The greatest aspect about music is that certain songs can illustrate a moment in your life better than memory ever can. There is something transcendent about listening to a song that you haven’t heard in years and slowly drifting away to a different period of your life. We all have certain songs that crystallize a moment in your life that upon hearing it transport you back in time. Here are ten songs that bring me back to specific moments of my life that bring a smile to my face.
1. Bon Jovi “Bad Medicine”
One of my earliest memories of music involves my father, my brother and myself jamming along to Bon Jovi’s “Bad Medicine” in our living room in my old house. When you are kid and haven’t quite developed a musical taste and identity of your own, you listen to the music of your parents. My father was a Bon Jovi fan in the late 1980s and in my young mind, the peak of musical achievement was “Bad Medicine” off of their fourth album, New Jersey. The three of us formed a musical air guitar band with my father on guitar and both me and my younger brother on drums that we pantomimed with chop sticks out of the pantry. I can imagine we drove our poor mother out of her mind as soon as the song ended I would run up to the CD player and press repeat and listen to the song again and again and again. Not quite realizing in my seven year old mind that the song was about the comparison of drug addiction with falling in love, I would scream the hell out of the chorus as I particularly loved singing along the part about “shaking it up.” On retrospect, the song is a pretty cheesy 80s metal song but every time it comes on, it makes me think of my family at our happiest. That's always a good feeling.
2. Adina Howard “Freak Like Me”
For those who remember Adina Howard (and I remember Adina Howard), she was by all accounts just about the raunchiest R&B singer this side of Robert Kelly’s crazy ass of all-time. She had approximately one hit in the mid-90s and that song “Freak Like Me” will forever be permanently etched in the mind of a young adolescent Doctor Zeus. “Freak Like Me” off her ‘95 debut album, Do You Wanna Ride?, was a post-Mary J. Blige up-tempo Hip Hop influenced R&B jam that combined memorable G-Funk synths with lyrics that discussed in a frank fashion, Adina’s supposedly insatiable sexual appetite. As a young, impressionable and newly adolescent teenage boy, I was both enthralled and covertly horrified to hear this play on nearly constant rotation on my local hip hop station. This song was so dirty that it blew a gasket in my young teenage mind. This song will forever associated for me is riding the bus to Middle School. In 5th grade, my family moved to another part of town where in order to get to school, I had to ride a bus. Previously, I had always lived close enough to school so that I could simply walk there every day so riding the bus to and from school everyday was a new and somewhat scary experience for me. On this bus, there was a deeply complex and highly evolved social structure in which your seat was assigned by both your approximate coolness and your seniority. The coolest sixth grade kids got to sit in the back of the bus and goof off while their fifth grade minions got to sit in front of them, followed by the dorky sixth graders, and then finally the lepers of the society, the uncool fifth graders got to sit in front. Being the new kid to the bus route, I was forced to sit in the front and listen to the dorky kids discuss Magic: The Gathering cards and Power Rangers all morning long. Anyway, there was this beautiful light skinned black girl, a sixth grader, who had by all accounts “matured” faster than everybody else in her grade who sat in the last seat of the bus and was Queen of the whole bus society. She used to bring a small radio with her to school everyday and used to blast the hell out of our local hip hop station. She also had a beautiful soulful singing voice and I can vividly remember her blasting “Freak Like Me” at full volume, dancing seductively in her seat, and singing along word for word as every boy in the bus stared in appreciation, and every girl secretly wished death upon her. I believe the first time she pulled this routine was the day that I discovered the joys of women. I thank Adina Howard for that. Wherever, she may be.
