I swear, you can hear where a person’s from in the music she listens to. And not just geographically–also a sort of soul geography. (That cheesy enough for you?) Where he got hurt over and over again, or where she found a way to laugh (the laughing one is They Might Be Giants). You can see what records her parents played over and over until the needle skipped or how fast he drove with the sound in his shitty Olds all the way up to try to forget how much she pissed him off. And of course, actual geography as opposed to that metaphor a few words back: it’s totally there, too. Old folded roadmaps, depressing suburbs, dusty two-gas-station towns, the coasts, the big empty middle of the States.
For me, it’s the kudzu-choked Carolinas. Stinking hot and you can still get boiled peanuts from roadside stands there. Lucky bastards.
Today my husband found the mother lode…my old timey CD collection. I worked at a music store for several years, I listened voraciously and spent part of almost every paycheck on used CD’s. I made mix tapes, I begged, borrowed and stole music from friends. Music has always been my inspiration, more than reading or art or booze or whatever people do to find the Muse. It’s crazy. I look at these scratched-up pieces of plastic and I can remember the stuff I wrote. In grad school, or when I was walking the halls of Stratford High. Hell, when I was Mr. Erickson’s class dreaming about being a lady knight like Alanna (thank you, Tamora Pierce).
My tastes were all over the place. There was mostly 80’s synth but also so much metal and rock and Britpop and DooWop and dreamy, floaty pop and classic rock and some blues and jazz and pretty much anything in the western art music catalogue and yes, twang. A generic catch-all I use for slide guitars, finger-picking, arcing lazy vocals, artists who listened to a lot of Johnny and Hank Sr. but also Robert Johnson. Twang is my musical home, geographically. It’s where my childhood dreams still live.
I still think Sun Studios Elvis is the only Elvis needed. His glorious ripoff of Mystery Train proves that.
In addition to the classics, I discovered plenty of ‘newer’ artists that tapped into these southern and western roots. Son Volt, R.E.M., Wilco, even Mazzy Star. And oh good Lord, how I LOVE Grant Lee Buffalo to this day.
My old mixes are crammed with songs that tell stories or create moods that filled my mind with stories of my Own. Like this one from Son Volt. “Nightfall’s made up my mind…”
There were the swimmy, slidey, dreamy ones. Madder Rose’s sweet melancholy vocals as she sings about whiling it all away…Or this one. Still one of my favorite songs of all time.
“All and all the world is small enough for both of us to meet upon the Interstate, waiting on a train…”
And the holy grail of southern indie turned alt touchstone. R.E.M. from the not too far away from my home Athens, Georgia. Songs that rambled like long trains. Songs that were about the part of world I was from. I’ll never not love those early R.E.M. albums. Life’s Rich Pageant is one album that I must consistently listen to all the way through, never skipping a song.
These songs put me back home when I was in the cold midwest winters, struggling to make the days light again. They reminded me of biking to see my friend Angel, R.E.M.’s Green tape blasting on my ugly yellow Walkman. They bring back memories of riding in the truck with my father, bluegrass gospel or country crackling over the radio. Of what I played to deal with how much it hurt when Mom died.
I’ll end this little stream of TLDR non sequitur with probably my favorite R.E.M. song to this day…unfettered, galloping joy that still makes me feel the hope I felt when I was a middle school girl in Goose Creek writing in her journal out in the backyard in the shade, planning for a life of pure, unadulterated awesome.