Music of another decade

I don’t know when I stopped listening to music.

It’s not that I don’t catch a random tune on the radio or keep up with modern hits — peripherally, at least. I mean, I know “Blank Space” and such. I’m not hopelessly out of touch.

Just mostly.

When I was commuting to college, the two-hour drive daily on the Beltway was a medley of Hanson, John Mayer, Maroon 5, The Killers, Coldplay. Circa 2006, coed Meg was pretty hip. My first iPod came as a Christmas present in 2004, and that little pink Mini accompanied me everywhere. I can still remember the long walks across campus with Death Cab for Cutie for company. It was a little lonely back then, I’ll admit — but peaceful, too.


Pink iPod


After graduation, my two-hour commute became a 10-minute back-and-forth to the office. I’ve been fortunate to live and work close to home for the last eight years — a true triumph in the D.C. area — so, you know, car time is at a minimum. And once I discovered listening to audio books, I really gave up the musical ghost.

With the wintry mess outside, I’ve been working from home — and the quiet is weird. I don’t like to work in silence, but the prattle of a television is distracting. I’m used to the hustle and bustle of coworkers’ conversations, phones ringing, text messages dinging . . . even on the days I’m writing furiously, I like background noise.

So I blew the dust off iTunes.

My iTunes library, safely ensconced on my laptop, is a time capsule of my life from 2004-10. Around the time I met Spencer, apparently, I stopped caring so much about music. We don’t even have “a song,” a first for any of my relationships (though we eventually chose one for our first dance). I actually wrote about this in 2011 so, you know, it’s not like this is a new problem . . . but it still startles me sometimes.

Am I doomed to listen to my college-era classics forever?

Am I going to be that person ramming old-school John Mayer down Baby J’s throat when he’d much rather enjoy the dulcet tones of whoever is Taylor Swift in a decade?

Part of me realizes I’ll likely never care about music the way I once did. Not because it’s changed so much, exactly . . . but because I have. In our teens and twenties, when everything is fresh and intense and we fall in love and out of love and back in love, maybe with ourselves, music provides the soundtrack to our wanderings. It grounds us, inspires us.

I’m never going to care about something the way I care about Hanson’s “MMMBop.” I mean, it’s just a fact.

But that’s okay. We grow, change, experience new things. It’s natural for our interests to morph, too.

Regardless, I just opened Maroon 5’s “Songs About Jane” and found “Through With You,” a song iTunes tells me I haven’t listened to since 2009.

And I sang along with every word.

I think that means something, too.


Maybe ‘Tomorrow,’ I’ll stop scaring the baby

Sunset

There are a few irrefutable facts about me.

I love cupcakes, for one. Black and gray are my wardrobe colors of choice. I have incredibly wavy, hard-to-tame hair.

And I’m a terrible singer.

At this point in my pregnancy, I’ve been encouraged to speak to our baby. He can hear me, apparently; sometimes I shudder to think about the silly rants, crying fits and crazy stories Baby J is now privy to. Despite reminding myself that he doesn’t yet speak English, I’ve still been watching my tone and trying to sound, you know, soothing and mother-like. Is that a thing? Mother-like?

If I’m not telling him tales (which, I’ll admit, feels a little bizarre right now), I can sing. Though I have a voice that could probably shatter glass in its pure awfulness, my wee little one doesn’t know a Mariah Carey from a . . . well, from a me.

I don’t sing publicly — not even in front of my husband. Since a disastrous (and very public) chorus audition in elementary school, I’ve avoided any situation in which I might be expected to carry a tune . . . and be laughed off a stage. When I knew I had no future on stage with the cool kids singing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” at the holiday pageant, I picked up the keyboard and started playing bells.

The only exception came during my high school theatre days — back when I was bold and silly. I auditioned for a few musicals singing “Part Of Your World” from “The Little Mermaid,” a childhood favorite, but had no lofty ambitions beyond getting a bit part. Our director always took pity on me, tossing me in as a background character. I was never mic’ed.

