My Sober Life, Chapter 21

In which music continuously saves me from myself

Music is the shorthand of emotion. ~ Leo Tolstoy

The first time I remember feeling music in my body, I was five years old. These two songs specifically:

It was like I had discovered new muscles. In the autumn of 1984, I was in preschool, and my teenage sister would blast her stereo while she got ready for the day. I didn’t go to school until the afternoon, so many mornings, her music became my soundtrack. The melodies lured me from my dreams into consciousness. How can this be? I can I feel the music within me.

Music’s role in my life, like many other people, has been profound. Necessary, even. I cannot fathom my life without it. I listened to it. I played it (piano). I sang it (choir and also shower and couch and car and wherever else). Music is the language of the soul, of the universe. Music is life.

When I listen to The Boys of Summer now, I feel that familiar awakening within my chest. Literal heartstrings plucked and played, vibrating with such intense, palpable energy. This feeling has continued over the years, and while there are definitely life-defining albums, there are songs that, for lack of a better cliché, hooked their claws in me and would not let go.

When I get hooked on a song, buckle up. We are going to listen to it on repeat. Not just a few times. Not just for a day. For as long as I need to hear it. (Ask my husband about our first date and how many times he had to listen to Maroon 5, This Love [STILL a favorite. I have yet to get sick of it.]) I honestly cannot listen to anything else. I have to listen to it. It’s not a choice. It is a matter of survival. It is air. One of my best friends made me a mix tape when we left for college, and she literally recorded Video Killed the Radio Star by The Buggles back-to-back-to-back on one side of the cassette so I wouldn’t have to rewind. That’s friendship, folks.

I also turned to lyrics to express myself. While I did write in a journal, I didn’t fancy myself a writer, so I would use lyrics to describe my feelings. I had pages and pages of notebooks full of lyrics. When my high school boyfriend and I were forcibly broken up (long story…), we sent each other letters of lyrics. When I was heartbroken, happy, confused, frustrated, excited, there always seemed to be a song that fit. When it came to music, I was insatiable. I was indiscriminate (mostly…I don’t care for country all that much, but there are songs I like!). Feed. My. Soul.

Music’s function in my life has evolved over the years, but its role as a key component has never wavered. I can’t even entertain the thought of living without it. It’s in my blood and bones. It’s a part of who I am, of who I want to be.

It’s another cliché to say music saved my life. But it did. It does. 

I threw some of my must-haves down below. Tell me your favorite songs in the comments!


R.E.M. – my favorite band – all albums amazing – Endgame is probably my all-time favorite song; when they played Nightswimming at Red Rocks ten years ago, I cried.

Annie Lennox – Diva – Walking on Broken Glass; Cold; Stay By Me

Stone Temple Pilots – Core – entire album but specifically Creep; Wet My Bed

John Denver – Sunshine on My Shoulders; Annie’s Song; Rocky Mountain High; Take Me Home (Country Road). This is standard Colorado-native starter kit. Must have.

Pearl Jam – Ten – entire album but specifically Once. When showering, I played it on repeat (on a cassette, reaching my wet hand out to rewind it) and sang at the absolute top of my lungs.

Roxette – It Must Have Been Love

LL Cool J – Loungin’ – still. so. good.

Simon & Garfunkel – Greatest Hits – required.

Paul Simon – Graceland – required. I cried over and over and over when I saw him perform this year. Bucket list  – check.

DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince – Summertime. RE. QUIRE. ERRRD.

Enya – Shepherd Moons – entire album. Carribbean Blue is the first song I ever got up the gumption to call in and request on the radio. I’ll never forget the anticipation waiting for it to come on and pure elation as it flowed out of the speakers. Notable songs:  Afer Ventus: There is so much happening simultaneously, you have to just stop and close your eyes to experience all of it. Shepherd Moons: hauntingly beautiful.

George Winston – albums: December and Ballads and Blues 1972

Mariah Carey – Dreamlover; Fantasy; Anytime You Need a Friend; Honey; Without You; Always Be My Baby

Dave Matthews Band – several albums, several songs – Spoon remains the heart-stopper it has always been. I turn into Tim Whatley when Desperado comes on. Just, shhhhhh.

Indigo Girls – albums: Indigo Girls; Rites of Passage; Swamp Ophelia. These women taught me how to harmonize. I listen to their beautifully hand-crafted measures almost every day.

Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch – Good Vibrations. I dare you not to dance to this when it comes on.

Tommy Tutone – 867-5309 – peak 80s. I love the 80s.

Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP and The Eminem Show. I had never heard anyone rap like him. Master lyricist, even if he scared me a little.

Billy Joel – Moving Out; Only the Good Die Young; Uptown Girl. That last one was a favorite of my mom’s. She was always surprising me.

Radiohead – OK Computer – entire album, but Karma Police still evokes a depth of sadness and compassion words will never describe. This is my go-to album when I am sad and need to cry.

Nirvana – Nevermind – entire album – completely stands the test of time

Eiffel 65 – Too Much of Heaven. While better known for their huge hit Blue, this song had an addictive synth keyboard riff of which I could not get enough. Still can’t.

Beastie Boys – all albums – required. I was first exposed to them while watching Beavis and Butthead. So Whatcha Want. Mind expanding.

Joan Osborne – Ladder – this song. the angst. the hurt. the build. love.

Calvin Harris feat. Pharrell, Katy Perry, & Big Sean – Feels. This only came out last summer, but it had been a long while since new music lit me up like the days of yore. 
Dr. Dre & Eminem – Forgot About Dre – I will crush this if we ever go to karaoke together.

…I could go on forever……..♥♫

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