What Are Your Origins?
By Doria Kahn
From the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep, music is either playing on my phone or in my head. Making playlists, finding new albums, and ruminating over my favorite singles provide a structure to any given activity. I grew up loving to sing and always felt like I had a soundtrack to my life. Long bus rides, showers, and struts down the street are all music video sets - my steps in tune with the bass, my heart synced up to the vibrations. Having my iPod die on the long bus ride to school felt like a punch in the gut.
My taste in music has evolved and changed. Initially, I listened to any CD I could get my hands on, and anything I heard during the few car rides my city-dwelling family shared.
I remember my first anthem was Gwen Stefani’s “The Sweet Escape.”
“If I could escape and recreate a place that's my own world…”
What I was escaping in third grade? I couldn’t tell you.
Then, it was rap music. I’d walk down the halls in middle school to Eminem, learning every word. At any birthday party, I was able to rap the words to any song on the radio - it was my (not so hidden) talent. Going into high school, I began to fall in love with Alternative Rock of the 90s and early 00s. My sister had some Passion Pit on her phone, and I obsessively listened to the cryptic lyrics and tantalizing bass.
Through absorbing lyrics with various meanings, I began to find my authentic musical appetite. It wasn’t about the swagger anymore (though a good rap song still puts me in the most confident mood). I started thinking about how music has shaped my life and how it has continued to get me through tough times.
Although I’m the annoying friend that insists on whipping out my Polaroid, many of my clearest and lucid memories are attached to a song. By the first note, I can recognize it and immediately be taken back to a year or a person. Granted, some I’d rather not remember--but after a while, I can rewrite it’s meaning and blast it once more.
However, certain songs for me began to carry such emotional weight that I now reserve them for special occasions. I was just speaking to a friend about the song, “Three Months” by Local Natives, one of my favorite bands. As I was retelling how that song makes me feel, I had to chuckle. The majority of the song goes:
“I am ready
I am ready
To feel you”
If these lyrics were sung on a pop station, I’d laugh and shut it off. But something about the intentionality of the genre, or the information I know about the song ( it was written from the perspective of a grieving son over his dying mother) and the melodic overtones in the background can make me weep. And by can, I mean consistently does. I can almost hear my name, my own moments of pain in the instrumental parts of the song.
Listening to the classic Killers hit “Everything Will be Alright” helps me believe the sentiment, and uplifts and inspires me, day or night. It doesn’t matter whose “dreamy eyes” I’m dreaming about; I usually end up with a smile on my face.
But whether in a joyous or melancholic tune, the lyrical gaps in a song are where the power of the words lie. The moments where the artist fades out to give way to a sweeping interlude or a gentle breeze of musical accompaniment are incredible. If only I could sing those in the shower; if only I could share those in words.
Fewer things throw me for a loop more than when someone declares: “I don’t like music.” It’s not even that I feel disgust or disdain--if someone said “I don’t like movies,” I’d have to offer a heated rebuttal. The former statement is just one that leaves me absolutely dumbfounded.
Music is the fuel to get me to do anything from workout, push through an essay, stop myself from crying in public, or ease me into sleep.
No other art form, subject, or even person has informed my emotional life in the way that some of my favorite songs can. Sometimes I find new artists, new albums, and new art forms to admire and they enrich my life in ways unimaginable previously. Still, like a good book, or anything life-transforming, I return to the same bands I found in ninth grade, and I think about how the meanings have changed for me. I’m amazed by lyrics that may mean nothing to someone else but mean everything to me.
Nowadays, I don’t think much about “Sweet Escape”--or most of elementary school for that matter. But I will always remember timing that song to start as I climbed the stairs to the bus, imagining all of the bullies as musical notes coming and going.
My college life is comprised of moments with different speeds and paces. During times of stress or heartache, all I want is to dance it away to top-forty hits or power anthems. But thankfully, I’ve been at peace lately. Now, more of the moments I seek to hold onto are the slow and pleasant ones. The days where it’s not raining and freezing; the days when my class is canceled, or when I have some extra time to walk through the park.
Music is rhythmically composed and paced to fit several moments in time. When I hear the music fading in my earbuds, I can almost here it saying “goodbye for now.” My first question after I hear a song for the first time is: why is it so short/so long? Why does one song drag on for five minutes, when the lyrics stop at 3:25, but some of Sufjan Stevens’ finest compositions last a mere two minutes?
But for these, the tried and true slow lyrics and absence of words are exactly what I crave.
The funny thing about origins is there is no one thing that contributes to who we are. Living in New York City and living in the 21st-century global world, unlimited things shape us as we go through the formative years of our lives. Yet, some events, some people, some art forms are deeply personal and unique to the individual.
No matter how many people I meet who like the same music I do, I know that they listen to it, internalize it, dance and cry over it, differently than I do. And for that I am grateful. The beauty of art is the singularity and the plurality. The one painting or the one song, and the infinite ways it touches people. The same song that you may dance to may make me sit in silence--but we both felt something deep within us that spurred us to respond.
My origin story involves Gwen Stefani, getting lost in sound, and bursting out of my shell. What’s yours?
Originally published 03/09/18