Everyone has heard the saying, “pictures are worth a thousand words.” If this is true, then music must be worth millions of them. Music has a way of capturing who we are as individuals during a very specific time in our lives, the way photographs used to before the dawn of smartphones and Snapchat made blurry selfies worth a dime a dozen. Since music changes so often, as new hits come and go, music represents the mood of who we were in our minds, which always seem to be incomprehensible creatures, especially during puberty.
Music doesn’t just connect us to our own past, either. It helps bridge the gap between ourselves and those around us: our siblings, our friends, our parents, and even our enemies. Music is individual, but it is universal, too. It is a language that anyone can speak and it is the key to not only remembering the past but learning from it and understanding it. It may even be the key to our future, during a time in which communication has become a great issue. It’s time to face the music: no longer can pictures define a moment in history when millions of them dull our senses to the fantastic or the terrible.
Pictures may be worth a thousand words, but those words are admittedly silent. In time, dusty photo albums will give way to dusty record collections, passed down from generation to generation, telling us all we need to know about those who care before. The music scrapbook, transcending time while preserving the past, will come to give a voice to those silent photographs.
My most vivid memories of my father are not from one of our family vacations, during which we posed in front of some monument, grinned, and squinted into the afternoon sun as my mom snapped a picture. “Just one more,” she’d say. “This one’s for the Christmas card.” Nor are my most vivid memories from some heart-to-heart conversation we had on my 18th birthday, when he sat me down and told me how proud he was of me. He’s not the emotional type. I never got to learn about my father from his own distant family, while pictures of my father as a child were as scarce as the money left over at the end of the month. Yet, I know all I need to know about my father through music – the same music that he would play every morning when he drove me to school, every time he would pick me up from a friend’s house, and during every summer road trip.
His favorites – the Cars, America, Elton John – accumulated into a musical scrapbook, one in which I can see my father’s life through the lyrics and melodies of his favorite songs. I can see him at a school dance listening to Journey, studying for a test while Hall and Oates’ record was on in the background. He would surely drive his Ford Pinto, blasting the “Take it Easy” while he sped down the interstate to Florida that one Spring Break. And he didn’t keep it all for himself; he gifted me those memories by influencing my own music taste, and through that, even my world views.
Though a product of the late ‘90s, my music collection is uncommonly comprised of artists like Fleetwood Mac, Billy Joel, and The Eagles. These artists were selling out arenas years before I was born, yet perhaps due to my parents, their music resonated with me during all stages of my childhood. As parents introduce you to everything as a child, their views and beliefs were the foundation of my upbringing and whether consciously or not, were transmitted to me through the music to which I was exposed. As I grew up and learned about the world, Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” intrigued me and when I would ask my parents about the strange events he described, it inspired a genuine conversation that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I was able to learn about their perspectives on the world and forge my own views in a safe environment. Music didn’t only bring my parents and me to terms, though.
I have no photographic proof that any of these events occurred, nor do I remember what I was wearing, or even who all was there. But, the feeling is still there, which is the closest thing any of us have to reliving the real thing.
When Taylor Swift crossed over to pop, I expressed my dislike for her during my freshman year of high school and found common ground with a girl who felt the same. We forged a years-long friendship on that dislike that never would’ve happened otherwise. Oddly enough, my senior year homecoming dance culminated with a Rihanna karaoke session that found me belting out (terribly) her greatest hits circa the early 2000s and remains the highlight of an evening I’ve otherwise forgotten. I have no photographic proof that any of these events occurred, nor do I remember what I was wearing, or even who all was there. But, the feeling is still there, which is the closest thing any of us have to reliving the real thing.
Without realizing it, I have begun to create my own scrapbook, one that I will undoubtedly share with my kids one day. My unique mix of tunes – a combination of my parents’ favorites with the innocent bubblegum pop that inspired my preteen years and the experimental, moody tracks of my teens – manifests itself into an outline of my life. In the age of iTunes and Spotify, it’s as easy to forget a song as it is to delete it from your playlist when you’ve tired of it.
Gone are the days when music required an investment; you had to commit to buying the tangible album or record, not knowing if it’d truly be worth your allowance you had saved. I still have my collection of the High School Musical soundtracks, tucked away next to Hilary Duff’s musical debut and 2003’s Grammy Nominations. Even though I don’t pop them in the ‘ol CD player (does mine even work anymore?), I can’t part with them because they remind me of a lifetime that seems so far behind me, even though it was little more than a decade ago.
I know that one day I will have to explain CDs and videotapes to my kids the same way my parents had to explain records and floppy disks. And when my future daughter obsesses over the newest boyband, I will be sure to tell her about my love affair with One Direction and her grandmother’s giddiness over the Backstreet Boys before that. She’ll want to rock my concert tees as vintage relics just like I commandeered my mother’s. She’ll cite Katy Perry when she inevitably pleads to dye her hair pink because she knows that at one point I was young too and probably wanted to do the same. I hope that when she comes across music that shaped the world she’ll ask questions like I once did and I hope that the National Anthem still rings true in the ears of future generations. I hope she takes from me but falls in love with artists all her own. But most of all, I hope that music still means as much in 50 years as it does now, that it’s not expendable. Because pictures get damaged, dusty, lost, and forgotten. But through the immortality of music, we don’t have to grow old. And if that’s the case, in time I’ll still be right there, being driven to school in the backseat of my dad’s pickup truck that I never truly left, humming along to some musical artifact.