And that was fine. We can’t be good at everything. I knew from childhood that I would never be one of those starry-eyed, tone-deaf dreamers foolishly auditioning for “American Idol”: the ones we all swear must have someone (a parent? friend? enemy?) telling them they’re just really not good, sweetie, yet they’ve managed to reach adulthood believing the opposite.

Despite all this, I love to sing. I’m actually really great at remembering lyrics — I just sound flat and horrible and scary while doing it. Artists like John Mayer are better for me; lower, deeper, closer to being “in my key.” Whatever that is.

But now that Baby J is, you know, hanging out with me all day, I’ve started questioning my music choices — and wondering if I’m doing permanent damage to both his hearing and psyche. The poor little guy is going to emerge with a terrifying fear of Maroon 5, Hanson, The Killers and Death Cab for Cutie; sometime around his fifth birthday, a latent memory of hearing me belt out an Ingrid Michaelson tune is going to cause an anxiety attack.

Inexplicably, I can’t stop singing “Tomorrow” from “Annie.” My sister performed the musical during her junior year of high school, and I swear that thing was a showstopper. I’ve seen the famous movie, of course (though not the remake), and . . . well, it’s just so catchy and relentlessly optimistic that I can’t resist it.



The sun will come out
Tomorrow
Bet your bottom dollar that, tomorrow
There’ll be sun
Just thinkin’ about tomorrow
Clears away the cobwebs and the sorrow . . .
‘Til there’s none


I sing in the shower. I sing down the hall. I sing on my way to work, listening to an unrelated audio book — my voice melding with the narrator’s, creating a nonsensical mash-up. I hum the tune when I’m at my desk, then mouth along to the words invisibly while I answer emails.

It’s in my head all the time, basically.

So I guess it’s in Baby J’s head, too.


When I’m stuck with a day that’s gray and lonely
I just stick out my chin, and grin, and say . . .
Oh, the sun will come out tomorrow
So you gotta hang on ’til tomorrow, come what may
Tomorrow! Tomorrow! I love ya, tomorrow
You’re always a day away . . .


Hey — maybe this is fate’s way of telling me he’ll be a sweet-tempered, curly-haired redhead. And an eternal optimist.

And he’ll probably explore all of this in therapy.

Sorry, little dude.


Fall on the desert island

Rainy day


“This is definitely a desert-island album for me.”

Spencer and I were driving along our winding road last night, heading to my parents’ house, rain splattering against my windshield. Earlier in the day I’d dug around in the trunk for my old CD case: a fat compilation of albums, mostly collected a decade ago.

John Mayer’s “Heavier Things” was the first CD I bought with my own money. I was a freshman at a nearby community college, running out on my lunch break to pick up odds and ends at Walmart. It was September 2013, just a week or so into the school year, and I’d just started a job as a cashier at a craft store. My paycheck was paltry, but I didn’t know any different — and it didn’t much matter. I still felt impossibly adult with my brand-new debit card.

I told Spencer this story last night: how, eleven years ago, John Mayer’s “Clarity” and “Something’s Missing” and “Wheel” were the soundtrack to my 18-year-old days. I can close my eyes and be back on campus, climbing into my battered old Corolla, cranking the music up with cool September air pouring through the windows. A love note on my windshield. A scarf around my neck.

Music meant more to me then. I don’t listen to it much these days, preferring news radio or audiobooks on my drives. But when I do? It’s the “old” stuff. My vintage stuff. The songs that comprised my mornings and afternoons and weeks when I was younger and bursting and unsure, but still making progress. Steadily. Grasping.

Does your music change seasonally? Because as soon as the leaves begin to turn and I dig out my boots, I find myself reaching for Ingrid Michaelson, The Fray, Death Cab for Cutie. The softer, subdued stuff. It’s like my mind shrugs into a sweater, too, wrapping up and quieting.

I like that. It’s cyclical.

John may feel that, too.

