This Friday, while walking my huge and lovable dog, Jasper, I listened (as I do each week) to Pop Culture Happy Hour, the NPR podcast hosted by Linda Holmes. I adore this podcast and find their topics and recommendations impeccable (for example, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Hamilton came to me by way of PCHH. The author Sarah Waters came to me by way of Barrie Hardymon, a frequent PCHH guest. I know, I know–they are demi-gods of cultural wisdom). So, when this week they featured a segment devoted to songs that changed their lives, it led me to think about songs that changed my life in similarly intangible yet undeniable ways.
Here’s my list:
- Tori Amos: Silent All These Years
Twenty years later after first hearing this song when I was in my early teens, I can still recite every single lyric. I was a little late to the Tori Amos band-wagon as a mid-nineties teenager and didn’t discover her first album until she’d already put out two other albums, but in the end that didn’t matter. I loved them all, but this song off of her debut was everything to me. She sings about finding her voice, about the bitterness of sacrificing yourself for another only to be discarded, and the maelstrom of thoughts that comes with growing into an adult.
This song made me feel normal in the craziness of my teenage years. I am so grateful that I could tuck it close to my heart as I tried to figure out who I wanted to be.
2. Smashing Pumpkins: Today
My one claim to coolness is that the first CD I ever bought for myself was Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream. Now, granted this was partnered with a Mariah Carey CD, but we don’t need to talk about that. Part of the reason Today was such a pivotal song in my life is the music video that accompanied it (which, back in the day, was only accessible on MTV). It shows different vignettes of young couples in love, illuminated by the forgiving haze of a sunset.
This song made me think about what it would mean to be loved and the comfort that could bring with it. I’d spent so much time in my life up to that point worried that my body, my face, my entire self was unlovable and undesirable, but this song and the images Smashing Pumpkins chose to represent it gave me confidence that one day I would have access to that same tender affection.
3. Bette Midler: Oh Industry
As a child, our family took many trips in the van out West. Hours and hours were spent in the car, with my two brothers and my parents’ limited soundtrack of three cassettes. They included: an Elvis Presley compilation tape, the Amadeus film soundtrack, and the Beaches film soundtrack. I have no clue what my parents were doing with such random musical pairings, but this trio remains a stark fact of my childhood. When a tape was finished, one of the other two were popped in, creating a constant fluency of sound. Much like Tori Amos, I can recall the line-up on each of these albums from memory.
Oddly enough, my favorite song out of these was Oh Industry, sung by Bette Midler on the Beaches soundtrack. I don’t think I had a clue as to what she was singing about or how it fit into the film itself, but the opening lines of “I am the captain” haunt me still. I wanted to be the captain of my life back then, and to this day that sentiment remains. As many of us know, Bette Midler can do many things–empowerment being just one of them.
4. Owl City: Fireflies
My husband loves Owl City. He particularly likes to listen to it when folding our family’s never-ending pile of laundry. I chose this song because it represents the contented space I live in now, and that I captain my ship with a fantastic partner and three delightfully goofy first mates (otherwise known as our three children). It feels good to be in a place in life where happy music does what it’s intended to do–it makes me happy.