I once chronicled my life through a listing of vehicles I have driven and owned. I think most people compartmentalize their lives in segments or eras. I segment my life in music. I am constantly aware of music and how music affects me. Almost everything I do includes a soundtrack. What I listen to may have changed over the years, but my love of music has not.
I remember vinyl, I have owned vinyl, but I am not a vinyl person. I used to be a cassette person, I used to be a CD person, now I am an iPod person. Jared (a good friend) is a vinyl person, he still collects records.1 Rare and obscure music on record is his pleasure. There seems to be a certain way that a record tells a story that individual songs purchased on iTunes don’t convey. Artists not only told stories with individual songs, but they told rich tales with record arrangements. Records, however, aren’t portable even though companies tried to make them travel friendly. Lugging a player and your records out on your daily travels just wasn’t feasible. 8 tracks, and later cassettes, allowed the listener to take their music with them. You had to carry a large tape player though2… until Sony invented the Walkman. Tape players and cassettes brought forth the mix tape. Mix tapes, like records, were stories that listeners could make through the work of musicians. The invention of recordable CD’s continued this idea.
Now we have playlists. Playlists are the digital equivalent of the mix tape. I have a lot of self-made playlists on my iPod. I have a running playlist, a drinking/driving/partying,3 and plethora of others. What I don’t have is “Sublimemonkey’s Life” playlist. The following is a list of the songs, corresponding with age or era in my life, that would be that playlist… if it did in fact exist.
Sublimemonkey’s Life: A Playlist
Age/Era: Anytime before 13 – Anything by Johnny Horton
All you “Battle of New Orleans“4 haters can suck it. Epic, semi-patriotic drivel from the 1950s is the shit. My sister can tell fantastical tales of me reenacting this song. But Johnny Horton was more than myths about British aggression, it was also about war horses, and sea battles. Johnny Horton knew how to rock in a way that an 8 year-old boy appreciated. My uberlove for Johnny Horton is a direct link to my parents’ youth. They grew up in the 1950s. Even though my house was filled with Charlie Pride, Loretta Lynn, Waylon, Willie, and Johnny Cash5 (with a little Mel Tillis thrown in)… it was Johnny Horton and his rose-colored glasses that made me love music. Yes, Johnny Horton is on my iPod… he isn’t listened to much, but he is there when I need him.
Age/Era: 7th grade – Asia “Heat of the Moment“
Asia’s Asia was one of the first albums I purchased with my own money. It had an awesome dragon roaring out of the ocean. The music wasn’t as hard as the album cover portrayed… but the music was good enough to stick in my head all these years later. Asia is the band that makes me think of my first year of junior high in Germany. It also makes me think of my “date” to my 7th grade homecoming dance. This lithe 13 year-old beauty was named Elizabeth and she had the most sparkling braces. I didn’t kiss her though, and for this I am sorry. This song tells us how we found ourselves “in 82” and dates it, but it’s reference to the death of disco makes it a period piece that is perfectly suitable as a “memory” song. Yes this song is on my iPod, and when it comes on I turn it up and think about long bus rides to junior high and a youth in Europe… and braces wearing beauty.
Age/Era: 8th grade – Spandau Ballet “True“
I listened to heavy metal in junior and high schools… yes I was one of those nerds. Yet, Spandau Ballet’s metrosexual6 “True” is my 8th grade year. My 8th grade girlfriend (who reads this blog as a Facebook friend) knows why this song is important. I remember the flats she wore to the dance we went to as a “couple.” This song makes me think of the movie Uncommon Valor… we had are first real kiss during it at the Lincoln Twin theater.7 This song makes me think of her house, her swimming pool, and all the goofy shit young teens do in junior high. Motley Crue is how I want to remember junior high, instead it’s Spandau Ballet and I am not ashamed to admit it. Yes, this song is on my iPod and when I hear it I think of my 8th grade girlfriend who was my first kiss.
