Don’t forget the songs that made you cry, and the songs that saved your life.
It’s the end of the year, which means every blogger, journalist, and other ne’er-do-wells are composing their end of year lists. You know. Because it’s the end of the year. I’ve now used that phrase three times in two sentences. Perhaps you can tell the season is wearing on me.
As I started to think about the kind of list I wanted to put together, I found my thoughts straying much further away from 2011. Ultimately, probably because I have music on the brain, I started reflecting (read: navel-gazing) about the music that marked important turning points in my life. We all have them, the song or singer who means a lot to our sense of identity, looming in our memories.
So I humbly present to you five albums that marked important points in my own life. They aren’t the best albums ever made or even still in my regular rotation, but I hold them with a certain sense of fondness. They’re listed in chronological importance in my life, but not necessarily chronologically for release date.
Guns N’ Roses: Appetite for Destruction
Released July, 1987
The summer I was headed into seventh grade, Appetite for Destruction was released. I left school in 6th grade with lopsided bangs I cut myself, once wore a panda printed sweat shirt with a clashing pair of flower printed jeans to school, and by the time I came back in the fall, I was acid washed denim skirts and band t-shirts. Hearing “Welcome to the Jungle” on MTV was an eye-opening experience for a girl who, like so many others, had previously been listening to MJ and Madonna and watching Dancing on Air after school. I wanted to be the tough singer in the leather pants, playing late gigs at dive bars, and whatever else I thought went on in the off-stage life of these bands. (I didn’t fully appreciate the lyrics to “Mr. Brownstown.”) I settled for shoplifting Circus and other metal magazines from the CVS and smoking cigarettes on the football field after school.
True story 1: In the first fiction short story that I ever got any real praise for, I named every single character the real names of the members of Guns N’ Roses.
True story 2: Looking back now as a real Grown Up Feminist, I often cringe in embarrassment at my 12-year-old self getting angry that the band was forced to change the original record cover because “˜that’s censorship’! Oh, so earnest. So myopic. The original cover is heinous. No, I won’t link it here.
The Sisters of Mercy: Vision Thing
Released October, 1990
Freshman year of high school. The boy I nursed a crush on from 6th grade until the day of high school graduation was in my English class. One day he leaned across the aisle to me, held up a cassette tape in his hand and said, “Have you heard this? I think you’d really like it.”
Oh, god, did I ever. To be fair, I probably would have liked it even if he hadn’t given me the cassette and I found it on my own, but him recommending it certainly got me to give it a listen. And so launched my long standing love affair with the goth genre, which directly led, many years later, to me being brought in as a consultant for the producers of the second Crow movie. No, seriously. It did. I can still sing all the lyrics to every song on this thing. Try me.
Tori Amos: Little Earthquakes
Released January, 1992.
Tori was feature in an article by Spin magazine about artists they liked at that year’s New Music Expo. I took that issue of the magazine, went to the local record store, and bought every CD I could find that was featured. Tori was among them.
Little Earthquakes was one of my first exposures to a woman talking directly about the trauma of her rape (“Me and a Gun”), to a female artist who was being celebrated for her talent instead of her sex appeal, and probably the only piano driven CD that was in my collection. I have a very distinct memory of sitting with my friend Sharon in a parking stall at the mall, neither of willing to get out of the car until the tape was over, singing our off-key hearts out.
PJ Harvey: Rid of Me
Released May, 1993
On my 22nd birthday, my college friends threw me a surprise party. I was several months pregnant, had dropped out of school for a job three years prior, and was soon to be laid off. After I cut the cake, I stood talking with my two BFFs, one of whom turned to me and said, “You know, this is the first time since I’ve known you that you haven’t been angry. When we first met, you were just so damn angry all the time.” It shocked me, because in the moment he said it, I knew he was right. I had just lived with it for so long that I no longer even recognized it.
Cut to two years prior, when I was a college freshman and a not-very-good-friend introduced me to Rid of Me. She was a heinous person, but at least I got Harvey for my trouble. I identified, deeply, with every furious shriek and howl that Polly Jean forced out of her mouth, with her insistence that you will fucking look at her and you will hear her, and you will not ignore her. Tori appealed to my sadness, but Polly appealed to my anger. Years later, when Polly moved into her more mature work and no longer shrieked and howled, I felt personally betrayed by the shift in her tone.
The Smiths: Louder than Bombs
Released July, 1987
The Smiths were long over by the time I came to the mountain. I knew who they were, of course. I traveled in the punk and goth circles, which had its own fair share of Smiths fans. But I couldn’t stand them. To my ears, they were whiney and mopey, and their songs were stupid, and god, will someone just put something else on already? (I also nursed a deep and abiding dislike of The Cure, which I eventually grew out of.)
I don’t know why I picked up the Louder Than Bombs CD (it’s a greatest hits compilation). It was pretty out of character for me, even in my mid-twenties. But I put the music on and it was like I was suddenly listening to an entirely different band. Of course, I was just a different person. Suddenly I got the humor, the self depreciation, the sly self-inflicted wounds. I loved the romanticness, the sadness, the sweeping guitars. On a 4 hour drive to visit my parents, I excitedly told my husband “You’ve got to listen to this!’ and by the time we got there, we were both converts.
True story 3: I have some of the lyrics to the song “Rubber Ring” tattooed on my feet. I went from a hater to a major fan in 10 seconds flat.
True story 4: Louder Than Bombs is in my car stereo right now and has been for the last week because I’m too lazy to pick something else out.