In a recent and short-lived venture into the world of dating apps I found myself repeatedly asking the same question I typically ask when I’m trying to get to know a person, “what sort of music do you listen to?”. It’s almost like an initiation process. You can make conversation by asking how many siblings they have or does pineapple go on pizza, but for me the curiosity lies within what their music library consists of. The common response was simply “a little bit of everything.” It’s hypocritical to say this on account of the fact that I truly do listen to almost everything, but it bothered me when someone reciprocated the answer. It made it feel as though the records we play on repeat hold no emotional value. A song that makes the hair on your arms stand up is lumped into the same category as the song that you can kind of stand to listen to on the radio.
At one point I was asked what five albums I would bring with me if I was stranded on an island. It was a creative approach to such a monotonous question but once again, I was stumped. I chose my five and changed my mind almost immediately, then gave away a few honorary mentions. And then I had the nervous feeling that if I said something wrong, like the fact that I shamelessly know every Taylor Swift lyric ever written or that my least favorite song is Bohemian Rhapsody, would I seem like a less rounded person? Would I be judged the way I judge people who idolize Post Malone? Could I redeem myself with my infinite collection of Fleetwood Mac and Grateful Dead records? In fact, maybe musical taste is not a way to get to know someone at all. Good music is good music and we feel the words of Johnny Cash the same way we do Kendrick Lamar. The sounds that don’t define who we are as people, but rather the life we’ve lived. The intangible soundtrack to all the moments that will one day become our favorite stories.
So for anyone whose ever asked me this answerless question, here’s my response: My favorite artist is Sufjan Stevens when I’m driving down the coast and my windows are rolled down and the sun is setting. I’ve had a long week and I need to get away to be alone for a little. I find all my peace in this moment. My favorite song is Dancing in the Dark by Bruce Springsteen on sunday when I’m cleaning my apartment in an oversized T-Shirt and crew socks, getting nothing done because I can’t stop dancing. My favorite record is Melophobia by Cage the Elephant in the summer, with my best friend, running around town going nowhere and loving every minute of it. It’s Sam Cooke’s’ “You Send Me” playing in the background at work and I’m singing a long to whoever will listen. Walking into a bar and being greeted with the sound of Huey Lewis singing “The Heart of Rock and Roll” into the speakers. Concerts in the park in the summertime, dancing in the grass to the sound of a 1960’s cover band. Beyoncé’s “Love on Top” in my best friends bedroom doing each others makeup before the homecoming dance. Going to a Glass Animals concert, the venue is hot and the night is sticky sweet. Sticking way too much money in the jukebox to listen to “Hey Ya!” loud enough that the whole street can hear. Playing “Landslide” and”Rhiannon” on the way to San Francisco, Florence and the Machine on repeat for the ride home. It’s even the songs I don’t know. The music that trails along in the background when you’re grabbing a beer with a friend and the live band forces you to speak a little louder, then forces you to shut up when they start playing a song you love and you can’t help but dance either.
The thing with music and the kind we love is that it’s better than any keepsake or written letter. It so easily takes us back to a person or a time and the vivid memory makes it feel like yesterday. From now on my answer will be that my favorite music is the music of life and the sounds that play a long with it.