I think I can catalog all my life experiences in music. And music has kept me sane. Certain songs evoke certain memories. There are songs that got me through life’s best and worst moments, and I don’t know if this is the same for everyone. But it is for me. And music and books helped me get through the troublesome teen years and the even worse 20’s. There’s something deeply spiritual about music and what it does for the world. That’s why we sing when we are happy, and we sing when we are sad. That’s why we have wedding songs, protest songs and funeral dirges. Music enhances life. Like soundtracks in movies-music is always playing in the background even when we don’t hear it. And we don’t always hear music. Sometimes we feel the music. There are people that are music in our lives. And music subtends all classes, cultures, races, sexes. I believe that music is what makes us all the same, makes us all one. Music unifies. Music heals. And I love music.
I’m going to try and trace back as many memories as I can using music…do note that this is not an exhaustive reflection. I have put down what came to mind immediately.
4-5 Years Old:
Paul Young-Every time you go away
I must have been all of 5 years old when this song found its way into my life. My dad had just returned from the UK where he had been studying and came with a hoard of cassette tapes that he would play over and over again. I still think that this song is a beautiful and timeless classic that I still enjoy to this day. I watched the music video for the first time last year on YouTube.
5-6 Years Old:
Mbilia Bel-Bibanke and many other songs whose names I still don’t know.
There was an Afro-Music show on TV called Urtna, and that’s where I saw Mbilia Bel for the first time and thought she was the most beautiful woman alive. I would stare at her with her shiny red lipstick and intricate kitenge and swear that she’s not human. I still thoroughly enjoy her music, and she is an icon of Rhumba music that every African child should know about. I have her music on my MP3 player now-but unfortunately no track names, so I don’t know which song is which. But I listen to them all.
Michel Jackson-Beat it
Who does not love this song? And the dance. I kid you not I had it nailed at that age. Well, for a 6 year old anyway. I had moves no child that age should. Or at least I thought so. It was such a bad ass kickass song, and I loved it. I still do. And I have accepted that while I can dance, I do not have moves like Jagger.
6-7 Years Old:
Yvonne Chaka Chaka: Every song she had sung at this stage
I wanted to be Yvonne Chaka Chaka. She was beautiful (she still is, she’s not dead), spunky, and so in- your- face, I loved it. I could especially relate to her song Freedom, not because I was in jail. In the video she plays a maid that stands up to her boss and tells him where to put the feather duster. I could relate to this song because I hated chores and in my head I wanted to do the same to my mother when she told me to wipe the floor. Of course I couldn’t tell my mother that. But I sang the Freedom song while mopping the floor which felt like a minor victory.
George Michael-Faith (The Album) and WHAM!-Careless Whispers and Wake Me Up
George Michel’s Faith album was the first CD I ever saw or held. Then I found out that the sleeves had the lyrics! Oh joy! I would put the CD into the player and play the album from top to tail maybe three times a day when my bully big brother was outside torturing insects. I didn’t recognize him as the guy from Wham! Which was a band that I just loved to bits. Wake Me Up (Before you Go Go) was a song that I liked but was quickly ruined by the family. Even at the ripe age of 7 I was still a bed wetter (sigh), so my mother and brother would sing that song as an (impolite) reminder for me to try and get to the toilet before I ruin the sheets. Anyway-it peaked my interest in WHAM! and wham, bam thank you Sam, I decided that I was madly in love with George Michel after seeing him in the Careless Whispers music video. Turns out he’s gay-and much older than me. Oh well-thank you all the same George, you helped me wake up before I go go.
7-8 Years Old:
Phil Collins-Another day in paradise
I hated this song because it always made me cry. I would listen to the words and wonder why life is so unfair to the lady in the street-and why she is being ignored by the man crossing it. I would literally cry tears when it came on the radio. The song still makes me a bit sad-but now I don’t cry anymore. I have a deeper understanding of social inequality and just how unfair life can sometimes be. Plus I now know that my crying will not change a damn thing.
9-10 years Old:
Sting-If I ever lose my faith in you
There was a show that came on TV every Saturday I think, called Power Hits USA. I loved this song. I didn’t understand it. I didn’t understand the video either and the video scared me with people on stilts walking across the desert. But it’s a son I could still listen to everyday if I had to.
Michael Jackson-Say you’l be there
I watched his live Say you’l be there music video completely dumbfounded. There was an angel, and a little child signing the words to his song. There was a choir. There were a million people screaming and tearing their faces off. Who was this person?!? I loved him and his music so much at that time. And I always cried when I listened to that song. Always.
10-11 Years Old:
Joan Osborne-What if god was one of us
I knew every word to this song, but I would only allow myself to sing it in my head. Having had an oppressively and deeply indoctrinating educations, I thought that the song was quite blasphemous. I thought it was an insult to god to make him one of us sinner humans on a bus. I no longer think so, and I now think that god is all of us without exception or exclusion. It was her music video that for the longest time had me wanting to pierce my nose. I never did in the end. Funny the things we want when we are young.
12-13 Years Old:
Inner Circle-A la la la la long
Everyone I knew loved this song and sang it everywhere. I did too. By this time I had quite the ear for lyrics, and I could know off by heart the words to an entire song after listening to it three or so times. I must have been 21 when I listened to the song again and finally understood what he was singing about. Today, it disturbs me a little, the words ‘Girl I’m gonna make you sweat, sweat ‘till you can’t sweat no more-and if you cry out, I’m gonna push it, push it some more.’ As a feminist and in the interest of pleasurable and consensual sex, shouldn’t he stop if she cries out? Just to make sure that she is having as much fun as he is?
13-14 Years Old:
Mystic Revealers: Religion
At around this time, every Wednesday was reggae music day on a show called Rastrat. Now this song made my heart soar. The video had a Jamaican church choir with these gorgeous women in lovely robes singing the chorus. They looked so happy I wanted to be them. I knew parts of the song, the rest of the parts were in pattwah that I couldn’t discern well. I found the song on YouTube recently-and I can now understand all the words and I still love the song, and the church choir.
15-18 Years old
Chakademus and Pliers, Big Mountain, PM Dawn, 3T,Kriss Kross, Warren G, Snoop Dogg, Tupac, Snow, Boys II Men, Tevin Campbell, Da Brat, Queen Latifah, Salt N’ Pepper, Jade, SWV, Xcape, Brownstone, En Vogue
Too many to list. This was the beginning of my interest in ragamuffin music, rap, hip-hop and rhythm and blues. I hated R & B songs, because they were all slow and mushy and spoke about girls and boys doing things together. Gross. Well, not anymore! I wanted to marry Tevin Campbell and have six little Campbellings with him. But I also wanted to marry one of the 3T guys (everyone had their favourite T of the 3Ts, and girls frequently fought over who liked who more at school. This is the music that made sex less gross and more interesting. I was a terribly late bloomer and quite naive too. So music helped me understand better what the deal was with the birds and the bees.
Tha-tha-tha-that’s all folks. For now anyway. Like ABBA sang-thank you for the music.