I have a song running through my head. What else is new?
It seems like every waking moment of the day there is some melody bouncing around my brain, most of the time just a line or two that echoes again and again. Today it’s a sweet, emotional tune that you may have heard if you’ve seen an episode of This Is Us. There are no lyrics echoing except for a repeated “da da da” and the soulful thrum of guitar chords and light percussion backing it up.
Most of the time I don’t know why certain songs end up in my head. This time I do. My mom and I have been bingeing on This Is Us over the past few days – a show that is simultaneously hilarious and heart-wrenching, making it utterly irresistible – and after so many hours watching I couldn’t shake the feeling the song gave me at the end of the episodes. So naturally I looked it up and listened to it on a loop, basically guaranteeing it a spot on my brain’s playlist.
But like I said, I often can’t trace the songs that appear on the playlist in my head. I’ll wake up humming tunes that I haven’t thought of in years. When silence fills a room I’ll sing random songs under my breath that seemingly come out of nowhere. There are many, many things that I do not and will never understand about the human brain. The subconscious playlist is one of them.
What I do know, however, is that music is one of those universal connections that we are so fortunate to have in our lives. It connects people to one another. Bonds formed through artists, songs, albums, concerts, and car radios can be some of the strongest in the world. Music connects people to their passions. I’m no real musician – though I can strum some chords on a guitar and can give a killer karaoke rendition of some Adele songs – but I still feel something burning inside me when I hear a good film score or find that perfect song it seems like I’d been waiting forever to hear. I know this is a common thing. And those who do consider themselves musicians, from the beginner piano players to the concert hall violinists to the casual singer to the rock band superstar, surely find passion in the form of musical notes ordered in unique tempos, patterns, and pitches. I find that so amazing, I respect it, and I am envious of those who make their living through it.
In my view, one of the most amazing connections that music brings is the connection to experiences. I love the moments when I hear a song and immediately think back to a specific time in my life, as if that song is interwoven into the memory. For instance, whenever I hear the song “California Dreamin’” by the Mamas and the Papas, I think about driving in our old purple van and popping the cassette tape in on our way to summer camp when I was really young. Whenever I think about the song “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” by John Denver I am instantly reminded of bright Sunday mornings when my brother and I were still in elementary school. We would run around the family room as our dad chased us and the light streamed in from the ceiling windows. Our mom would be in the kitchen making our very own “cakes on the griddle” and I was so happy I felt like my heart would burst right out of my chest.
I think of my 5th grade talent show whenever I hear “Walking on Sunshine” and the dance that Kendall and I spent hours choreographing in her living room. The song “Major Tom” brings with it memories of long car rides to my grandparents’ house in Oneonta, NY during which Jack and I would shout the countdown before the chorus and beg to play it just one more time.
A lot of song-connected-to-experiences that I have come from vacations and road trips. ELO albums and the Mamma Mia soundtrack are associated with Cape Cod. The songs “All of You” by Betty Who and “Nobody Love” by Tori Kelly were the songs of my beach trip with Julianne, blasted on top volume with the windows rolled down as the salty ocean breeze tangled our hair. And “Gold” by Kiiara was the senior week jam – again played at full volume as Michael, Betsy, Taya and I drove around Virginia Beach, tanned on the sandy shoreline, and spent our time soaking up the valuable memories that made up the end of our high school days.
Many songs are associated in my mind with high school. “Wake Me Up” by Avicii will forever be the song that played during early tennis preseason mornings. The Les Mis soundtrack also served as the soundtrack to drives home from church choir practice – Kendall, Andie and I would take on the roles and belt the ballads at the top of our lungs, much to the chagrin of our mom chauffeurs.
The list of song-connected-to-experiences goes on and on. Sometimes I forget that they exist at all until the first notes of a tune begin to play and the recollections come flooding back at full force as if the song prompted my mind to project a film reel of memories. Like whenever I hear “Closer” in the future I will be able to think of nothing but my freshman year at Penn State and my mind will start to play the movie of desks cluttered with makeup on Friday nights, of College Ave cluttered with young adults dressed to impress, of colorful lights in apartment windows changing color to the rhythm of State College’s youthful heartbeat.
I know that I cherish these connections. And I know that I will continue to cherish them. Whenever my mom or dad hears a song that triggers one of their own connections, I always love listening to the stories behind them. Whether it’s from my dad’s days in high school with his friends, or from my mom’s time in college with her roommates, there are always colorful details to be recounted as my dad laughs about a memory I will never fully understand or my mom reminisces on inside jokes I could never get myself.
Maybe one day I’ll be driving in the car with my children and a song will come on the radio – a song that sets my mind’s motion picture into action, playing out the events that come with it. I’ll explain to my kids the meaning of the song and I’ll describe my motion picture as best as I can, but it will be my moment, my memory shared only with the loved ones I was with at the time. These songs will be my little time machines. And if they get stuck in my head I won’t forget where they came from. These songs have a permanent and welcome spot on my subconscious playlist.
It’s a pretty thing to think about.