Sunday, July 29, 2012

Summer Creativity Challenge #4: Summer Songs

Song lyrics mix with illustrations
in my high school sketchbook
Music can be a powerful conjurer of memory.  Listening to a favorite song can evoke a place in time, the person who you were with, and reconnect you with past emotions.  Similar to scent, music is a key to unlocking memories and transporting ourselves through time and across emotions, which makes it a powerful creative tool.   
I grew up surrounded by music.  In the kitchen, my mom cooked to country music.  Keeping the boot-stomping-beat with her bare feet tapping against the tile, she listened (and often sang along to) Randy Travis and The Judds, names that I learned from the CD covers next to the stereo.  I would sometimes quietly say the vocalists’ names to myself, Wy-no-na, enjoying the exotic twang of the syllables.

At his picture framing store, my dad would listen to The Gator, the local Florida classic rock station.  He’d cut the mats to Van Morrison’s “Moondance” and clean the glass to Canned Heat’s “On the Road Again.”  The Beatles were also present, the double disc White Album frequently in the car.  My sister told me that the first song that she learned all the words to was The Beatles “When I’m 64” and would often suffer through my dad changing John Lennon’s lyrics to “Everyone has something to hide except me and my Mento®”—a roll of which would always be in the compartment between the seats.   

My musical taste solidified my sophomore year in high school when a long distant love interest sent me a tape of his playing guitar and singing The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Disarm.”  My crush only lasted the semester but my relationship with Billy Corrigan and alternative rock had only just begun.  Through the flannel-and-corduroy-filled halls of my high school and through my brother—who took our shared love of these new bands to the next level by teaching himself to play the guitar—I was familiar with the music of major bands such as Nirvana, Hole and Red Hot Chili Peppers.  I found my own niche though within the genre and played obsessively the albums of groups such as Veruca Salt and Belly.  The metaphorical lyrics seemed mysterious and poetic, and matched my yearning to leave Florida to go to college in Boston. 

Looking back, my senior year (1995/96) was filled with musical highlights in the release of albums such as the much anticipated Smashing Pumpkins’ double album, Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness and, (perhaps eagerly anticipated only to me) Belly’s King.  In tribute, I spent the rainy afternoons in Mrs. Fazenbaker’s Statistics class inscribing Smashing Pumpkins song lyrics on the rubber soles of my Converse in blue ballpoint pen. 

With my early acceptance letter arriving from Boston University in November, it was these albums that formed my personal soundtrack for my final time in Florida.  The poignant lyrics of “Tonight, Tonight” and “Shakedown 1979” captured that same yearning that came with looking forward to leaving.  Belly’s “The Bees” expressed the sadness and complexity I felt around my personal relationships in the light of the anticipated change.

In August, my family and I loaded up my Dad’s Chevy Tahoe, transferring the pile of plastic bins, bedding, towels, bathroom baskets, must-have-books, keep sakes, and a $29 file cabinet that I had insisted on buying to put my writing in, from the living room to the car.  As my dad and I set out on our drive up to Boston, I put Belly’s King in the car stereo where it took us on the first leg of our journey up 95. 

Around the Florida-Georgia border my dad put in Crosby,Stills and Nash CSN and their harmonies accompanied us most of the way to New England. A staple in my music collection, it wouldn’t be until years later that I would appreciate the way that CSN, an album that I view as “my dad’s music” and filled with songs such as “Carried Away” and “Just a Song Before I Go” that are more poignant now than on that summer drive, can take me back to that long trek up the east coast to begin a new phase of my life in Boston.

All of this is inspiration for the fourth Summer Creativity Challenge: Summer Songs.  What songs formed the soundtracks to your summers past?  When you listen to the songs, what memories come to you?  How did you discover the music or band?  What emotions does it evoke?  

With this as your touchpoint, write a short one page piece inspired by the music of a memorable summer.  It can be memoir or a fictional interpretation.  Or, if you are musically inclined, you could be inspired to write a song.  From creating a new playlist to digging out an old mix tape, record your impressions, inspirations, ideas, and memories in your sketchbook and share here on The Paper Compass. 


  1. I have been listening to Ben Folds and OK Computer to jump start my work lately. You're right that music is a strong trigger of memory... I listened to those during the two years when I was most prolific. After years of creative frustration it was listening to music that is really getting me back in the right mindset.

    1. I was experiencing something similar as I wrote this blog post and was thinking that I don't utilize music enough as a creative tool. So glad that you were able to tap back into your "flow"!