A Musical Diary: 9 Songs That Tell My Story


1. “The National Anthem”

I'm five–years–old, and my grandmother has just passed away. I don’t exactly understand what’s going on, but my mom’s voice quivers every now and then, and I think that must mean she’s really, really sad. From my car seat, I make eye contact with her in the rearview mirror and see that her eyes are all shiny. She tries to speak, but that thick quiver makes her words sound all funny. I panic and start singing because I don’t know what else to do and I just don’t want mom to cry. We just learned “The National Anthem” in kindergarten. It’s the only song I can think of, so I belt it out at the top of my lungs. For the next few months, every time I hear my mom’s voice quiver I break out into song until I see her smile, laugh softly to herself and reach back from the driver’s seat to hold my hand.

2. “Soul Meets Body” by Death Cab for Cutie

It's fourth grade, and I’m new at school. A girl I badly want to be friends with tells me she likes something called Death Cab for Cutie because her sister likes it. I say I do, too. I don't. Well, maybe I do. Honestly, I don’t even know what this thing I’m claiming to like is. She asks me what my favorite song is. Oh, I guess it’s a band? Crap. I cover quickly and tell her I couldn’t pick if I tried. After school I run up to my sister’s room, open iTunes on her laptop and play this song on repeat so I have something to talk about tomorrow in class.

3. “Something” by The Beatles

Eighth grade. I have a sinking feeling that my parents are going to split up. I try playing love songs whenever I’m around them so that maybe they’ll remember how much they like each other, and I can be the one to stop that from happening. It doesn’t work.

4. “Flume” by Bon Iver

It's my 15th birthday, and my big brother has used his paycheck from his summer internship to buy me concert tickets. We belt out the chorus together from our seats on the floor of The Chicago Theatre, and I feel so full of happiness I could burst.

5. “Everlasting Light” by the Black Keys

I've gotten my license, and I gleefully shuffle my iPod, leaving chance to determine what'll be the defining song of my newfound freedom. The universe/Apple doesn’t disappoint. I almost hit a raccoon about two minutes in and decide to leave that detail out when I tell my mom how my first solo drive went.

6. “Blank Space” by Taylor Swift

It's Halloween of my freshman year at Penn, and I'm crafting makeshift animal ears out of a headband and paper plate for a newly made friend from my hall. We’ve set up shop in my room since it’s bigger than hers, and she’s blasting the T–Swift album that was just released a couple days earlier. I roll my eyes, but begrudgingly find myself singing along by the fourth time this song comes on.

7. “Valerie” by Amy Winehouse

A boy I’ve been talking to takes me out to dinner in Old City. Afterwards we walk past a karaoke bar where a lady's belting out a mediocre rendition of “Valerie,” but in that moment she sounds perfect. We dance on the street, and my stomach hurts from laughing and eating too much sushi.

8. “Bashed Out” by This is the Kit

It’s sophomore fall, and something in me breaks. I can’t eat, and music doesn’t sound the same. I feel hopelessly stuck, and each morning I am glued to my bed, paralyzed with a feeling I don't recognize. I'm trying to nap between classes in a carrel on the first floor of VP when this song comes on, pulsing through my broken CVS headphones, and something in me bursts open. Like an idiot, I'm in tears in the library, a flood of feeling rushing through me that I hadn’t tapped into in months.

9. “Dangerous Woman” by Ariana Grande

It’s the first day of my first big–kid internship. I blast this song as I’m getting ready, during my commute and as I walk into the huge, shiny New York building, feeling like a badass who can take on the world. I trip on the escalator.

And here I am: junior spring, 20–years–old. I like to think I’m doing pretty well. I don’t know that I could tell you a song that could sum up my life now, but I think it would be something cautiously optimistic that’s probably not the national anthem. I’ll keep you posted.

Photo: Davide Restivo / Wikimedia Commons

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