It’s 2 a.m. You are driving home from work, weary from closing the theater for the night, and the familiar sight of your neighborhood, though darkened, is a relief. Johnny Cash’s “Ghost Riders in the Sky” plays as you blearily attempt to parallel park, give up, and circle around the block to park farther away. Sleep is very near now.
You are driving along the Columbia River and the opening bars to Foo Fighter’s “Everlong” greet you like an old friend. The music recalls the memory of a million other road trips: family trips cross country with your face scrunched up against the window to watch the passing fields, road trips with friends to beaches and deserts and singing at the top of your lungs. You sing now, as you weave your way closer to home.
It is early morning, the sky slowly brightening as you stand in the chill autumn air. It is the post-rock melodies that track the trajectory of the rising sun, that the world spins to slowly under your feet, that stirs your brain awake as you watch leaves scattering on the ground and the steam from a mug cradled in your hands curling up towards you.
The Hamilton soundtrack shatters the tired silence of the night as you press on to a nearing deadline.
Camila Cabello provides the beat as you hike your way across campus to your next class.
A Perfect Circle releases a new album after five years of silence and it’s dark and incisive and political and it makes your day.
For a little over a year now, I have been making monthly playlists in order to track and remember what I was listening to over the course of the year. By looking back at this music, I am able to track not only when new albums came out or when I discovered new bands, but how I was feeling, what I was doing, what I was worried or thinking about. The songs have left soundwaves of invisible landscapes in my wake. By relistening through playlists, I can travel back in time and over distances just by sound alone, revisiting the feeling of the sun on my face as I stood hand-in-hand with my mother overlooking a forest in Taos while we listened to Balmorhea’s “Dream of Thaw” together, an earbud in each ear, or travelling back to my creative writing class during the spring of my senior year, blasting Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” on repeat as we worked on our senior projects. Just as the soundtrack provides the subtle tension, the heroic arc, the cheerful or desolate resonance for a movie, a playlist can similarly convey a message, a level of energy, or an appropriate tone for one’s life.
I never really thought about how much of a role music plays in our lives (and mine in particular) until I started this year-long experiment, but now that I’ve started noticing, I can’t stop. So a challenge to all of you: Whether you’re a music person or not, whether you listen to pop or punk or obscure German opera, take a minute to think back on what you’ve listened to recently. Do you have go-to music for when you feel sad and need a pick me up? For waking up in the mornings? For working out? For studying? Certain music you play only when hanging out with certain people? Hell, maybe take the time to make a playlist. Share it with some friends. We all have a soundtrack to share.