In an acting class I took, we once had to bring in an object that would spark one of our senses and summon feelings — someone brought fuzzy pajamas, my instructor described a memory associated with the smell of oranges. I brought in multi-colored dinner mints. You know the terrible-tasting ones that apparently can be used as chalk? I was playing a painfully shy character, who was full of social anxiety and likely coping with unrequited romantic feelings. The mints helped to put me in that place.
Although I won’t get into the mint story, the point of the class exercise was to utilize sense memory, a technique found useful to some actors. My instructor — whom I admired greatly — said an actress he worked with once would listen to a song to get herself in the mood before getting on stage each night. Maybe bringing in my iPod for a sonic stimulus would’ve done me even better with the exercise.
As most of us probably can, I’ve found that songs can instantly transport me to a time, place and state of mind. The subject matter of a song need not correlate with my emotional state — “Bust A Move” reminds me of sleepy mornings before kindergarten. Obviously no correlation is required. Usually, for a song to actually mean anything to me, memories must be associated with them. Otherwise, they’re just residual sounds like background noise at a coffee shop. Most can probably relate.
With that, I’ve never really understood the concept of creating “summer playlists” or manifestos of the like — the soundtracks to my life compose themselves over time. I can’t just make “Can’t Stop the Feeling” the song of my summer, as much as “Entertainment Weekly” wants me to. Furthermore, prematurely attaching a “song of the summer” to a summer that hasn’t even happened yet makes me anxious and puts too much pressure on me to make the three hot months worthwhile. (It’s just another manifestation of my neurosis.)
Rather, my “songs of the summer” mark gradually-formed emotional eras, not cultural ones.
My (relatively) carefree pre-high school years still come to mind when I listen to certain songs. A radio-fuzzed “A Horse with No Name” by America plays as I remember sweating in the car while my dad and I waited for my sister to get out of cross country practice. It was as if the song was the theme to my hometown. (Google a picture of Victorville.) Then there are Never Shout Never tunes such as “Your Biggest Fan,” which transport me to a summer night I spent at my eighth-grade best friend Yasmine’s house, when we ate leftover shrimp cocktail at one in the morning and snuck one of our skater friends into her house.
As for more recent summers, songs are associated more with an ongoing era of emotional maturation, like when I saw “A Hard Day’s Night” with my mom on the Fourth of July at a sold-out theater and joyfully teared up as I watched the silhouettes of a woman and her tiny daughters dancing in the aisle during “I’m Happy Just to Dance With You.” And Born Ruffians’ “Cherry Wine” brings me back to the summer before college, when I basked in the feeling of having a best friend who might actually miss me when I left for the Bay. I was naively unprepared for when, hundreds of miles away, I’d have to finally let go of the feelings I harbored for said friend.
The present trouble is: I’m not really sure which era of my life I’m in right now.
As of summer 2016, I’m halfway through college and a bit listless, working two jobs and writing about comedy, buying Broadway tickets for an upcoming dream trip. I’m listening to more podcasts and audiobooks than formal music nowadays and strangely pride myself in not knowing new music, aside from that from stage musicals and the few bands I actually follow.
Overall, I’m a little less secure in what I’m doing and all the more happier for it, but not sure as to which songs will bring me back to this in-between time of my life. I guess I’m in search of my 2016 summer soundtrack. I’m searching for which feelings — and songs — will define this part of my life. It’s yet uncertain as to which feelings listening to “Hamilton” five years from now will elicit or if The Last Shadow Puppets’ new album will remind me of my recent mid-college crisis. Or maybe it’s all podcasts and audiobooks from here on out.
I’m just hoping this soundtrack’s a good one.
“Cutting Room Floor” columns are one-off, arts-oriented pieces written by Daily Cal staff members.