I am not a music connoisseur. In fact, I think it’s a stretch to say that I even like music all that much. I know, I know. I have no soul. I’m un-American. I’m THE worst. I realized this unforgivable truth about myself at a time when all girls learn unforgivable truths about themselves: middle school.
We were given an English assignment called “the soundtrack of your life” where we were to write four essays about our four favorite songs and how they influenced our lives. This is what I came up with: “Welcome to My Life” by Simple Plan, “Breakaway” by Kelly Clarkson, “Pieces of Me” by Ashlee Simpson, and “Numb/Encore” by Jay-Z and Linkin Park. I know. If you asked me today why I felt those four songs out of the entire world’s worth of songs described my being at age 13, I’m not sure what I’d say. Actually, that’s a lie. I’d definitely mention something about the injustice of Ashlee Simpson’s singing career coming to a sudden and devastating halt.
Anyway, I thought that was a pretty damn good list. That is until I went to school the next day and was mercilessly mocked by my peers. The cool black kid I sat next to took one look at my list and grimaced. I mean his face physically contorted like someone had shit in the corner and he had just now gotten a whiff of it. The exchange went something like this:
Cool Black Kid: “Damn.”
Me: “What? You don’t like my list?”
Cool Black Kid: silence.
Me: “Have you even heard ‘Pieces of Me’ before?”
Cool Black Kid: “Damn.”
I looked at my list and tried to decipher what was so damning about my favorite songs. I remember thinking, Jesus, not only am I the girl who can barely squeeze into her Delia’s jeans and whose idea of a wild night out is binging on old Buffy episodes, but now I’m the girl who sucks at listening to music too?? How was that even possible? I considered myself a loner. Weren’t loners supposed to be the trendsetters of music? I mean I could wear the hell out of some stripes and converses, what more authority did I need to be a music expert? Apparently a lot more authority.
And that was the coolest my taste in music ever got. To this day a Simple Plan CD is the angriest I’ve ever bought. The edgiest music I listen to was, at some point or another, featured on an episode of One Tree Hill. If a rap song was popular ten years ago, odds are I just downloaded it and burned it on a mix tape. Over the years I’ve found that my lack of musical taste has given me a severe disadvantage in social situations.
Whenever someone asks me who my favorite artist is I literally have no idea what to say. I’m tempted to say Taylor Swift because she is the only musician whose music I’ve listened to consecutively over the years. Her music makes me feel less psycho and more psycho all at the same time. But I never want to say her name. Not when there are people like Beyonce and Lil’ Wayne and I’m going to stop now before I make a major music faux pas and list an artist whose really not cool (because I wouldn’t know the difference). The point is I have no idea what to say. Let me play a scenario out for you: you’re sitting in a car with your best friend as the two of you embark on a road trip.
BFF: “What do you want to listen to?”
Me: “Ah, whatever.”
BFF: “I’m driving, I’m giving you the easy job.”
Me: “Ugh. Okay, fine. Have you heard that new Selena Gomez song?!”
BFF: “Yeah… Pandora doesn’t have that station.”
I’m not kidding. That’s a word-for-word exchange I’ve had with a girlfriend on a car trip. I’ve just never needed music like most people do. Some people use it like an inhaler, to calm their panic, to ease their heart. I have never felt such emotion from a song. Sure, a song has affected me before. I’ve felt strong emotion towards it, maybe even cried while I listened to it. But I have that same reaction after drinking a bottle of wine. Songs come over me quick and then fade. The feeling is never so powerful that it lasts. Books filled the void that music never could. I’ve read passages of a book, sentences in a short story, words in a poem, and felt something shift inside me, my world tilt, my heart break, my perspective change.
When I’m sad I read a lot of Susan Minot. When I’m feeling angry and cynical I read Chuck Palahnuik. When I want to be inspired, Kristen Newman. When I want to laugh, Tucker Max. When I want to fall in love, Diana Gabaldon. I have an iPod’s worth of books sitting next to my bed. Books that transport me somewhere else and keep me firmly grounded at the same time. When I read I’m the person I am and the person I want to be. Or I’m none of those things. Or I’m all of those things.
I’ve never understood music like I can understand a good book. Every artist I think is great like Selena or Demi Lovato is considered child’s play to other people. (Literally, I’ve babysat children that listen to the same music as me.) No, I’ve never understood. But I can understand the need behind it. It’s the way I need to hear the creak of a spine opening or the smell of words on a page. A mix tape is a mix tape is a mix tape, even if mine sits on a shelf instead of in a CD player.