I'm a soundtrack maker. That is, I like to narrate my life with indie rock and pop rock and country songs that, at least at the time, bleed with significance for what I'm going through. I remember driving from Horn Lake, Mississippi, to Conway, Arkansas, that sweat-sticky August day back in '03 when I moved into Hughes Hall for my first year of college. Back then, a three-hour drive seemed more than just the quick jaunt it is to me now, and I prepared for the trip by making a mixed c.d. of Going Away To College songs to narrate my journey from the only town, only house where I'd ever lived Into the Great Wide Open. I was such a rebel without a clue (Tom Petty knew me so well). The track I kept repeating as I bumbled nn my dented blue Ge west on I-40, watching my speed so Momma and Daddy in the loaded-down truck behind me wouldn't scold, was "Big Ol' Jet Airliner" by the Steve Miller Band. Though I didn't fly, the chorus rang true for me: "Big old jet airliner, don't carry me too far from home/Big old jet airliner, cause it's there that I belong." I was frightened, and the poppy anthem seemed to encapsulate my fear of the unknown and make my head bop comfortingly at the same time.
To this day, when I hear that song, I'm 18 years old again. God, I was cute back then.
I also attach songs to people who mean a lot to me. For instance, I can't listen to Rilo Kiley's "Always" and not think of my friend Andrew, because, like the song says, "I should have known, with a boy like you, you're middle name is always, I'd always love you." The funny thing is, he's the only boy I have ever been able to sing love songs to and not feel as if I was crossing some boundary that dare not be crossed. Love is many things, often undefinable. I may not have a clue sometimes about how one can love someone so fearlessly but not libidinal, but I know one thing. Love is no boundaries. It's shamelessly dedicating cheesy songs to someone on the radio.
There's a slew of other folks whose song memories ignite something in me: passion, nostalgia, a bittersweet smile. Regina Spektor's "Hotel Song" will always be the Spring Break 07 Writing Center Cabin Trip anthem, and Abigail knows that I'm an Engine Driver, that I'm here waiting, crash, that she's Irreplaceable.
I wonder, sometimes, what songs people attach to me. Everyone reminds me of some pop tune or another, because of an experience we shared (or I wish we'd shared), their way of being in the world. I can't hear "Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves" and not remember shooting tequila and dancing in the living room with my mother the New Year's Eve when I was 20. But does she think the same thing when Cher belts out her woeful story in that husky voice?
Memories are strange things, because they happen upon you unexpectedly, and often you feel embarrassed to remember nights being one in a pile of people lying on the floor after too much Andre champagne and too many rounds of "Tiny Dancer" sing-a-longs when you're walking across campus to meet with a professor and Elton John pops up on the iPod's shuffle. But, jarring as that memory can be when it visits me in public, I can't help but embrace it, miss those Saturday nights of my junior year in college, and grin thinking of all the people I may never see, let alone lie beside, again.
I'm keeping these memories, and I'm listening to these songs. They're mine, and I can keep them forever. I can keep those people forever, and that's major.