When I was a kid, and I was a weird kid, we were assigned a writing challenge when I was in 4th or 5th grade. We were assigned lots of writing assignments, they always had lots of rules, I always broke them all and then wondered why notes were sent home to my parents, wondered why my parent/teacher conferences seemed to take much, much longer than my friends, but I always looked forward to the writing. This one particular challenge stood out in my memory, clearly as I still recall it now 3 decades later. The question asked was this: If you had one frivolous wish, one silly little wish to be granted that wouldn’t save the planet or any other morally sound decisions, what would it be?
I would wager a guess that everyone said “to be able to fly,” and while I agree, that’d be amazing and worth a wish, I still remember my answer, and I still stand by it. I said I’d wish for a soundtrack to my life, actual and audible, that was exactly like soundtracks in films. I wanted it to come from everywhere and nowhere, just like in the movies, no need for headphones or someone following you around with an old-school boombox. I wanted it to be at times orchestral and swelling, when moments demanded it, other times I wanted it to be a perfect pop song at the perfect time. When sad, I wanted some haunted cello, when I was doing something adventurous, you’re damn right I wanted some John Williams score like Indiana Jones playing behind all I was doing. How beautiful life would be, I thought, if all we did was soundtracked all around us, if we had perfect musical pieces to accompany an imperfect wander through life. What a wish.
At any rate, thinking back on this, it got me really thinking deeply about how much music means in my life, and in all our lives. I started thinking about how much music I actually do listen to, constantly, literally constantly, throughout the course of a day. I listen to it while writing, while reading, while exercising, while cooking, cleaning, or falling asleep. I listen to it on airplanes and on car rides, when elated, and absolutely when devastated. One of my most visceral and intense memories, happened to come on a birthday where I really was feeling a weight of sadness, and loneliness. I remember sitting on the top of a little mountain by my house late into the night on my birthday, looking out over the city lights all by myself, and listening to a recording of “Von” by Sigur Ròs and crying. I don’t know exactly why I was, I don’t know where the tears came from, but in my headphones that night, that little piece of music completely understood. It ‘got’ me and it filled in every single space of emptiness.
We use music to soundtrack our lives, and while it’s not quite the wish I would wish for, some sourceless score that comes from everywhere and nowhere, headphones, stereos, and car radios will have to do for now. We’re surrounded by music, and the enrichment it provides to the moments we live is immeasurable. As I get older, I find myself gravitating so much more towards music that feels like that song that soothed me on my birthday, I find myself opting for emotional instrumental music, haunting bits of melody that make my life feel more cinematic. I have a playlist on Spotify called “Sleepy Toots” (don’t ask)
and another called “To Write To Write”
that I play more often than not, and while some may call it boring, to me it’s just the most soothing and comforting thing I can think of. Perhaps it’s in response to my Autism, but it quiets everything else, and makes me feel understood, less alone, and calm.
I’ve also, as the photo that accompanies this Signal Fire can testify to, been lucky enough to call one of my most favorite musicians of all time, family. Gregory Alan Isakov is a brother, and his music has quite literally been the soundtrack to some of the happiest memories of my life. He played the first dance song for Sarah and I’d wedding, with only 20 people in the room, far away from the things of humans in a tiny little pub in the Isle of Skye, he played at Red Rocks and I got to photograph him doing the thing he loves the most from the stage as so many fans applauded him. Those musical memories will never leave me, and I hear them so often in my own mind as I think of him, as I think of that rainy day in Scotland, that sweltering day in the Colorado summer heat. Music, to put it simply, stays, when so little else does.
Another band that has been absolutely, completely, invaluably, VITAL to my life is, and always has been Frightened Rabbit. The way the late Scott Hutchison sang about his aches, his mental health struggles, his panic, his depression, made me feel so much less alone, made me feel so much better, made me feel like someone, somewhere, truly understood. His death rocks me still, and the fact that he sang about how he would take his own life well before actually doing so will be something that haunts me for years to come. I will listen more to what people are saying, but more, I will listen to what they are not saying, hiding inside all they create. Truth lives there, and while it might be a harrowing journey to uncovering it, we owe it to everyone to do just that.
Whatever the music that soundtracks your life, or would if you could rub that genie lamp and spend a frivolous wish, I hope you have it, and if you do, I am glad you do. The music may belong to the artist that created it, the record label that sold it, the copyright that holds it, but the memories are yours, and no one can take them. All those wordless visions that rise in you, filling you with melancholy or joy, nostalgia or ache, they are the soundtrack to the life you’re living, and they always will be. Make them good.
For those of you that do feel the same way I do about music, please, in the comments below let us know your favorite artists, playlists, songs, albums. What music should WE add to our lives? I cannot wait to hear.
The wordless visions
that only music creates,
the subtle soundtrack.