Appreciation, Love, Affection: none of these words express my deep need for music. It's hard to explain why music breathes life into moments for me like a running soundtrack. It isn't a unique feeling. After all, it's why there are movie scores and soundtracks to TV shows and films. The music clues the audience in as to what we should feel or deepens what we already feel about a scene or conversation or moment that is in the process of occurring. I can't imagine what it would be like to lose my hearing all of a sudden, to never be able to hear the crack in Ben Harper's voice on the live track of "Please Bleed" or Jimmy Page wailing on "Whole Lotta Love," to never hear Duane Allman and Dickey Betts fight it out on "Whipping Post" or the experimental dizzying soul from Coltrane's sax, not to hear Nina Simone's smack you in your face voice on those few opening lines of "Feelin' Good..." not to mention missing out on poetic lyrics by Elton John, Elliot Smith, Jim Morrison, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Patti Smith, I could go on. I think a piece of me, a deep and spiritual piece of me would die if I could not listen to music.
Like most people, I attach meaning to songs and the significance of this meaning changes based on the time in my life, what I was experiencing, who I was with, etc. Like the way smells trigger memories of a place, hearing a certain song can create and re-create moments for me, snapshots of my life from one chord, one guitar riff, one note. I had a friend who couldn't listen to the Doors, at all, because it reminded her of an old boyfriend. It's unfortunate when times we don't want to recall are tied up in music we love.
During a time of despair in my young adult life I listened to U2's Achtung Baby album and Soundgarden's Outshined over and over and over again. I'd been raped by a boy I knew, one I thought I was safe with who used to talk obsessively about Metallica, souring me to anything Metallica-related long before the Napster debacle. Songs from that time make me feel deeply sad, almost hopeless, even the music that helped me to survive.
But when I think of the music that changed my life I think of Smashing Pumpkins, Stone Temple Pilots, and Oasis' Definitely Maybe. I was 16 and angry. My anger went beyond the typical angsty teenage confusion. I had recently been uprooted in the middle of my sophomore year in high school. And while I left behind some horrible memories, I carried the weight of decisions, secrets, and the bitterness that comes when you discover the world can be an ugly, ugly place. While my classmates listened to Hootie and the Blowfish and Blues Traveler or were rocking out to Green Day, I was laying on my bed twisting in my loneliness blaring lyrics like:
I'll never know I'll never care I'll never believe my people I'll tell you what I say I'll never lie I'll never try I'll never cry for you people I'll push you Push you away
And then I realized I was attracted to one of my friends during a project we worked on together. I would listen to "Blossom" and yearn for her to notice the way I looked at her.
Lights they wash your face Pale and misty white Color flowers Your eyes seem ever changing In my mind Colors bleed to red As I kiss your face Want to tell you I love you Everyday as we grow Yes I know now it's all on my own Can you feel my pain As you walk on by Can you tell me you need me Everytime All alone Yes I'll show you things never seen before For your mind to untangle On your own all alone
She smelled like peaches and sunscreen and as a midfielder on the girl's soccer team she was popular, always had been. She'd lived in the same neighborhood since she was 5 and had essentially the same groups of friends her whole life. I was a new kid, burying myself in library stacks. We had a few of the same friends and would run into each other at the mall, or movies, or just hanging out at various people's houses.
After about a month of seeing each other around, she invited me to her house for one of her famous weekend parties. Her parents went out of town frequently and she always had a lot of parties. But the weekend parties were laidback and limited to a smaller circle of friends. I couldn't believe she invited me and I panicked even as if I stuttered, "Sure, I'll be there."
I didn't know what to wear, what to pack for a weekend sleepover/party. I settled on a jeans and a tank top, hoping I didn't look like I was trying too hard. I threw gym shorts and a t-shirt into my backpack, figuring I would sleep in them but after getting dragged into the pool in my jeans, ended up wearing them most of the first night. I also had to go without a bra, since mine was soaked, which for me at 16 was an uncomfortable and petrifying thought. But somehow, the beautiful girl with her long tan legs and strawberry lipgloss made me feel... alive. Saturday, I would borrow an oversized frat t-shirt from the closet of her brother in college and a pair of his running shorts. Though I was nervous and awkward, she and her friends were the kind of people who wanted to have fun and wanted you to have fun with them. These weren't the people we went to school with, the snobby, silly girls who hated themselves more than they ever disliked those they picked on and the whole "in crowd" whom she called acquaintances; I'd made it to the inside, her real, childhood friends scattered across the Florida town, attending various schools: some private, some magnet, some sports-driven schools. It was a strange and surreal mixture of people and I had been added to the mix. I did not understand my place in it but I was too infatuated to ask questions.