“When autumn comes, it doesn’t ask. It just walks in where it left you last. You never know when it starts . . . until there’s fog inside the glass around your summer heart.”


“What do you mean — desert island?” my husband asked.

“Desert island. You know. An album you’d take with you if you were trapped on a desert island?”

“I’d bring a satellite phone,” replied my scientist, smiling in the dim evening light. “So I could call for help.”

“That’s not the question!”

But I laughed, anyway.


On each other’s team

Sunset


Tuesday was one of those extraordinary days we get just once or twice each winter: a freakishly warm afternoon conjuring memories of spring. A delightful tease. It’s disconcerting at first — weird and unnatural, really — but you dig around for flats, shuck off your bulky coat and bask in the oddness. Knowing it’s fleeting makes it all the more exciting. You choose to revel.

When I left the office that night, heels clicking against the sidewalk, I looked up at a burning sunset that followed me all the way home. I was driving into that sunset, it felt; dusk was mesmerizing. And eerie, too, knowing how temperatures would plummet from 65 to 30 overnight. Like any good one-time aspiring meteorologist, I’d been following the winter weather reports for days . . . and sure enough, a snowstorm blanketed D.C. and its cozy suburbs by yesterday afternoon.

But this was Tuesday — the calm before the storm. I met my husband without a jacket, arriving in the crowded pre-storm grocery parking lot after driving with the windows down. I thought about my college commute, driving up and down the Beltway with Jimmy Eat World and Death Cab for Cutie cranked high. I remembered once sailing across the Solomons Island bridge with my sister, the Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” playing so loud our voices strained to match Brandon Flowers’ every note.

And there was more — so much more. I once had a tradition of playing John Mayer’s live album — especially “Why Georgia” — as soon as the weather began to warm, and hearing Coldplay’s “Strawberry Swing” takes me back to riding the Tube around London alone. I played it constantly when I got back from my long weekend in 2009, trying to recapture the rush of moving independently through a foreign city. My city.

I miss music. I hadn’t really connected that until Tuesday, when I took a brief leave of Longbourn to enjoy the simple pleasures of the radio. My audio book didn’t fit my warm January mood: unexpectedly sunny; defiantly free. Scanning through the stations, I eventually found Lorde and OneRepublic . . . and for a second I didn’t feel so out-of-touch, so removed. I knew all the words.

And I sang them . . . loudly. As loud as I could.

Because I was alone — but not lonely.

Because spring really isn’t so very far away.


And know that you are everything


Back in high school, music was a necessary and palpable force in my life. My friends and I lived and died by the bands we loved and blasted — ‘NSYNC, Hanson, Britney Spears, Dashboard Confessional — until we could sing their tunes in our sleep. Those songs are the soundtrack of my adolescence, permeating every scene and memory.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve scurried away from music. No longer spending hours each day walking around campus with my iPod and disinterested in playing anything at my desk, I don’t listen to much that’s new — or anything at all — these days. In my car I skip the radio and put in an audiobook. And I just don’t have many other listening opportunities beyond that.

So Spencer and I haven’t had “a song.” Some quintessential tune that makes me think of him with stars in my eyes, a ballad gives voice to our relationship. With R., my first boyfriend, there was “All My Life” (by K-Ci and JoJo — don’t hate). M. and I had Hoobastank’s “The Reason” (which is sort of a sad song, really, now that I’m thinking about it), and with P. it was “The Luckiest” by Ben Folds. There were plenty of other tunes sprinkled in there, too, like The Fray’s “Look After You” — a song I can’t hear without thinking of J. and an ill-fated dance at his brother’s wedding.

But Spence and I? We don’t have any memories inextricably tied up in music. We both like Nicole Atkins, his favorite singer, but she doesn’t have a song that makes me feel swoony. Nothing else comes to mind. Our relationship has been without a theme song.

Until now.

