For me, music can elicit strong memories of a certain time or event in my life. I’m guessing that’s probably true for most people. Do you recall your earliest music memory? And do you have songs and genres that you can directly attribute to personal growth, healing, pain, or joy?
I do. Here’s a few:
My earliest music memory is “I Can See Clearly Now” – Or as I still call it, “Bright Sunshiny Day” 🙂
I remember the exact moment I first heard this song. I was in the backseat of our family car. My father was driving and his father was in the passenger seat. We were crossing over the railroad tracks at the Wyoming Avenue stop just past the old Cumberland Farms; the hardware store with the thin, plank wood floor; and, the old penny candy store where I first tried candy cigarettes. Ah, 1974. I was four years old. Not sure where we were going or why my grandfather was in the car, but I remember dancing around in the backseat to the scratchy sounds of Johnny Nash coming from the car radio with nothing more than a thin seatbelt (if that!) holding me in place.
Another early music memory is Seasons In the sun. Goodness, this song. I’ve been told I played this 45 ad nauseam on an old record player in our musty basement. An uncle was staying in our den for a few weeks and the section of the basement where I was playing just happened to be directly under his sofa bed. He had (and still has) a “bigger than life” personality. I’ve never seen him get angry or lose his temper. But I’ve been told that he grew so tired of hearing this song that he threatened to break my record player. 🙂
And then there’s Carole King’s Tapestry album. Is there a finer album out there? I think I’ve written about Tapestry before but this whole album takes me back to the late 70s hanging out at Margaret’s house on Florence Street, just around the corner from my house. Her folks had a duplex with a finished attic. We hung out up there and played it on her big sister’s record player over and over and over and over. To this day I still know every word to every song on that album. My favorite? It’s Too Late.
Michael Jackson’s Thriller was probably the anthem of my early teen years. More than the album, I remember the huge-ness of the Thriller video. Definitely a defining moment in my generation. And there was Billy Joel, The Who (I know they were earlier, but this is when I discovered them), Van Halen, Pat Benatar, Whitney Houston, U2, and all the big hair bands that were the soundtrack of my teen years.
But when I moved to Florida in the 90s and started adult-ing, it was Alanis Morissette’s songs that eventually helped me grow up. In the early 90s, I was all buttoned up, trying to be professional and smart. Confident and promotable. I was the do-gooder, the perfect little Disney cast member. I was making amends for past transgressions and the perfectionism was nearly killing me. I had dated maybe two guys for brief periods during a time in most people’s lives when their dating life is full and colorful. I was afraid, and so I eased into a neat and tidy life, first living with some wonderful roommates who became lifelong friends (side note: gay men make the best roommates), and then eventually moving into my own apartment and testing the waters of my own independence. I was still timid. My life was quite orderly. I wasn’t a prude, but I don’t think I was a typical 20-something either. While other friends were dating and nightclubbing and living seemingly carefree lives, I was planning how to climb the corporate ladder. I was doing all the right things.
And then it was 1995 and Jagged Little Pill came out.
And if I can be so bold (and by the way YES I CAN because Alanis says it’s ok), this album unapologetically blew my fucking mind.
But before it blew my mind, it scared me to death. I’d never heard a woman be so bold, so mean, so vengeful, so MUCH. She broke all the rules. She sang about not wanting to be perfect. About being dumped by a lover. About being lonely, frustrated, rejected … loved, cared for, sexual, wild. She sang about all the things that I was and wasn’t. I was equal parts horrified and intrigued.
Without a doubt, my favorite songs on this album are “Perfect”, “Ironic”, and holy crap “You Oughta Know.” I heard Alanis (I hope she doesn’t mind me calling her Alanis) on Howard Stern this week. Not the whole interview, but most of it. I may be exaggerating, but she is surely the most brilliant person on the face of the planet.
Best part of the interview was when she sang an acoustic version of You Oughta Know.
It. Was. A-MAZ-ING. Howard asked her about the song and whether she ever took revenge on an old lover. Her response stayed with me – she said she didn’t believe people should act on feelings of revenge. Instead, she said she believes it’s exceptionally healthy and cathartic to express these feelings in song or some other art form. She talked about how healing the writing and singing of that album was for her and how it got her through some heavy emotions.
I wasn’t dealing with the same things that she was and I certainly wasn’t seeking revenge on anyone. But I was dealing with feelings like betrayal, loneliness, abandonment, and emptiness. I could totally relate to wanting to scream and yell and be completely out of control. And maybe hit somebody. I could relate to the struggle, the difficult push and pull of becoming an adult. I could relate to the desire to be loved and cared for. And I could relate to wanting to be a wild, sexual, confident woman. I blared this CD in my little blue Saturn every day. I never danced to it in nightclubs; instead, I explored this new world safely and danced to it from the confines of my living room. Embarrassingly enough, I imagined I was in a nightclub.
Isn’t it ironic…
I loved everything about this album. I had a visceral reaction to the lyrics and the music. Although ultimately it would take me years more to deal with everything else, Jagged Little Pill helped me relax, if only for a little while. It gave me permission to scream and yell and release my anger. It made me feel heard and understood. It made me feel less alone.
Now, as the 20th anniversary remastered edition is being released, I listen to these songs – just as I listen to Johnny Nash and Carole King and Madonna – and I remember the young woman I was and just how far I’ve come.