Her best friend since childhood, a guy everyone called by his last name, was really into Blur and Oasis and all things British. He played the guitar and smoked a lot of pot. He went to a school known for its music program and the first time I met him he quizzed me on my favorite singers and books and then smiled. After I was shoved into the pool, he grinned and offered me a towel as I climbed out of the pool feeling awkward. He charmed me instantly. It was to his faint acoustic chords and quiet singing of Oasis' "Live Forever" that I experienced my first girl kiss.
Maybe I don't really want to know How your garden grows I just want to fly
We were in her parents' bedroom because her windows wouldn't open and we were smoking pot. My clothes weren't yet dry, neither was my hair and I smelled like chlorine. We could hear splashing in the pool and the familiar guitar.
"Girls love him, ya know? Well, everyone does," she said, passing the joint.
I nodded as I breathed in, hoping I would feel more brave. I could see the words in my mind, "I like you. I want to kiss you. I think you're amazing." But I didn't say anything.
"They don't know all the things I know about him, though. His secrets. We've been friends forever. Since we were kids."
"Secrets." I managed. Yeah, I knew all about secrets. Secrets were a language I understood, the way they moved inside you, filled you up and weighed you down, sometimes with excitement, fear, dread, despair. Secrets, I could get.
"Yeah. We tell each other everything. He's my confessor. Do you have someone like that?" she asked.
The air from the window was cool, or maybe it was the air conditioning. I shivered. "Not really," I said "Even where I lived before, I wasn't close to many people."
"Everyone needs a confessor," she explained. "I'll prove it to you. Tell me something. Tell me a secret, something you wouldn't normally tell someone. Something you've never said before out loud."
Words raced through my head. I could tell her now, I thought. I could tell her that I wonder what her skin feels like, how it would feel to kiss her. I could say it and it wouldn't matter because she asked me. "I..." I began, then stopped and took the joint from her hand, inhaled, letting the smoke feel me like the courage I wanted it to be. Before I could fully exhale; before I could blink. She leaned over, and kissed me. I was still holding the joint as her tongue slid against mine. It wasn't like kissing boys. Not at all. Her mouth was soft, wet. She lightly touched her tongue to mine and I responded. She pulled back and then kissed me again, deeper this time but not the kind of searching that boys did with their tongues. This was... something else entirely. And when she pulled away she had a look on her face, one I would see on the faces of other girls I kissed in college and beyond, a look I still can't quite decipher.
"I always wanted to know what it was like to kiss you," she said, "From the moment I saw you, pushing your hair behind your ears. I asked Dominique all about you. I don't know why; I've never done anything like it before. You just, you just got to me." She said this breathlessly as if she'd been holding the words inside her for three months. "That's my confession. What's yours?"
My heart raced. I was convinced I'd stopped breathing; my ears were ringing. I wanted to kiss her again, to put my skin to hers, to breathe her in and never let go of the feeling. I passed her the joint and tried to figure out how to answer her. We'd been sitting side by side and suddenly she was in front me leaning in, her face so close to mine I could feel her breath, unsteady, staccato. I touched her leg. "You got to me, too," I said. "I think you're amazing. You're beautiful and a really good kisser." I smiled, hoping I sounded collected, confident while inside my emotions had a life of their own. "So does he know, your confessor, that you like me?" I asked suddenly.
She nodded, looking afraid and shy.
"I wish I'd had someone to tell how I feel about you," I responded.
The joint was gone and I was thirsty but I had no intention of leaving the room until she did. The guitar had stopped and I wondered how long we'd been away from everyone.
"I wish I could stay in this room with you," she said, "forever. Just hide from all the bullshit of life, you know? Only do things that make me feel real, that make me feel like me. Don't you ever get tired of pretending to be something everyone wants you to be?" She said stuff like that all the time and I was never sure if I was supposed to answer or not. The guitar started back, this time with everyone singing, louder this time.
Maybe I don't really want to know How your garden grows I just want to fly Maybe I will never be All the things that I want to be But now is not the time to cry Now's the time to find out why I think you're the same as me We see things they'll never see You and I are gonna live forever We're gonna live forever Gonna live forever Live forever Forever
And fly I did with all the emotions my 16 year old heart contained. I thought I would always feel that alive, that engrossed and entangled with someone else. I'd seen the monsters, the ugliness of life and she gave me hope that there was something else, something I'd been missing. And Oasis was part of that feeling.