Age/Era: 10th grade – Violent Femmes “Blister in the Sun“
Even though this song was 2 to 3 years old in my 10th grade year, it seemed to be playing everywhere. Still to young to drive, but beginning to branch out from the typical “having-your-parents-drop-you-off-at-the-theater” mode. Again, I was a metal guy in high school8 but it was this odd masturbation pop band that reminds me of my first year of high school. It played horribly loud on my boom box. It played as a group of us high schoolers, with no driver’s licenses, sat around doing… um, I’m not really sure what we were doing other than watching movies and making fumbling attempts at making-out. We must have had fun though, because other than camping on my family farm with friends, I really don’t remember doing much else. Yes, this song is on my iPod, and I can see the furnished basements and living rooms that was the location of all this “fun.”
Era/Age: 11/12th grades – Anthrax “Efilnikufesin“
Finally, a metal song… and a thrashing one at that. I was an imaginary metal skater. In my head I was a badass, but in reality I hung out with a bunch of other guys who weren’t badasses, and the most badass thing we did was occasionally shoot road signs with shotguns. Seems living on a farm in rural Tennessee didn’t keep me from wanting to work a skate board and live the dangerous life. In reality, this song (and metal in general) played into my typical teenage boy angst. My parents didn’t like metal… they were stuck in their country music which played into their own self-identification. I was dreaming of moving away and seeing world… and kick its ass in the process. Wanting to kick ass and actually doing it are two different things. Yeah, I own this song too and I am a badass when I hear it.
Age/Era: college (1st time) – Jimmy Buffett “Margaritaville“
Please note, I said college (1st time). I was not then, nor am I now a Parrot Head. But I loved beer then, and I love beer now. Jimmy Buffett was good beer pounding music. Seems every fraternity party I went to in my first attempt at higher education was filled with Jimmy Buffett music. I still listened to metal, Metallica and Nirvana was what I listened to in my car, in my dorm, and with other guys… but when we were out at parties and looking to score with the ladies, Jimmy Buffett was the sound track. Since I was constantly trying to score, Jimmy Buffett and beer were the staples of my college (1st time) memories. “Margaritaville” is not on my iPod. For the record, I would consume beer to any music… so if some other musician had been predominately playing at these parties… that would be the music I would have put on this “playlist.”
Age/Era: Army basic training – Sinéad O’Connor “Nothing Compares 2U“
A fantastically morbid, sad, and slightly erotic Prince-written song.9 This song isn’t particularly Army badass, but because of when and where I heard/saw it makes it important. Your introduction to the Army is always an odd experience. One day you are guzzling gallons of beers with a bunch of your loser college buddies while attempting to score, and the next day you are kicked out of college and enlisted in the Army. One day you are free to sleep till 2pm (and missing class) and the next day you are up at 5am and running 3 miles in cold Fort Knox, Kentucky rain.10 One day, weeks into basic, my platoon was allowed to go to a little shoppette for drinks and snacks… we were so cool getting a little freedom. In the shoppette was one of them new fancy video jukeboxes. When I walked in the door and heard Ms. O’Connor wailing angrily about a lost love, I knew that I had heard the words that vocalized my confusion and loneliness. I was no longer in the real world, but I was in the arms of the US Army. That tear that slowly traveled down her cheek emphasized my own internal pain. Yes, that is overly dramatic… but at the time it made such perfect sense. Now I realize basic training was nothing more than another life event that I learned to deal with. Yep, it is on the iPod and it doesn’t make me sad… it makes me think about needing a long shower and eating a lot of food… because you are always dirty and hungry at basic training.
Age/Era: college (2nd time) – Soundgarden “Black Hole Sun“
After a few years in the Army, I was back giving college a try. I had realized that working for a living was better done with a degree. I was in ROTC and I knew that if I was going to wear a uniform I wanted it to be an officer’s uniform. Now I felt like a badass, I had grown into all I was ever going to grow into physically, and I was running lots miles every day and enjoying the life of a college student with an actual goal that didn’t include beer 24 hours a day. The metal of the 90s wasn’t as good as the 80s, but it was good enough to give me the feeling of power. No longer did I imagine being hard… I was a man with a plan. I was learning to lead men, and a man who is a leader needs to have a rock solid sound track. Soundgarden matched my imagined leader of men in my head. This song is not on my iPod.
