There’s a thing on Facebook now — maybe it's been there forever but it just made its way to my particular Facebook planet — that asks you to list “ten albums that have meant something to you personally.” I was happy to see this request gaining popularity on Facebook, which I feel is at its best when dealing with people’s tastes, hobbies and interests as opposed to their politics, families, hopes and dreams. So I started reading my friends’ lists, and their friends’ lists, and their friend’s friend’s list. Yes, this particular Facebook rabbit hole beckoned and I dutifully put on my rabbit ears and shimmied in.
What I saw kind of astonished me. Well, "astonish" is the wrong word. In fact, I’m not really sure if there is a right word in English for what I felt. Maybe there’s a word in German that means “to see something and to feel that it is strange, but then to realize that it is actually not strange at all, and to be somewhat saddened by this realization.”
Anyway, most of these people whose “10 albums that have meant something to you personally” lists I looked at were in their 40s, and the albums that meant something to them personally had all come out mostly before they graduated from high school, and many, before they had even hit puberty. Also, they were kind of all the same. Here’s what was there, by and large: Dylan. (Old Bob Dylan, not “I’m Christian Now” Dylan.) Cat “I’m a Muslim now” Stevens. Fleetwood Mac. Zeppelin. Joni Mitchell. The Rolling Stones. R.E.M. A lot of Indigo Girls. The newest band that was mentioned, on a regular basis, was the Pixies. One person mentioned Blink 182 — which, considering the circumstances, was commendable. Oh God, there really needs to be a word in German for how dire a circumstance is when “Blink 182” and “commendable” appear in the same sentence.
It’s not that I don’t like these artists. (Well, I don’t like Joni Mitchell. I think she’s talented and probably important but she doesn’t interest me. And I don’t like Cat Stevens either, and, frankly, I don’t feel I even need to explain myself about that one.) I love Fleetwood Mac, a lot. I almost held a party when I found out Christine McVie was rejoining the band. And all these albums deserve to be important in people’s minds and hearts. But, seriously. Has anyone not found personally meaningful any music that came out after 1985? I found myself feeling angry at my contemporaries. They were lazy. They were culturally complacent. Why, it was as if they wanted to get old!
Of course now, I had to make my own list. I decided to do it without looking at my iTunes. I tried to just think of albums I had played over and over. Here’s what I came up with: "Rumours," Fleetwood Mac, 1977; "Meat Is Murder," The Smiths, 1986; "Doggystyle," Snoop Dogg, 1994; "The Globe Sessions," Sheryl Crow, 1998; "When the Pawn ...," Fiona Apple, 1999; "Bachelor No. 2," Aimee Mann, 2000; "Stories From the City, Stories from the Sea," PJ Harvey, 2001; "Limón y Sal," Julieta Venegas, 2006; "From Within," Nirinjan Kaur, 2013.
Is there a German word for suspecting you are better and more interesting than other people and then finding out that in fact, you are? Yes, there was a lot of stuff in the '90s. And yes, indeed, there was a heavy emphasis on white women. And yes, it is sad but true that I found "Doggystyle" personally meaningful. I am not sure how, indeed, I found it personally meaningful, but I played it every single day for a year, or longer — ergo, it must be. Somehow. Also, that Stevie Nicks solo album is CRAZY. And overproduced. And it will be pried out of my cold, dead hands, because she wrote it FOR ME.
Anyway, the thrill did not last long. I looked back at the thread I had followed, where I had been horrified that no one seemed to have connected to anything recorded after 1979. It started with a couple I knew who met and married after college and had children right away. And then, their friends who had commented on their posts were all married to their original spouses and had children of an age that suggested this sort of stability had gone on for a while.
So, it wasn’t that I was cool. It was that I had time to listen to music, and also, that I was out there meeting other people –– many of them men — who had expanded my musical tastes and, for various reasons, are no longer around. It wasn’t so much that I had kept up with music as I was an emotional nomad. Sure enough, I did some more looking around at Facebook, and everyone who had an album on there that meant something to them, and was any later than "Surfer Rosa," had a personal life which was, more or less, like mine, alternately great or in shambles.
A great man — OK, his name was Cat Stevens – once said, “Music satisfies and nourishes the hunger within ourselves for connection and harmony.” So it seems that when connection and harmony are already in your life, the same old melodies and tunes will suffice. But if they’re still somewhat beyond reach, you can’t help but look for music to work harder to fill in the void.