Music Matters: Magic Songs

I wrote the other day about Lauryn Hill, about “Ex-Factor” and one perfect moment. Because of course each time I hear that song I’m back in that moment for a second, can even feel the pressure of his hand on mine.

There are songs that bring you back to a moment of happiness and songs that bring you back to a moment or a several-month period of unhappiness. I can’t listen to Tori Amos’s “Hey Jupiter” without remembering, viscerally, what it’s like to be sixteen and feel absolutely alone in the world. Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” reminds me of a boy that isn’t worth remembering, and the insecurity I was wracked with when I thought he was.

There’s a comic book that exquisitely illustrates this process–I wrote about Phonogram for The Awl, but to understand it really you should track it down–about the process of feelings and moments being trapped in a bit of music. The writer calls them “curse songs,” but they can also be a blessing if you’re the kind of person who needs to write things down and needs to find that place where that feeling’s been stored inside.

Sense memories are the strongest, I think. I can tell a story and call up a specific memory, but when a smell or a taste reminds me of a moment it’s that much more immediate, that much more real. Music hits on that same level, in your heart and gut before your brain even has a chance to respond. It’s the difference between thinking and feeling.

[Video: Robyn performs “Be Mine!” ballad-style at the Nobel Peace Prize concert. I cry.]

Some songs are emotional for me because of their content–“Thunder Road” never appeared at a pivotal moment for me but its lyrics send my heart racing anyway, and Robyn’s “Be Mine!” captures years of heartaches and rolls them all out for me in a wave.

Others are supremely unemotional songs that happened to be on when something shifted. Sitting in a B&B room by myself one night, I switched on a playlist I’d made days earlier and Bowie’s “Andy Warhol” was the song that pushed me over the edge into cathartic tears. I’m afraid to listen to it too often anymore.

It’s something I can never quite put my finger on but I use certain songs to play my own emotions like a musical instrument, to change the way I feel (as long as I can handle feeling something intensely).

Which songs do it for you?

by Sarah Jaffe
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5 Comments Have Been Posted

It's not a particularly old

It's not a particularly old song, and I don't have any specific memories attached to it, but Rufus Wainwright's, "I Don't Know What It Is," is one of those songs that makes me want to crawl inside it and live there forever. Unfortunately, all the songs from my teens are early twenties that I feel emotionally tethered to are cheesy pop songs from the 80s and early 90s: "Groove is in the Heart," "Love Shack," etc. Always brings me back to being sixteen or seventeen and thinking I was invincible.

For me it's more the musicians than the songs

I notice that certain musicians impact me this way. Some of them are obvious. I listen to Nina Simone when I am depressed and Nat King Cole when I am feeling nostalgic about lost loves. But there are others too. Simon and Garfunkel make me feel like I'm alone and listening to music on a rainy and cold Sunday morning. The Indigo Girls bring up all of my independent and hopefuly energy tinged with the attraction to a more simple DIY life.

But I also notice that my choice of music tells me a lot about what is floating around just under the surface in my mind. Today I went with REM's "Automatic for the People". When I hit the fourth song, "Everybody Hurts," I started to tear up. My close friend has a fourteen year old daughter who recently confided in me that sometimes life doesn't feel like it's worth living. While I know that she is being loved and cared for (especially now that she is reaching out for help), the conversation brought me back to my own fourteen year old self. And so the message from my subconscious comes through loud and clear:

<i>"When you think you've had too much of this life, well hang on. Cause everybody hurts. Take comfort in your friends Everybody hurts...If you feel like you're alone, no, no, no, you are not alone."</i>

Magic Songs

"Breathe me" by Sia. Flashback to crying alone= worst feeling ever!!!! But when you get that pit in your stomach and you just need to cry it out, run a bath, drink some wine and listen to will feel better afterward. ( Just dont put it on a cd mix....this bodes disaster while you are driving home from work!

The good, the bad and the silly

Much of my favorite music is the pop and rock from my junior high years (1998-2000,) which seems counterintuitive since that was probably the worst time of my life. Then again, maybe that's why it makes me feel good: the music is comforting, as it was then, and it also reminds me of how much better I feel now.

I can't handle listening to too much Third Eye Blind, though. Their songs remind me of being depressed at age seventeen, which is when they released their third album and I got into them. It doesn't help that a lot of their songs are <i>about</i> depression. "Narcolepsy" is the most poignant for me. When I listen to it, I imagine I can feel my pulse slowing down.

My most feel-good songs at the moment are utterly ridiculous Europop: "Happy Boys & Girls" by Aqua and most anything by Lene Alexandra.

I love every song on Lauryn

I love every song on Lauryn Hill's Misseducatiion album. the first time i heard the entire album i was 18 and trying to get over my decision to have an abortion

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