The Story of my life as told through music
By Esme Fox
Getting to know someone, whether that’s during o-week, after joining a club, or anywhere you may find a new relationship on the horizon, the same round of get-to-know-you questions seem to come up. You’re likely to be asked: Where are you from? Do you have any siblings? What are you studying? And couched in surface level interrogation, people occasionally wonder: What kind of music do you like? When I’m asked this, I often reply with something along the lines of “I like everything!” Is it true? No. Does it allow me to bypass the question without bogging my potential new friend down with the story of my life within the first few minutes of meeting them? Yes.
To truly discover what kind of music I like, you’d have to dig up the old boxes in my closet housing dusty and scratched CDs. These fossils reflect the parts of me I’ve inadvertently neglected, or chosen to forget. You’re likely to discover LOTS of musical theater, the Shrek soundtrack, and Taylor Swift’s self-titled debut album. You’d find discs gifted to me by friends, or relics from the phase when I thought I could sing and ill-advisedly recorded my own songs on GarageBand.
The songs I may roll my eyes at now once served as the musical accompaniment to my youth. My Hello Kitty CD player adorned with shiny rainbow stickers once held the illustrious position as the centerpiece of my bedroom. I rushed home each day after elementary school to choreograph my own performances, composed of simple dance moves that acted out the lyrics. My parents and siblings grimaced through countless recitals, kindly offering me the space to develop self confidence and identity.
Long car rides with my parents in the front seat gave rise to my love of shared connections through music. Despite my many protests, the radio constantly rested at Classic Vinyl, or the “oldies” station as my dad proudly declared it. As the car sailed across the highway, my parents' crude rendition of “Touch Me” by the Doors overpowered Jim Morrison’s singing; I closed my eyes, relishing in the bliss of that moment.
My childhood anthems captured the kind of glee and wonder afforded only to kids, in the way I could belt Bowling for Soup’s “1985” over and over without growing sick of it or experiencing shame. But they also represented what lay ahead in my life course. The lyrics spoke about “grown-up” experiences that existed in the future tense for me: love, heartbreak, and loss, among other nuanced themes. From a young age, music became my most trusted tool for measuring my own growth.
To continue deciphering the role music plays in my life, you’d have to uncover the tickets I’ve been lucky enough to collect throughout the years. Perhaps you’d stumble upon the Jonas Brothers ticket from my very first concert, when I sobbed the whole time because of how far we sat from the stage, as I itched to get closer to the action. You’d find Hozier tickets dated right after my high school boyfriend broke up with me, when I transitioned from anger to sadness to the tune of “Cherry Wine”. A more recent ticket from Phoebe Bridgers in Raleigh reveals the time when Phoebe soothed my freshman year nerves and loneliness with her melodic hums. Above all, you’d discover a love affair between live music and me, transcending beyond significant dates.
In high school, concerts became synonymous with independence and adulthood. Living on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, my sleepy neighborhood couldn’t possibly offer me the alternative music scene I craved. The Upper East Side felt stifling and downright boring, a place where my identity could be distilled into trivial descriptors–high schooler, track and field runner, daughter, sister. Going to a concert, I could attempt to find myself, or even pretend to be someone else entirely.
And the outfits! Carefully curating the perfect concert outfit to exude mysterious, hot girl energy was a whole event in and of itself. Concerts became the place where my most experimental self expression was on display. I wore the clothes I dreamed of wearing to school, yet felt too apprehensive to sport among peers. I ventured into the world of overalls and butterfly clips, mesh tops and clunky boots, colorful jewelry and glorious fanny packs.
I took the Q or the 6 train downtown to venues like the Bowery Ballroom, Brooklyn Steel, Webster Hall, and more. I began to associate joy with the satisfying beep of a ticket being processed. My adolescence began to drift away with the faint smell of beer bought at the concession stand and weed smuggled into the venue.
Each and every time, butterflies swarmed my belly before the show began. I tried to escape the merciless grip of anticipation while simultaneously attempting to blend in amongst the cool 20-somethings who lived below Midtown. And just as the lights dimmed and the artist entered the stage, met with a thunderous applause, the nerves quickly melted into liberation. The thump of the bass temporarily drowned out my teenage anxieties and allowed me to escape into a world of setlists and encores. In this fantasy world, I belted the same string of words as everyone else, feeling both strikingly vulnerable and safely anonymous within the crowd. Live music became the place I could both fully embrace and understand myself.
There’s one more avenue for exploring my music taste–Spotify playlists. In eighth grade, all of my peers seemed to create a Spotify account at the same time. After months of begging my mom, she finally granted me permission to enter the future of music listening. Fast forward to this year, and a deep dive into my playlists tells the story of a girl’s coming of age.
“jamz”, from my freshman year of high school, illustrates my attempt to distance myself from female pop artists, internalized misogyny at work. “under the covers summer 2019” memorializes the cozy and sweet nostalgia of past summers. “chicken soup songs” provided comfort throughout monotonous days in quarantine. “my ??? era”, my current object of fixation, represents the transitory period I feel trapped in, between adolescent naivety and adult certainty. The amalgamation of my playlists reveals the pitfalls and highlights of a teenage girl. Even when I feel compelled to delete an embarrassing playlist from 2016, I remind myself to preserve the anthology of sacred artifacts.
The long awaited “Spotify Wrapped”, when the app reveals your most listened to artists and songs of 2021, dropped on December 1st. Needless to say, Spotify accurately captured my rollercoaster of a year, marked by the end of my gap year and entrance into college. The Ohio band Caamp enhanced my connection to nature and spirituality, while SZA chronicled my love life. And my most listened to artist of the year, Taylor Swift, guided me through new adjustments by allowing me to revisit old memories.
To anyone who has ever asked me what type of music I listen to, I hope this answers your question–in the CDs, tickets, and playlists forever engraved into my being. And to anyone reading, I encourage you to analyze your own musical life story–in whatever form that may take for you–in an attempt to get to know all stages of yourself a little better.