Anyone who knows me knows that music is a giant part of who I am – it is imminent in every part of me. Some days, I have solely Lady Gaga to thank for my treadmill gusto and Gwen Stefani for the grit to push through those final reps. I have a wonderful (and incredibly stressful) job that I enjoy very much but still depend on Bobby Brown, Britney, and John Legend to facilitate both the ability to meet deadlines and pass the time, depending on the day’s procrastination level.
The most rewarding part of every day is my trek to the office. The sun is struggling to rise in the distance; others making the same jaunt zoom past me as I get lost in the hazy glow of their taillights, and my mood is heightened by whatever pours from the speakers. Reflective? John Mayer. Sad? Tim McGraw. Confident? Aretha Franklin. Happy? *NSync. Excited? Gnarls Barkley. Love sick? Al Green. Hardcore? Nas. Hating all men? Miranda Lambert… you catch my drift. It is my 30 minutes to sit silently, Tommy Lee my dashboard, make believe I am Fiona Apple – whatever. No one gets a say but me. It is where I decide my approach to the day and find the inspiration to make it count.
There are days my brain refuses ignition and so I sit cross-legged at my desk with my ear buds in and the volume on high, select the most appropriate Pandora station and wait for the motivation to creep up. (Usually I fill a few pages of scratch paper with doodles in the meantime – song lyrics, triangles, ducks. Just go with it.) The number one motivator in my life is music. It allows me to express myself when I cannot reach the words otherwise. It makes me feel like everything will be ok when I am utterly hopeless. It breaks me free after the jeans I pulled out of the laundry basket unexpectedly morph into crabby pants. It stabs me when a memory I am desperately trying to forget rings out from the radio before I can reach the scan button. It keeps me awake when I’ve gone too long without 8 hours and the ride home seems endless. It helps me relax when the world around me spins too quickly to keep up.
Musical preferences stem from your life experiences and those closest to you. My big brother’s collection would fill the house on hot summer days when Mom and Dad were off at work. My sister showed me the 80’s en route from one mall to the next. My parents listened to country music, so naturally it sunk in. My grandmother loves Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, she and I used to croon together while I helped fold laundry. My grandfather and I used to sing Don McLean’s ‘American Pie’ every summer in his rusty, old pickup truck. Then, there is the musical expedition you embrace all on your own – where you take snippets from here and there to build your own, personal musical kingdom – a world that only you know. Music is a souvenir that can be pulled out whenever and where ever you see fit. It is very seriously a time machine that brings you back to the exact minute in time as it exists in your memory; your own personal happy.
Ten songs that changed my life, in no particular order:
Incubus - Wish You Were Here
“And in this moment, I am happy. I wish you were here.”
Every time I hear this song, I get chills. I very much relate to feeling so blissful and free and the only thing that could make it better was if that someone was beside you. When I hear the first chords, my eyes close, and my mind wanders to a place that is bigger than everything else.
Michael Jackson – Rock With You.
“Just take it slow, we’ve got so far to go.”
Think sparkly jacket and glove. Think creepy pseudo-mustache. This is one of the first Michael Jackson songs I ever heard and unquestionably one of my favorites. It makes me want to dance in my living room ala Tom Cruise - Shamon.
Forever – Ben Harper
“So give me your forever, please your forever. Not a day less will do from you.”
This song makes me believe in love when it seems impossible to have faith and gives me the courage to find someone who will write a song like this for me.
F*@K You Lucy – Atmosphere
“No, I’m not OK and I don’t know what to do.”
Screamed at many a men (who never knew it) whilst all alone in my car, this song allows me to be livid, jaded, and hate all men in one fell swoop. Then, once it is over, I can wipe the sweat and prepare to fall again knowing this song will be there to catch me.
India.Arie – Video
“But, I learned to love myself unconditionally because I am a Queen.”
In a world where it is easy to lose yourself in other people’s opinions, some times you need to be able to say, “I am me, and that is more than enough.” Those who mind don’t matter and those who matter won’t mind.
De La Souls – P.O.S.
“Listen to records in my room to escape, found some things I could relate with. I wore out the tape.”
One of the first local songs to hit me dead between the eyes – the first time I heard him do this live my life changed forever. Such power and honesty. One night, I played it on repeat and wrote down every word until I had it memorized.
Brother Ali – Forest Whitaker
“Whatever comes up comes out. We don’t put our hands over our mouth.”
There is only one way to listen to this: with a mean mug and exactly one fist in the air.
Lauryn Hill – Doo Wop (That Thing)
“Don’t be a hard rock when you really are a gem.”
The definitive badass, don’t-take-crap-from-any-man song. It is powerful, it is honest, and it is inspiring. This song came into my life when I was insecure and defenseless. Whenever I feel ‘caught up’ in a situation I press play and truly believe I am Lauryn Hill ...and you had better not cross me.
Dr Dre – Keep Their Heads Ringin’
“Step on stage and get faded just like a flat top.”
One of the first Hip Hop songs I remember hearing - in the back of my brothers Blazer on the way to school. Some people grew up with Public Enemy or Wu Tang Clan – I grew up thinking Snoop, Dre, and Twista were the only MC’s who mattered.
J. Gatz – We Are America
“You tell us what we wanna here, we let freedom ring”
The first time I witnessed the construction of a song. I watched the lyrics float into the microphone, I heard the guitar riff morph from non-existence to the backbone of the song, and I felt the bass as it pounded through the studio’s speakers. One of the most implausible experiences in my life thus far.