El Marks the Spot: Musical Diaries

‘Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.’                                 – Victor Hugo

Like most quotes found on the Internet and put up on posters, it probably bears no resemblance to anything Hugo ever said.  That said, I think it does say something important about the role of music in our lives. It also reminds me that my recent decision to cull playlists was probably a bad one. Strange segue, I know, but stick with me.

I’m sure we’ve all noticed that our musical tastes change. What we listen to varies from day to day, from month to month and from year to year. Most of what I listened to at the age of 16 I probably won’t listen to again – unless, of course, I get to 50 and decide to loathe all modern music on the grounds that it was better in the ‘good old days.’

It’s partly a symptom of growing up – you look back at that heartthrob from that boy band and realize he looks and dresses like a 14 year old and that those lyrics are actually kind of creepy. It also reflects changing times and musical fashions – I’m sure we all remember the massive explosion in rap and hip-hop and the end of teen-pop (which rose again zombie-fashion looking decidedly worse for wear). But our changing musical loves tell us something deeper than that.

As I look back at what I used to listen to – to old playlists, lyrics written in diaries and notebooks and the sheet music I downloaded – I realise that my music is also my story. It shows who I was friends with, what I was doing and how I felt about the life I was leading. Early high school was a lot of Celtic Woman and classical music because that was what my parents had. When I started making friends, I listened to Coldplay because they did. Movie scores and whiny singer-songwriters reveal a miserable and academically focused Year 11-12. And don’t even get me started on the playlist I had last summer… The point is, the music we play tells us all we need to know about where we are.

I’ve lost some of those records, more revealing than any self-delusional or self-pitying journal entry, but I don’t want to lose any more. I want to keep those little On-the-Go playlists, that weird mix of jazz, hardcore death-metal, Himalayan nose-flute and Sex Pistols I used to cram the entire history of modern music in 3 days, and that hideous, sappy thing I listened to while head-over-heels for that one boy.

And you know what, when I look at back at my life in 10 years time, I’ll look at my calendar to see what I was doing and my playlists to see how I was doing.

How about you?