Age/Era: US Army Airborne School – Tag Team “Whoomp There It Is“
Fort Benning, Georgia is a shit hole. Pawn shops, bars, strip clubs, and places that thrive on sucking the money out of soldier’s pockets is the type of shithole it was. Fort Benning in August really sucks. Learning how to jump out of airplanes sucks. Days of learning how to fall down without hurting yourself causes you to hurt yourself. My neck and back ached, blisters on my hands reminded me that I wasn’t as badass as I thought. Jumping out of airplanes is cool though. The only reason I mention this song is that one evening while out drinking at a local shithole bar, it came on. This was the type of place that the strippers came to on their night off, yet still wearing their stripper clothes. As soon as this song came on (repeatedly all night), strippers and their army of Army suitors converged on the dance floor to shout “whoomp there it is.” What can I say, I too identified what “there it is” was with a “whoomp.” Yep, I own it.
Age/Era: NATO peace keeping duty, Balkans – Bush “Machinehead“
I spent a total of 18 months of my life living in the mud of the former Yugoslavia. Being completely clean was not an option. My personal record for going shower/bath-less is 62 days. For 62 days, my body never felt the luxury of running water. After 2 weeks you don’t smell or feel a thing. Crusted is what you become. Bush released this song in 1996, and I spent 11 months of 1996 in the Balkans. Badass music for a sad job. The song rocks and I listen to it, but it also reminds me of land mines, 3-legged dogs, destroyed houses, and a sad and broken people. The innocents suffer war. “Breathe in, breathe out” is how you get through a long deployment. I own this song and it doesn’t make me sad.
Age/Era: Fort Hood – Robert Earl Keen “The Road Goes On Forever and The Party Never Ends“
When you live in Texas and you drink beer… you listen to Robert Earl Keen. Texans really think as Ray Wylie Hubbard sings “Screw You, We’re from Texas.” My time in Texas makes me think of Shiner beer at Bocktoberfest (in Shiner, Texas) with Robert Earl Keen headlining and tons of large breasted Texas women removing their tops. It also makes me think of the Broken Spoke in Austin and my terrible attempts at two-stepping while the Derailers belt out a honky-tonk tune. Golf, duck hunting, my Ford F-150 truck, and Robert Earl Keen is what Texas means to me. Robert Earl Keen is on my iPod, and after a few beers I believe I could two-step to them.
Today, I listen to a lot of German metal and Russian pop. I am aging and my musical tastes are evolving, and not necessarily for the better. I still listen to Robert Earl Keen, but my down-home tastes lean toward the Drive-by Truckers. Katy Perry and Ke$ha have a place on my iPod too, but they aren’t sound tracks to one’s life… they are chewing gum. Latino rap even makes an appearance… but so does Central Asian folk music. I was never a badass, and I will never be one. I am a music lover though, and I love how music helps me define myself. For the record Guns n’ Roses is playing right now on my iPod and it makes me feel that maybe there is a little badass in me… maybe.
1. Jared is a librarian, so collecting obscure shit is what he does.
2. But boom boxes were da bomb!
3. But not a drinking AND driving playlist. I don’t own a car so the worse thing I can do is walk and drink. Fortunately, I have never gotten a public drunkenness ticket.
4. This eerie (and what appears to be all-white costume) video is awesome and I know my reenactment of this song, in my family’s living room, was identical in almost every aspect.
5. It would take 20 years before I turned back to these great musicians in my adulthood.
6. Back then it wouldn’t have been called “metrosexual,” instead it would have been called “ambiguously gay”… except I didn’t know the word “ambiguously” back then… I would have just said “gay.”
7. 8th grade girlfriend: If I am wrong about where and when our first kiss was, please don’t tell me, for nearly 30 years I have thought our first (french) kiss was during that movie and I don’t want my memory corrected. Uncommon Valor may not seem romantic and sweet to you, but it does to me.
8. My dad wouldn’t let me have rocking long hair, so by my junior year the best I could do was an embarrassingly cool mullet… fortunately prior to graduation and my freshmen year of college I had cut it to a sweet bitchin’ flow.
9. Prince wrote a lot of good songs recorded by women, and I assume the little short fucker tapped them all.
10. Elvis knew what he was singing about, that Kentucky rain does make you cold.