I learned years ago that the Goo Goo Dolls were from Buffalo, N.Y., just north of my boyfriend’s hometown. I can’t say I’ve always been a huge fan, but tunes like “Slide” and “Iris” were definitely around during my formative years. It’s great they’re still playing music and making new stuff — like “All That You Are.”

It’s The One. Our Song.

Walking out of the mall recently, I was loaded down with bags and hurrying back to the office. It’s that time of year again — Christmas shopping season — and no one emerges from all this unscathed. I just wanted to throw my stuff in the car and get to work, where a thousand projects waited in my inbox.

That’s when I heard it.

In my limited radio-listening world, I must have heard “All That You Are” at some point — or maybe it was just that I instantly recognized Johnny Rzeznick’s trademark vocals. Whatever it was, the opening bars of the song had me literally pausing in the middle of a street. The song was still playing clear and strong outside a department store, flooding the parking lot with its haunting melody. I put my bags in the front seat and stood, listening. I was by myself but didn’t feel alone.

Because the band is from Spencer’s home state (and almost city); because I love the words and the sentiment; because I know we enter each relationship a little bit battered but hopeful that we’re going to find something real, something lasting, with another person —

And because I fell in love again —

And because I know what it’s like to be loved in return —

I formally nominate the Goo Goo Dolls’ “All That You Are” for the prized title of the Official Anthem of Megan and Spencer.

I really hope it gets approved.


———-

Do you and your significant other have A Song? How did you choose it — or did it choose you?

A slow musical death by iPod

It happened slowly. I found myself logging into iTunes less and less, my playlists becoming stagnant and dull. In the car, I shuffled between the same few CDs or idly scanned a random selection of radio stations, choosing one and letting the same boring Top 40 sounds fill my Toyota.

I haven’t purchased music in forever — months, even. The last album I bought was The Script’s “Science and Faith,” and that was only because I was so in love with their last record. I never find myself cranking up a new tune or Googling the lyrics of a song I heard and loved, but can’t identify. Nothing interests me.

I didn’t even bring my iPod to England. When I wasn’t reading on the plane, I sat in silence.

Silence.

I’ve reached a point where I prefer silence over music.

There was a time when Music was my constant companion, a fellow and important traveler on the road of life. As a teen, Hanson, ‘NSYNC or Jimmy Eat World comprised the background noise of my days. Music was a way of bonding with friends and classmates; it was a simple way of launching a conversation with the cute guy from math class. As soon as I got a glimpse of a dude’s band T-shirt, I would scurry home and look up the object of his attention — then try to convince my parents I needed their album. I got into Dashboard Confessional that way. When I found out a crush liked a certain band and had a favorite song, I would find it and listen to it on repeat; it was like getting a glimpse into their soul.

Back when AOL Instant Messenger was still big (and Facebook didn’t exist), folks would use song lyrics in their profiles or “away” messages as a thinly-veiled way of conveying how they were feeling — and I still spot people doing that on Facebook, too. (Case in point, an acquaintance’s recent status update: “You find out who your friends are… somebody’s gonna drop everything, run out and crank up their car, hit the gas, get there fast and never stop to think, ‘What’s in it for me?'”)

It’s been a while since I was emotional enough to need to post song lyrics on a public profile rather than tell someone how I feel, but I can easily remember emotions that would stir up and provoke such an action. Music is a great way of confronting, expressing or dealing with our emotions. Songs appeal to us on a personal level because they resonate with us — for whatever reason. For personal reasons.

Not everyone listens to tunes because they want their perspectives altered or their minds blown. Maybe they’ve had a bad day, want to get a beer and just dance — and there’s nothing wrong with that.

But me? Well, I’m all about the lyrics.

And nothing appeals to me anymore.

So much of the music I’ve loved in the past — like Death Cab For Cutie, say — was because it clicked with me at a specific point in my life. The Killers are that way, too; though I love them intensely, listening to their songs brings me back to a time when I was nursing a heartbreak, in a period of transition and desperately seeking direction and support.

I don’t feel that way anymore.

