The Summer of the Playlist

I love making playlists. Lucky for me I live in 2019 and Spotify has made the process incredibly easy. I don’t care, I’m a shill for an evil music streaming service. Their functionality is good. I’ve gone on two group trips this summer and the collaborative playlists we built tied the whole the thing together. Thanks, Spotify! #sponcon

But more to the point, I love creating life soundtracks. Setting music to moments solidifies a memory and allows me to hold on to the night, weekend, year for a little bit longer. Every time I listen back to that song I’ll think of that summer we rented a boat on interstate Greenwood Lake and it could not have been a more beautiful summer day to fry ourselves in the sun and then leap off the back, one by one, into the cool, murky waters, each of us telling each other, “Come in! The water’s nice!” And it was. I’ll think of my friend singing “Swingin'” by Tom Petty.

And oddly, but fondly, I’ll think of 1996’s “The Freshmen” by the The Verve Pipe, which played multiple times over the course of the long weekend, so much that it became a character exercise. We repeated the chorus over and over, each time with new inflection and new character motivation. “I can’t be held responsible! She was touching her face!” the defensive boyfriend yells. “I can’t possibly be held responsible. She was clearly touching her face,” the bridesmaid says in disbelief when her best friend, the bride, breaks out across her chin on her wedding day.

This was not my first time hearing that song.  I probably first heard it in elementary school and it scared me because it was about freshmen, who could have been 30-year-olds at that point, they seemed so old. I learned what vallium was and that scared me too. And later, many years after being a freshman, and still never having had any of the experiences mentioned in the song, I listened to it with a protectiveness of an older sibling. Yeah it was corny, but only I could make fun of it.

Because I am a certain kind of obsessive, I told my friend my fear that I was overwriting memories by playing songs on the trip that I already had attached meaning to. How could I associate “The Freshmen” with this trip in 2019 when it would always make me think of being a scared kid in the ’90s? Shouldn’t I only be playing brand new songs to me? But then my friend said something really beautiful, she said, think of it as layering. So now one song can call to mind multiple memories. Doesn’t that freedom feel great?

There’s real evidence, thanks again, Spotify, that says the songs we listened to during our teens set our music taste as adults. Not great news for me, my music curiosity came in college, but it does it make sense why I still stan John Mayer and I’ll lose myself in his cover of “Free Fallin'” every single time. I will not relent.

Music and memories are so inextricable to me, I don’t know how else people return to the past or plan for the future. One of the reasons I know Jeff is my person is because we both nerd out on music curation. We start building our end-of-year party playlist a year in advance. Once the tracks are chosen, we arrange them to match the energy of the night – the music builds as the night goes on and drinks gets drunk. Every party playlist is in service of the dance party, if you arrange correctly, you’ll get there.

Creating our wedding playlist was one of the first things we did after the engagement and it was the most fun. To be honest, I had already built a first dance list because I’m a sappy Nicholas Sparks girl at <3. Narrowing down our wedding playlist into five hours was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to. Songs were defended, songs were cut, tears were shed, long nights were had. We gave our DJ strict instructions. The wedding day was as hectic as people say it is, but on the few occasions I was able to stand still and listen to the music, or dance to the music, I was so happy to hear our songs – the old ones that meant so much to us already and the new ones that would always bring us back.

Up next: I’m working on a deep-cut, yacht rock playlist for when I go visit my brother in the California desert next month.

2 thoughts on “The Summer of the Playlist

  1. If this is the person who wrote the article, “how accepting mediocrity made me a better writer,” I want to say, “thank you.”

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