Everybody has songs that, to them, aren’t just songs. Those songs that are intertwined with memories — past experiences of friend hangouts, dates, and spontaneous adventures. Those songs that, upon hearing the opening notes, cause a sudden rush, instantly transporting you back in time.
When I hear “The Cave” by Mumford and Sons I’m back in 2011, in the passenger seat of an ugly golden Ford Taurus on Hook Road, driving back from a high school production of “The Wizard of Oz.” When I listen to Lana Del Rey’s “Off to the Races,” I’m in another car — this time with three of my best friends on our way to Town Center Plaza for a night of gelato, Barnes and Noble, and “Warm Bodies.” When “I Love The Rain” by The Real Tuesday Weld is playing, I think of running around a parking lot at J.C. Penny’s with my friend, looking for our lost car in the middle of a huge rainstorm.
But “To Build a Home” by The Cinematic Orchestra is the one that I hold most fondly in my heart.
Spring 2012. A time of friends — of stargazing, “The Bachelor” (Ben, who unfortunately looked like Francine from “Arthur”), homemade cheesecake, endless movie nights of “X-Men,” buying season passes for Worlds of Fun, finding a sketchy Crime Scene Cleaners truck at a nature reserve, smashing pumpkins, eating hot dogs. It was here when my dear friend Ella showed us “To Build a Home,” her favorite stargazing song, which became my personal soundtrack of the season.
I’m often the victim of nostalgia. I spend way too much time looking back instead of forward. The future is scary and unknown. The past I know, I love, and I frequently miss.
Early 2012 was the time I was settling into being completely comfortable with my new group of friends. About a year prior, I had lost all of the friends I had been with every day since grade school. Forgetting them and starting over from scratch was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I couldn’t be happier that it happened. If I hadn’t broken ties with my previous friends, I would never have met Ella, Laura, Emily, Aubry, Nathaniel, Aaron, Kristin, Nathan, Schaafster, Mark, Zak…
Maybe I’m being particularly nostalgic because I listened to “To Build A Home” earlier today. Or maybe it’s because a lot of these events happened over spring break, almost exactly two years ago, when Ella and I were juniors and everyone else was a senior.
This was before most of the group (which later went on to be dubbed “The Avengers”) graduated and, after spending one glorious summer together, each went to different colleges. They went to Creighton, Westminster, Missouri S&T, Nebraska, Notre Dame, and Pitt State while Ella and I were left behind in Lee’s Summit. Now all of us have different spring breaks — some are home now, some will be home next week, some (like myself) won’t be home for another two weeks. We’ll always have the summers, but spending spring break together will never happen again.
But that’s what’s so great about those songs aren’t just songs. You can relive all of the times tied into a song or an album or a band simply by turning on Spotify or searching YouTube.
Every time I listen to the opening piano chords, I’m reminded of those months before my friends left for college. I look forward to the next stargaze, the next movie night, the next adventure.
One of the good things about going to school two hours away from my hometown is the ability to go home as often as I want. To be able to get away for a weekend and escape the problems at school which threaten to overwhelm me- classes, boys being stupid assholes, that annoying kid on my floor- is something I will never take for granted. Knowing that home is just a couple of hours down the highway waiting for me is comforting. Home is where the heart is, where the dog is, where the DVD collection is. Sometimes I just need to go home.
But sometimes I just need the drive. Two hours of being alone in my car, being lost in thought, listening to my favorite songs and belting them off-key at the top of my lungs.
There are those songs you dub Driving Songs, the must-haves on your highway playlist. Songs you lose your voice singing along with as you weave through traffic, making awkward eye contact with the other drivers who are having visibly worse days than you as you rock out to AWOLNATION or Katy Perry in your car. And as you sing along, drum on your steering wheel, and dance as best as you can without crashing, a sense of freedom washes over you.
I didn’t get my license until I was 17. I had terrible anxiety every time I would get behind the wheel. I always thought someone would hit me, or I would hit someone, or I’d get lost, or my car would break down on the side of a busy interstate, etc. I hated driving. And I still do. I still suffer from those anxieties most of the time I sit behind the wheel of my Sebring, but there’s something different about being out on the highway for hours with surprisingly few cars surrounding you. There’s something therapeutic about the solace that comes with being alone on the road.
Today, driving and listening to Lady Gaga’s “ARTPOP” album, I found myself thinking about the problems that I’ve been obsessing over these last couple of weeks. After replaying everything again and again in my head, I realized: I am happy. I’ve been obsessing over a minuscule issue, a minor setback in the grand scheme of life. The things I’ve been freaking out about all semester will all be completely irrelevant in a matter of weeks. And with this revelation, I’m moving forward into the future, not looking back. What’s done is done. Time to look ahead and drive on.