The night I lost my virginity, I was a basket of nerves. I was with someone who would go on to be my first love. We sat there on the bed, restless and fidgeting, feeling like kids again.
I reached a hand over to fumble through my library for a playlist I’d made that morning. The sounds of Marvin Gaye came through the speakers, and we shared a laugh, and then a smile, and then a kiss.
The night that relationship ended I wanted to, but couldn’t, cry. I gripped the steering wheel and blasted the screaming ballads of Willow until I’d stained my car seats with tears, and painted the streets with skid marks.
Expressing my feelings can feel hopeless, like trying to apologize to a puppy for stepping on their paw. I find myself searching for language I don’t have. Music can unlock those parts of myself that I’ve thrown away the keys to.
Once this past year, I found myself shackled to the aux cord in the corner of a room party. Between songs, I let five seconds of silence slip out, and the room full of people looked at me like I shot that puppy.
The two flirting on the couch were gripped with self-consciousness, starting to sort through their words before they came out. They started to think, how do people sit and what do people say?
Fun, like breathing, tends to tighten when we focus on it. Every eye in the room turned to glare, can’t you see we’re suffocating over here?
It was the same feeling I had that first night on the bed.
Silence undresses us. We see each other as we are, naked and gasping for words. Music rids us of our need to set others at ease. It whispers, there’s already something beautiful in the air. Don’t worry about being the source of it.
We need it to keep our thoughts from starting to itch. It’s emotional fuel, a social lubricant that doesn’t leave you bedridden the next morning. It gives scaffolding to our desires and validates whatever bubbles beneath the surface.
It’s as if our brain has an insatiable appetite, and music gives it something to gnaw on. Maybe then, it’ll stop barking and we can carry on a conversation.
Paintings grip me, sure, they can plant me to the floor, root me in a memory I’ve suppressed. But I can’t cut tension by hanging a painting mid-conversation. Movies give me the rush, the investment, of reality, but I can’t dance at a premiere. Theaters lay me down, as if to say please contain all bodily reactions to the confines of this seat.
Music is the only art form that frees our bodies. It makes us spin, sweat and sing. It meets our impulses where they are and gives us permission to enjoy however you wish. Sit on the ground. Thrash through a mosh pit. Howl at the moon.
Music is our mind’s security blanket. Imagine a cocktail party where all your favorite friends are getting along for the first time, worlds colliding without splinters. What’s playing in the background?
The most pivotal moments of our lives have soundtracks. It’s impossible to see people in white lace throwing rice without an organ singing in the background, or someone moving a tassel without an hour of “Pomp and Circumstance.”
For so long, I was protective of my taste in it. Handing someone my music library is often scarier than handing them my camera roll. “Don’t look at that,” I’d say, deleting a playlist of Jack Harlow. Or, “I used to share an account with my sister,” when they find the Twilight soundtrack.
Our music taste puts our emotional life on a platter — what we lack, what we miss, what we long for. It’s the shape of our shame, our heartbreak and our joy. It’s what we reach for when the air tightens, when our words are empty and we can’t find the strength to keep the conversation aloft.
And the truth is, there isn’t any shame in it. It’s what we occupy our time with every day. The worms we let burrow in our brain and strum at our vocal cords. Our music library gives us the tools to feel what would otherwise fester.
I like that word, library, because that’s how it should be.
Instead of feeling protective of it, I’m working on sharing it freely and openly. When I sense someone in the backseat trying to covertly open Shazam, I’ll mention the artist. When my sister asks about a song, I’ll send the album.
I want my music to act like my neighborhood’s little library tucked between trees — a space where people come to inhale and exhale sorrow and glee.
Some songs have their spines worn through from use, while others go yellow from a lack of it. I hope that passersby check things out and return with stories of their own. I hope those songs can hold their hand in the quiet moments when we can’t feel what we need to — as they’ve done so, so lovingly, for me.