Ska-punk music erupts like fire around me from the speakers in my car. Loud and energetic, it burns through the remnants of negativity as I drive. I sing along with the lyrics, not having to concentrate on them because the words and their meanings have been etched on my heart for a while now. And when the song gathers speed and the bass line picks up and the horn section starts and the world melts away, it changes me.
It’s chemistry. The reaction taking place inside of me is all too real. When something combusts, it changes. A substance reacts with oxygen, the very molecule that enables life, releasing energy in the form of heat and light. The atoms of the reactant are rearranged and its properties become entirely different.
My internal explosion follows nature in the same manner, creating beauty as powerfully as a spark creating a roaring fire. My anxiety reacts with the music, which gives life meaning, and through a chemical reaction, positivity and emotional warmth are created. My internal state is rearranged and the way I perceive the world around me is markedly different.
Happiness spreads like electricity through my being. I feel wildly optimistic as I listen to and feel the music. The catchiest melodies are supported by the harmonies that give them context, and both support me as I fly. I am riding on the sound waves of my favorite guitar riffs, which are joined by the voices of the artists of the bands that saved so many lives.
Each song leaves me with a feeling of freedom that blazes the trail for what the next song will bring. It’s a refreshing liberation of pent-up emotion. It sends me through memories of the past when I had Forever The Sickest Kids’ Keep On Bringing Me Down on repeat as I trudged through the rain on my college campus. I’d skipped class to wander aimlessly and contemplate the very real possibility of withdrawing for the semester. Hearing it now makes me sad all over again, but simultaneously reminds me that I’m NOT sad anymore. The music also propels me into the future, as I envision dancing to the punk rock cover of Can You Feel The Love Tonight on my wedding night, the perfect Disney song to symbolically start my married life with Andrew.
“Stop, you’re stuck in it again,” goes the song Self Care by We Are The Union. “Stop, put a record on and get outside your head!”
I’m doing as the song tells me; my music is on shuffle and, although it’s ephemeral, I’m not overthinking. I am feeling, I am being, but I am not thinking. Not in the way my frazzled brain is accustomed to, at least.
Fall Back Down by Rancid ends. My favorite song by my boyfriend’s favorite band. It reminds me of our late night drives that lasted hours when we were alone on the planet, just us, trying to get lost (although that’s a near impossibility on Long Island). We never succeeded in losing our way, but by the time we got on Ocean Parkway to head home, I’d always come to realize that the lyrics in that song were true. “It takes disaster to learn a lesson,” the song explains. “We’re gonna make it through the darkest nights.” Andrew would be singing, exuberantly and loudly. “If I fall back down, you’re gonna help me back up again,” I’d sing to him, smiling, as the song ended.
I secretly hope the next song is Look What Happened by Less Than Jake because its lyrics about driving around and leaving the borders of town fit so perfectly with the memory I just re-lived. But in the moment of silence between ending and beginning, I know whichever song plays next will be perfect. Either way, I am excited at the mystery.
When Reel Big Fish, my absolute favorite band, starts with their hit Sell Out, it takes actual effort to not start dancing in my driver’s seat. The epitome of ska music, with its emphasis on the upbeat, the song transports me to any and every venue I’ve ever seen Reel Big Fish live. It is five years ago in New York City, it is two years ago in Huntington, it is last summer at Warped Tour. The song conjures up images of like-minded concert goers in similar attire: band t-shirts, checkered Vans, lots of black punctuated with vibrant, neon hair.
I’m still visiting those concerts of my past when, a few songs later, another Disney cover song begins. This time it’s I Just Can’t Wait To Be King from the Lion King, covered by Suburban Legends. I immediately recall the mosh pits I survived. The ones I emerged from bruised and sweaty and grinning ear-to-ear.
Teenage Anarchist by Against Me come on and I raise the volume a few notches. I am suddenly in the pool at my parents’ house, dancing and swimming and enjoying my summer. I feel as manic as I’d been at the time, but instead of feeling the scary, precarious sensation at full-force, I feel it at a distance. At this safe distance, I can look at the mood for what it truly is as opposed to the monster that rips me from my sanity and will soon throw me into freefalling depression.
Music is powerful. It is my past documented by my download history, my future predicted by iTunes’ suggestions. It is my emotions when they are allowed to be processed, the happy and sad and the everything-in-between. It is safety in familiar lyrics and notes sung a thousand times already. It is the energy I want right now. And later, as I fall asleep, it may very well be the quiet background noise necessary to lull me into sleep.
When I share music tastes with someone, I am sharing a piece of who I am. I’m sure whoever is reading this feels the same way. We’ve been shaped by what we listen to, and that’s honestly pretty fucking cool. It’s certainly cool enough for me to have come home and detailed all of this. I’ve lost track of what I wanted this essay to be, but I guess my main point is this: keep your earbuds in and your music on shuffle.