Music and Memories

A week after I graduated from USC, I was set to visit my then-girlfriend up in Santa Cruz. The first leg of this trip entailed a long train journey up the coast to San Jose. I went prepared for this lengthy trek with a new album from Christopher Tin, one of my favorite composers of all time whose music has always been near and dear to my heart.

Titled A Drop That Contained the Sea, my brief skimming through the album before the train ride had already resulted in the selection of two favorite tracks, “Iza Ngomso” and “Waloyo Yamoni”.

I listened to those tracks on repeat as the train made its way up the scenic California coastline. As I watched the emerald waves crash into the cliffs, the surfers on the rocks, and the perfectly blue sky, I thought about how a major phase of my life had finally ended yet a sense of wonder still lingered – a sense that I had left something unfulfilled, that there was more to be done. I thought that maybe things were about to change, in more ways than I could consciously fathom. To this day, I can’t listen to the calming yet visceral tribal vocals of “Iza Ngomso” and “Waloyo Yamoni” without being reminded of that train ride and seeing those waves crashing against the rocks in my head, thinking about my then relationship, and being filled with a certain sense of optimistic but wistful wonder.

Similarly, “Detach” from the Interstellar soundtrack is also loaded with feeling for me. Still on my come down from my new love for Interstellar, it’s what I listened to on repeat throughout February and March 2015 as I flew across the country to visit and interview at PhD programs. Every time it plays, I can almost feel the cabin lights dim and the rumble of the plane’s engines pick up – a connection I found fitting given the theme of the parent movie – as I settle in for the another plane ride to whatever university, filled with anxiety about what this next school would hold and whether it would be the place I’d spend the next five years of my life. The travel-induced dryness around my eyes and bodily hygiene iffiness almost return.

My departure from LA and arrival in Philly also brought with them a whole host of musical associations. Once I Iearned that I’d be leaving LA for sure, I hopped on the 720 bus that ran across Wilshire every weekend to go to the beach. This was also right around the time that singles for Nate Ruess’s upcoming album were making the rounds, and I’d make the bus ride out to the westside with “Nothing Without Love” on repeat, desperately trying to absorb what I could of the atmosphere and scenery as if I could take it and reconstruct it around me elsewhere. When I listen to the song these days, flashes of LA cross my eyes: Urban Lights, the El Rey, Beverly Hills, Westwood, the sand of the beach, the grooves of the Venice boardwalk. I can feel the crisp, slightly cool LA air on my skin, the pink of the dusk in my eyes, the days of wandering about town, often in a state of mild inebriation, trying not to fall in love with the girl walking past, going home to smoke a cigar on my balcony looking out at the skyline.

Then there are the songs I know I will forever associate with my first semester in Philadelphia. “Great Big Storm” by Nate Ruess really helped me hold my own in what then to me really did feel like a great big storm of trying to adjust to a completely different city and environment. I needed “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten, as stupid as it may sound, to prove I was alright to myself. I needed “Verge” by Owl City to remember that I was merely on the verge of the rest of my life. I needed “Lionhearted” by Porter Robinson to remind me to be the lionhearted, to finish what I started.

I initially went into this post wanting to tie all these above musical episodes into something about how music helps us feel and be ourselves – inspired from seeing Muse and getting new headphones – but actually, these anecdotes about my relationship with various songs I think can stand on their own. So I’ll save all that other stuff for a Part 2.

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