My Coming of Age Album

When my best friend and I reminisce on the iconic “Mitchell family vacations,” our annual trip down the shore, the most compelling memory is the car ride there. Along with the sweltering heat and lack of air conditioning in my mom’s 2006 Kia, the most dreadful part of the journey was the deafening silence. The car speakers collected dust from years of not being used. A couple hour car ride felt like an eternity between my dad’s constant pit stops and the awkward silence, which was even more uncomfortable than the sweat pooling down our backs.

My father, a staunch Catholic, was so scared I would bring “satanic” music into the house that he forbade “heavy metal” bands. Unfortunately, free streaming platforms were not invented yet, so the only alternative to listening to his liturgical hymns was to buy music.

Every year for Christmas, I’d receive a $25 iTunes gift card and immediately blow it on $1.29 top 40’s songs, since I didn’t know any better. Consequently, I spent my middle-school mornings and afternoons sitting on the bus, listening to Taylor Swift and Kesha on my pink and white zebra striped iPod nano.

One of the few things my dad and I had in common, however, was our mutual love of Disney. I looked forward to our vacations to Disney World more than anything, and I had seen every Disney movie so many times that I knew the lyrics to all of the songs by heart; I had even memorized some in multiple languages. So, on the rare occasions when my dad would play music in the car, it was one of our Disney CD’s.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, some of my childhood movies and television shows had soundtracks future me would adore. While I was banging my head during the battle scene in Shrek the Third, I had no idea I was listening to Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin. When I was tapping my foot to the opening credits in the Vampire Diaries, I was unaware it was Sort Of by Silversun Pickups, a band I would later see twice in concert.

One day, my grandmother and I were listening to the radio in her jeep, when suddenly, I was overcome with curiosity by a heavenly aria. The orchestral melody and angelic voice astounded me. “What is this?” I asked my Baba, bewildered and amazed. “The Phantom of the Opera,” she replied. It was The Music of the Night.

It wasn’t until I saw a commercial for the movie adaptation of Les Miserables that my fascination was revived. The gentle lull of Castle on a Cloud put me on cloud nine. I dove head first into musical theater, participating in school and community theater productions and pirating musicals my father was adamantly against, like Rent and Book of Mormon.

Watching these grim and gory musicals was an eye-opening experience. The music was raw, vulnerable and dark, but it was authentic, unlike popular music. I could relate to the plights of the characters, making the music all the more groundbreaking.

Show tunes comprised the majority of my repertoire until junior year of high school. My friend noticed my abysmal music knowledge and put it to the test against a German foreign exchange student she was hosting. We versed each other in Shazam, a game in which players listen to the beginning of a song until one of them guesses the name correctly.

After losing miserably, they convinced me to start a free trial of Apple Music. If I didn’t like it, they told me, I could just delete it. Jumping at the opportunity to suggest artists as if I was a contestant on What Not to Wear being made over, they started with the foundation, Light My Fire by the Doors.

This was the match that ignited my fire. Having multiple lifetimes of music at the tip of my fingertips gave me my coveted sense of freedom. Within a month, my music library had grown like weeds. When the free trial was over, I didn’t hesitate to pay $5 a month to keep it.

I gravitated towards female pop artists like Charli XCX and Marina and the Diamonds because I admired their powerful vocals. Eventually, I knew their discography like the back of my hand. When my friend asked if I would see Beyonce in concert only a few hours before the show, I floored it to Hershey Park, over an hour away from my hometown of Reading, and claimed my free ticket to my first concert. I took the bait and was hooked. From there, my love of live music continued to snowball.

While musical theater was my chance to star in the leading role, this music was therapeutic. Contrary to my mom’s car, our house was never silent, between my sisters yelling or my parents arguing. However, I could put my earbuds in and turn the volume up to drown out the tumultuous noise; although, I could still hear muffled shouts in every interval of rest, making even a couple second pause unbearable.

After finally listening to Hamilton per the advice of my friends and being converted to hip-hop and R&B, it became my outlet to release my pent-up rage and resentment. Between working full-time, being a varsity athlete and maintaining a busy social life, I was always on-the-go. My home was anything but sweet - another reason I was always out. The up-beat tempo of artists like Tyler the Creator was the soundtrack of my movie, in which I drove off into the sunset at 100 miles per hour. The rapid firing of lyrics was the musical manifestation of my anxious and impatient personality.

Even after going to college and moving to Philadelphia, I still felt like I was gasping for air in a sea of stress. However, the tides had turned from anger to sadness, both in my mood and my music taste. Amid many failed chemistry exams and botched Tinder endeavors, my depressive thoughts became more asphyxiating. Along with new relationships came new music, which mostly consisted of lo-fi indie rock bands like Beach Fossils, Beach House and King Krule. While, in hindsight, solely listening to melancholy music may not have been the best coping mechanism, and straining my friendships for the sake of a frivolous fling was naive and foolish, I am thankful for the recommendations.

I survived freshman year by the skin of my teeth and the riffs of a guitar, but I finally learned to accept the tranquility of silence and reflect on myself and my actions.

In the summer before sophomore year, I met my current boyfriend, and we bonded over our very similar music taste. I introduced him to more alternative bands, and he introduced me to classic rock, a subgenre I had been sorely lacking due to my dad’s aversion. I had a musical awakening; listening to some of the most famous bands of all time for the first time ever was a right of passage. I plastered my walls with posters of Nirvana and Pink Floyd. I bought a Stratocaster, and my boyfriend, who is a guitarist, taught me how to play some beginner chords and songs. Not only did this help me conceptualize and visualize the instrumentals, a component that oftentimes faded into the background for me, but it amplified my appreciation of musicians.

Through Spotify (which I downloaded in lieu of Apple Music) I have gone down a rabbit hole of surf, garage and psychedelic rock. My music and mood have transitioned from a minor to a major key. I am still a decade behind the rest of the world and trying to catch up, but it’s never too late to become a fan. While my friends were listening to the Strokes and Cage the Elephant in middle school, I am discovering them today. However, like the memories of that God-forsaken family vacation, music is perpetual and can be enjoyed or despised; it’s all about perspective.