Millennials tend to get a bad rep for being narcissistic, lazy and obsessed with fleeting pop culture trends – the instant, the here and now. I was born in 1996. I was very young during the time of Walkmans and cell phone antennas, but I still remember. I remember the tragedy and emotions of September 11, 2001, even though I was only in preschool. I fear that someday, nobody else will remember the days before iPods and smartphones, 24/7 news, Facebook and constant connection, so I feel determined – even responsible – to remember.
It’s no secret that certain songs or sounds are linked to emotions and memories, bringing us back to a specific place and time. When I was growing up, my parents rarely played current pop radio stations in the car. In fact, I’m pretty sure I thought everyone was listening to Phil Collins and The B-52s. I didn’t think much about it until I would be in the car with friends and their parents, who played the latest pop and rap hits. I never had a problem with mainstream music, but there was something so familiar about the older tunes I heard in the car with my family. Of course, I still went through my Hilary Duff/Disney Mania phase, but I also found myself listening to Men At Work, Bon Jovi and The Go-Go’s.
Before iTunes, Pandora, XM Radio and Bluetooth, cassette tapes and CDs ruled the world. Each of my family’s road trips seemed to have its own soundtrack. When we drove to Chicago, we would listen to Barenaked Ladies (“Broke into the old apartment…”). On the way to summer camp in Indiana, we listened to John Mellencamp’s Greatest Hits. We listened to Billy Joel, Madonna, The Bangles, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, Barry Manilow (not kidding) and Carly Simon – among others.
Here are some of the songs I vividly remember listening to as a child. Click the top left button on the video to see the full playlist.
A few years ago, my parents got a new car – well, really an old car that was new to us – a 2000 (or 2001?) Volkswagen Beetle that smells like crayons. My friend Mitchell told us to name her Rochelle. Rochelle is not equipped with a USB port or an aux cord, and the CD player is in the trunk. She has a radio and a cassette player. Upon discovering the cassette port, my parents and I dug through an overflowing, dusty container of cassette tapes (pictured below) and found a few to play in the car “just for fun.” We got in the car and put in one of the tapes, and the song “She Drives Me Crazy” by Fine Young Cannibals started playing. Almost immediately, I had the weirdest feeling of deja vu/nostalgia. I didn’t remember the exact lyrics, but I definitely remembered this song – probably this exact tape – from my childhood. I had not listened to it in many, many years, but in the first few seconds, I knew I had heard it before.
In seventh grade, I wrote a story for Power of the Pen (a creative writing competition for Ohio middle schoolers) about a girl who was embarrassed of her parents’ obsession with the ’80s. My story, “Forever Young,” ended up winning the competition’s Humor Award. Like the protagonist in the story, I have rolled my eyes (multiple times) at my parents’ singing and car-dancing, but I now feel very lucky to have grown up surrounded by music from their era. I know a lot of people my age who don’t know the first music video to air on MTV (“Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles, in case you are one of those people). My stomach churns thinking about the fact that many kids today grew up after the iPod was introduced. Someday, when I have kids of my own, will they call One Direction “classic rock”!?!?!
Today, it is easier than ever to listen to music. We can listen to whatever we want whenever and wherever we want. We can Google the verse of a song and it will pop up on YouTube. But the next time you’re in the car with your parents, keep your eye-roll to yourself, take out your earbuds and listen. You may be transported to another place and time – a time of bigger glasses and bigger hair – but you will think, and you, too, will remember.
What songs bring you back to your childhood or a specific time in your life? I would love to hear in the comments.
Until next time,
All images are my own.