In a very basic sense, I suppose its existence is autobiographical, but I mean the actual songs as they have impacted and affected my life.

I have a ton of oddly-named CDs that I burned in college, and I have no intention of getting rid of them. Actually, the CD that I made myself just before winter break during my sophomore year stays in an easy-to-reach location in my car because I listen to it quite frequently. It takes me back to a really good time in my life. See? Musical autobiography!

Sure, iTunes would allow me to create playlists, but I enjoy social media too much. And yeah, I could use Spotify, but I don’t know how much I love it.

So after a lot of thought, I’ve started building a musical autobiography on YouTube. There are a few reasons why I thought this would be the best idea for me. For one thing, I don’t have to pay for the music like I would on iTunes. This is good because I can’t afford all of it. Secondly, it allows me to share, which facilitates conversation. I don’t know about you, but I like talking about music. I like nearly everything that has to do with music, especially as it pertains to pop culture (I’ll pass on the ultra-fancy snooty stuff, though).

How does this work?

Well, I’m still figuring it out. Suffice it to say that I’ve decided that the playlists I create will be done according to season, so I’ve started with a collection aptly titled “Fall 2011.” As I feel a song should be added, I add it.

Are all of the songs new and from Fall 2011?

Nope. Some of them are, and some of them are not. They are songs that I’ve heard a lot lately, have been listening to quite a bit, or that resonate with me in some way right now. That’s how they get on the list, regardless of what year they were made.

What I think is interesting about that is how my brain can create a primary file for something in one place and create subfiles for it elsewhere.

Uh, what?

Here’s an example. There is a song on this playlist called “Here Comes The…” that my brain has primarily filed in the “Fall of 2008” folder because that’s when the album came out and when I listened to it a lot. It meant one thing to me then that I haven’t forgotten, but it’s taken on alternate meanings over the years like a piece of text might. It also shows up in the “Spring 2011” folder of my brain when I listened to that album on heavy rotation again, driving around in my car. Now I’m listening to the song again, but in a different context. Its first spot in my musical autobiography will always be “Fall 2008,” but it turns up in other places, too.

What do you plan to do with these in the future?

I plan to remember. Music helps me do that. Don’t ask me why I could tell you that over the weekend of November 17, 2001, I listened to “On Your Side” by Pete Yorn for hours at a time. I can also tell you that weekend involved a meteor shower, vanilla chai, camping on the football field, ninja turtles, and an argument with someone. I remember all of that other stuff because I remember the music that I attached to it. Don’t ask me why I remember sitting in the dark the night after Thanksgiving when I was in 7th grade, listening to Def Leppard’s “When Love and Hate Collide” over and over (an impressive feat considering that I needed to keep rewinding the tape since I’d recorded it off the radio). And then I spent the night at my friend’s house.

I remember those mundane details because of the music.

And yes, I think it’s important to remember even the mundane stuff. Understanding history helps shape the future and all that.

So are you going to shut up and tell us where to find this playlist?

In the words of Cher Horowitz, “Duh! I was just going to!”

You can find what I have compiled so far of my “Fall 2011” playlist here.

You will note that there is one anomaly on this playlist by an artist whose name might rhyme with Trailor Gift. I’ll say nothing except… don’t judge me!

(But seriously, that one song really IS an anomaly.)

I welcome discussion where it is productive and not bashing my musical tastes — especially in cases where you didn’t even listen to the music first. That’s the fun part for you.

Finally, I’d be really interested to see what would go into YOUR musical autobiographies. Start one and share it!

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2 thoughts on “A Musical Autobiography Project

  1. ooooh, a song I listened to over and over in first year university just came on while I was reading this!
    Don’t know if I’ll joinie innie… the little imaginary critic voice says the songs I like would never be cool enough! But I will listen to yours. I think it’s a great idea.
    This month is crazy busy. Sorry I’m a terrible blog friend!

    • You are so not a terrible blog friend. I completely understand about being busy because I feel the same way :) I think you SHOULD make a list. Who cares if it’s not cool? Cool is subjective. I think it’s an awesome way to discover new artists :) Hope you’re doing well! I’ve been busy busy busy with the new freelance job.

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