Listening to Death Cab now just makes my stomach flip uncomfortably, remembering the times I listened to “We Looked Like Giants” until I thought my ears would bleed. I still listen to The Fray, The Killers and John Mayer, my main man, but it just . . . isn’t the same. Putting my iPod on shuffle, I find myself constantly scrolling through songs without settling on a single one. Then I give up and toss the thing back in my purse, annoyed that I ever bothered to listen to anything at all.

I’m in a total music rut.

I don’t want to think that I’ve completely lost my mojo when it comes to tunes, because I’ll be honest: I think being completely out of touch with the music scene is a sure sign of aging, and I want to still be hip. I can’t accept that my best years are behind me and that, at 25, I’m doomed to live a life void of anything contemporary. I don’t want to be the woman so stuck in the ’00s that she can’t pronounce “Bieber” or recognize a new artist — however silly — on sight.

I don’t want to be old.

So hit me with your best shot, friends: what music are you listening to now or can’t live without? It doesn’t have to be something current — just something new to me. I’ve heard good things about Mumford & Sons but haven’t bothered to check them out. Who am I missing?

Save me from a slow death by iPod. Send me some musical inspiration — I’ll take anything.

Meeting Hanson, my idols — and how I lived to blog about it

You know, I fancy myself a sophisticated woman. I talk easily with most people and feel reasonably comfortable networking. I have a full-time job, write religiously and am devoted to my family and friends. Though I might not be the snappiest dresser around, I carry myself with an air of confidence.

In short, I think I’m a good person. And a grown-up. And a decidedly logical woman.

Until Taylor Hanson shows up.

Hanson is a real-life fountain of youth, my friends. One moment I’m 25 and chattering with my sister and boyfriend, and the next I’m 12 and wallpapering my bedroom with posters while listening to “Middle Of Nowhere” on repeat. It doesn’t matter how many concerts I’ve attended in the past (seven, I believe); heat overtakes my body the moment my favorite band appears.

On Saturday at The Sound Garden in Baltimore, Md., I arrived with Katie and Spencer to find a crush of girls milling around a makeshift stage in the tiny music store. It struck me immediately how much we all looked alike: young women in leggings, jeans or boots; some of us in glasses and some with ponytails; many in lightweight jackets or flowing tops. We were redheads, brunettes and blondes. We were all in our 20s.

We were all obsessed with Hanson.

Getting there early worked in our favor: we were right near the small stage for Hanson’s in-store performance. And as it drew closer and closer to 4:30 p.m., the magic time they were scheduled to appear, my eye rarely left the door. My attentiveness was rewarded with a glimpse of the Hanson brothers pulling up in a cab, then disappearing; my mouth opened and closed like a fish. Not my most glamorous moment.

“They’re here!” I hissed to Katie. I figured yelling that any louder would be the equivalent of shouting “FIRE!” in a crowded movie theatre and, you know . . . that’s illegal.

While we were waiting and my excitement was growing like a sparkly weed, I had this uneasy sense that I didn’t want Spencer to see me like this. I mean, I’m his girlfriend — a writer; a daughter; a friend. I pride myself on being level-headed and poised. As a general habit, I don’t run around screaming and crying over . . . another dude.

But, you know. Some things are beyond my control.

When Hanson finally made their way toward us, camera flashes exploded from all sides. Voices lifted up in madness, shouting and calling and whistling. Someone screamed. It was something about being soclose to them, and in broad daylight, that sent a serious tremor through me. Just to the right of the stage, I could have lunged forward and grabbed Taylor’s boot. And when they launched into “Shout It Out,” the title track from their new album, Katie and I were dancing with the best of them.

The performance went on this way: me singing and shouting; Katie and I grabbing each other when Taylor looked right at us and grinned; me worrying that Spencer thought I was a total nutjob.

“Are you going to break up with me after this?” I asked him between songs, taking in the scared deer-in-headlights look on his face.

“Yes,” he deadpanned.

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