I once had an older co-worker tell me that the person you are at 28 is pretty much the person you’re going to be for the rest of your life. Your likes and dislikes will stay constant from that point forward.
Why? My 20 year old self asked.
Because, he answered, your taste in music is no longer changing, so neither really are you.
At the time, I thought he was crazy. What does that even mean? And what does music have to do with personal evolution?
Everything. It has everything to do with who you are. And I know this now, because I am turning 28 in less than a month.
My taste has certainly changed over the last two decades. Different artists and genres made their ways in and out of my life like crushes and best friend bracelets. But just as a cheap token can leave a vivid green mark on my wrist, so can a specific album be forever imprinted on my past.
They say that scent is the strongest sense tied to memory, which, I don’t think anyone can argue. But sound is a serious close second for me — specifically song. When I hear an old familiar tune, I not only recall the melody and lyrics, but also the age I was when I heard it, where I was when listening to it, and how I was feeling as the sound permeated my eardrums.
Bubble Gum Pop and Jimmy Buffet were staples in the Nosuchinsky household. “Goody Goody Gum Drop” and “Fins” while quite different in style and message both leave me feeling happy and carefree — an honest reflection of my childhood.
Then, moving into the middle school days, self-conscious back-brace wearing Joanne found some solace in Sheryl Crow’s “C’mon C’mon” album, along with a Lenny Kravitz’s Greatest Hits album. I’ve always been a sucker for really good poignant lyrics, although 12 year old me could not fully appreciate the lyrical nuances of “Black Velveteen”
High School was a time of heightened emotions — first loves, heartbreaks, and long short-bus rides to my performing arts high school. John Mayer’s “Room for Squares” album is still one of my favorites to this day. I’ve listened to it so many times, I’ve started specifically listening to the base line in each song because there is always more love to be discovered there. Gavin Degraw’s “Chariot Stripped” album introduced me to my love for acoustics, while offering a plethora of lyrics for cryptic AIM away statuses.
And then DASHBOARD CONFESSIONAL. “Screaming Infidelities” and “Vindicated” were always belted out over the dashboard (hate myself) of the car my friends and I were cruising around in on our way to Surf Taco. At the time, that break-up or unrequited crush felt like the end of the world, and Dashboard just GOT that. It’s especially nice hearing those songs now when you realize you don’t even remember that cute skateboarder’s name anymore.
In college, I was even more emotional (thanks theatre classes), with a peaked interest in weird/over-seas songstresses. Regina Spektor, Charlotte Martin, and Kate Nash filled my pre-performance playlists to allow for relaxation followed by an emotional breakdown. They also played on repeat when my long-term boyfriend broke up with me —which is probably why I don’t listen to them much anymore.
And upon my move to New York City, I memorized every word to Mr. New York’s album, shutting out the world on my walks through midtown. Billy Joel helped even the scariest chapter of my life seem noble somehow.
And now, as my seriously late 20’s approach, I find I’m not listening to music in the same way anymore. It’s not about sorting out my feelings, but rather, conjuring one. Whether it’s old school Destiny’s Child pushing me to run farther on the treadmill, or The Beach Boys reminding me to chill, I know the kinds of music that I like. It’s the stuff I know, or rather, the stuff that knows me.
It’s the same reason why we go back to old lovers, or visit old stomping grounds. It’s not so much the song we love as much as the person we were when we heard it. The song is the same, and for a second, when we hear it, so are we.