I’m 16 and at a visual arts boarding school for the Fall. I’m way too young and way too old. The shrug emoticon is several years away from popularity, but that’s the most accurate depiction of the loss in which I find myself, vacillating between a chasm of judgment and the clouds of innocence. One afternoon, everyone starts singing Bloodhound Gang’s “The Bad Touch” in the painting studio and it’s all I can do not to roll my eyes (I failed). I hadn’t yet discovered sex, so the song was clearly just an ode to bad decisions and regret so whatever, sing it if you must. As a reminder, this is the, “You and me baby aint nothing but mammal so let’s do it like they do on the Discovery Channel” song and you are welcome to now have it lodged in your head for the next week.
Early on, my roommate introduces me to Matchbox Twenty (far beyond my previous distant knowledge of “Unwell”) and a decade after its release, we listen to Yourself Or Someone Like You on repeat on a silver Walkman CD player. Sometimes we play it from an ipod nano she openly pilfered from our suitemate, setting it to “shuffle,” which is far less of a novelty this side of 2010.
A mixtape came out of this semester with tracks that freewheel like a teen between Buena Vista Social Club, Ratatat, Manu Chao, Ladytron and The Team.
But for whatever reason the crowing audio memory, and not included on the mixtape, is the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Dani California.” The lyrics were printed out and posted on my bedroom wall, along with, I think, Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars,” and other incomprehensible choices from which I’m glad to have moved on.
Twenty semesters later, I’m back at the school as an employee, picking up some students from a standardized test one Saturday and “Dani California” sneaks from the radio. There are more kids than seats and my advisee states, from the floor of the backseat, that it was written about her friend’s mom. Some story about Hawaii and love. I choose not to google for the truth.
A few months later, the Bottlerock Music Festival is on at the fairgrounds. I’ve been driven out of my apartment with its windows and walls clattering and shaking on beat. I’m having wine on the kitchen deck, definitely not 16, and they’re shredding through “Dani California” across the street. I can hear the crowd but all I feel is a river breeze and sunset light. It’s another world across the street as the southern sky flashes white and yellow from stage theatrics and I situate Dani and myself further into the landscape.
Music can hold enormous power in memories and experiences, transporting us instantly to an age, location, or person. What sonic joys, mysteries, disbelief, and clarity have you experienced? Identify songs of influence in your life and explore them like variations on a theme, melding syntax and song structure, recalling the seriousness or levity that accompanies. Whether it’s an account of when a specific song first entered your life, the process of learning to play a song, teaching someone a song, experiencing the same song in different places as it weaves through your life, unbelievable radio timing, sharing songs with those in need, tracking the passing down of songs, creative song analysis, music as politics, etc, I am interested in those ineffable moments and welcoming submissions of your own variations on a theme, as drawn from your life’s soundtrack. Please email submissions to email@example.com and keep an eye out for others’ Variations.
**(“song” is a broad phrase: could be a pop song, a traditional tune, a symphony, commercial jingles, a hummed lullaby, 2nd grade recorder class horror stories, etc)**