Music has always played a key role in my life. You could say my music catalog doubles as a time capsule to my past.
For me, “The 1975” by the 1975 is 8th-grade riding the bus to school, “Melodrama” by Lorde is junior year in French class, trying to get over my first break-up, “Manic” by Halsey is a reminder of the early pandemic and being freshly sent home from freshman year. Many of my memories are soundtracked to specific songs, and listening to them can conjure up vivid emotions and put me back into the moment I first experienced them.
Some of my strongest and hardest memories are tied up with my strongest and hardest emotion: grief.
My dad passed away when I was 16, leaving me with a catalog of favorite songs and a heart full of grief. He was the one who introduced me to “real” music by assigning me albums to listen to as my “homework.” Whenever he did this I felt so important, like I was being entrusted with a special gift or puzzle piece to life. I knew he would quiz me on what my favorite track was and what I thought of the instrumentation, so I was sure to take diligent notes. He wanted me to understand the deeper meaning of things, as if an album could unlock a secret of life.
These are some of my favorite songs that conjure up the best and strongest memories that remind me of my dad.
“Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money in My Hand” – Primitive Radio Gods
I was awestruck when I first heard this song. I was riding shotgun driving down I-65 home from rehearsal in the dark and felt like I was in a movie scene. We were quiet the whole time and it was magical. When I listen to this song today I still get chills; the haunting beauty of the song encapsulates a feeling I still can’t put into words. This is definitely a staple on my driving at night playlist.
“Interesting Drug” – Morrissey
We were driving (again) on I-65 home from rehearsal and the sun was setting. Dad, you were impressed that I knew the words to the song (I had done my homework). We both sang along and you explained the history of Margaret Thatcher in British politics (you always knew the most random facts about song meanings). Today when I hear this song I’m put back into the passenger seat and feel the freedom of sunset drives.
“Oh Yoko” – Barenaked Ladies’ cover
I was little and Mom was out of town (I think it was a cleaning day) when you played this song on the stereo. You sang the song to my sister and I, exaggerated and carefree, but it made us feel special and loved. I have always loved how relaxed and free the song feels, and even 15 years later it never fails to cheer me up by placing me back in the shoes of a little girl who just wants to dance around the kitchen with her dad.
“Whole Wide World” – Cage the Elephant’s cover
We were driving to meet the rest of the family at a Halloween festival. I remember we stopped at a gas station halfway there and this song was playing in the background. That was one of the last outings we did as a family, and one of my favorites. The song is bittersweet now but always drags me back to the crisp fall feeling of staying out late on a school night and being able to talk to you about anything.
Grief is weird and sadness is hard to manage. My greatest advice is to put on a playlist and focus on the music. Maybe a lyric will stand out and connect with you, or maybe you’ll find a favorite song. Music has helped me to unlock memories that I didn’t know I had. It’s clinically proven that music can help recall memories. Perhaps that’s the reason that my grieving process has been so attached to music, my brain wants to remember my dad through one of my favorite mediums: music.
Regardless, music can be both a tribute to life and the emotions you’ve experienced along the way. To me, music has been a powerful crutch to lean on to and an anthem of surviving through different emotions. My dad doesn’t feel as far away when I feel him in the music coming from my headphones. No matter how I’m feeling, I know I can always return to my favorite memories—after all they’re just a song away.
You can listen to the songs mentioned in this article “>here.