3. Masta Ace (Feat. Leschea) “Bklyn Masala”
Two summers ago, I spent two months in Ecuador working on a documentary as part of a student workshop at one of Quito’s local universities. There were five students involved including myself and I basically lived, worked, ate and socialized with these four other students, twenty four hours a day for two months straight. As the summer went on, I developed a rather contentious relationship with one of the girls involved in the program. Truthfully, I couldn’t stand the girl. We were almost complete opposites. She was in my mind eye’s an overly privileged Miami socialite and I was a general, all around eccentric/lunatic. The only common ground we would often find is that we both were insanely stubborn and both really liked arguing with each other. One particular highlight of our regular shouting matches was about the homeless problem in America in which at one point she said "Because I was a male, I couldn't understand the homeless situation as well as she could and therefore my opinions were invalid" (Editor's Note: As if...) which, of course, caused me to go off on her until I was subdued and dragged out of the room by my roommate. (In retrospect, I escalated a lot of the fights to shouting because I couldn't keep my mouth shut if she said something I found offensive or ridiculous. I wasn't an innocent in this.) Despite all that me and her always seemed to get stuck with each other by ourselves on some sort of assignment and in weaker moments, I found myself enjoying her presence despite myself. She was, after all, a very pretty girl, quite smart and although I’m loathe to admit it, I did enjoy a good verbal sparring session with another human being especially a woman. One weekend, the group decided we were going to travel to another city, Banos, to visit more of the country. The rest of the group had decided to leave a day early but me and the girl had decided that we were going to go take a bus the next day. As we took the bus on the several hour drive from the capital of Quito in the mountains across the beautiful desert landscape in Ecuador to Banos, I was playing Masta Ace’s criminally underrated 2004 masterpiece, A Long Hot Summer, on my iPod and staring out the window as she sat next to me peacefully asleep. I was drifting away myself when “Bklyn Masala” started to play on my iPod, staring out the window when I made a startling discovery. “Bklyn Masala” is a love song that tells the story of Ace falling in love with a beautiful Pakistani immigrant he meets in a local bodega in Brooklyn. The song itself is quite cheese ball, probably completely unrealistic and on retrospective not one of Ace’s finest moments but it does highlight Ace’s vivid but light hearted story telling ability and it does have a pretty hilarious line referencing Raekwon’s “Ice Cream” ("This may sound kind of Wu-Tang Clannish/but this Butter Pecan honey was not Spanish"). Anyway, the revelation that startled me was that despite all my better instincts, I sort of had a crush on ol’ girl. I was horrified. "This girl?!?! You have to be kidding me, hormones! Get your head in the game!" On retrospect, I guess it should have been obvious to me because I realized that I would get insanely jealous whenever a guy would hit on her when we were out but self delusion is a profound thing. The rest of the summer played out like a Greek tragedy (or more accurately, Shakespearean Farce) as I fruitlessly tried to reconcile my feelings, ultimately resolving to haplessly pursue the girl, fail spectacularly it should be legend, immediately regretting it and then spiraling into a level of despair and misery that only can be brought on by women. By the end of the summer, we weren't on good speaking terms. Ironically, after I left Ecuador, a few months later, the girl and I finally made up and came to an understanding, and I now count her as one of my better friends. Masta Ace will forever be associated with that summer and when I listen to that album, I always crack a sly knowing smile.
4. Jay-Z (Feat. Memphis Bleek) “Coming Of Age”
The drive from Cleveland to my college in Syracuse, New York takes about five and half hours along I-90 in which you can get a beautiful view of the vast spaces of nothing that stretch on for hundreds of miles. If you were to ask the typical non-Ohio native to give a general description about the state, they would describe miles and miles of empty farm land and wilderness. According to the general opinion of my state, we all grew up Amish on a farm but in my experience, the vast majority of the country is nothing but farm land and wilderness including a state as cosmopolitan as New York. In the course of my college career, I made the trek from my home in Cleveland to my school in Syracuse about 8 times a year over the course of four years for a grand total of about 32 times in my life. I would do this so much that I developed a routine over the years. I would always stop at the same rest stops, eat at the same McDonalds, and go to the same gas stations. It became almost a superstition. I would have to do this in order to please the malevolent Gods of Travel to ensure a safe journey across the states. One of my most cherished traditions was the selection of CDs, I would play in my car. Since I shun the radio with the type of passion only reserved for vampires and sunlight, it was an important part of the trip to select the right CD to listen to as I made my way. However, there was one CD that was indispensable from the ride, Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt. I like Reasonable Doubt quite a lot. Even though, it borrows heavily from masterpieces like Biggie’s Ready to Die and Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, it has a transcendent quality that allows it to escape many of the Mafioso clichés that hamper other post-Cuban Linx gangster rap. Jay is just that good of a rapper on this album. My favorite cut from that album is “Coming Of Age,” Jigga’s legendary duet with #1 weed carrier for life, Memphis “Sorry, Beyonce! I’ll Always Be Jay’s True Love” Bleek. The song is really the perfect driving song if you are riding on the open road of a highway. The two note piano loop that forms the back bone of the song creates a hypnotic quality that makes the road seem it has a rhythm of its own. On a warm summer day, its awesome feeling to roll down your windows, let a cool breeze fill the car, and just lose yourself in the road to this song. There’s something cinematic about it that's just perfect for drifting into another world and even Bleek comes pretty correctly with his verse on the song.
5. Eminem “Still Don’t Give A Fuck”
In high school, I was a pretty angry kid. While never really openly rebellious, I had a notoriously bad, spoiled attitude that only can come from a combination of profound loneliness and suburban privilege. If I didn’t like a class, a teacher, or my state in life, I basically determined that I was gonna make life around me completely miserable by being passive aggressively hostile and violently apathetic to everybody around me. Needless to say, I wasn’t very popular with my classmates... or the teachers. It was rumored that I forced one of the Latin teachers into retirement by my steady refusal to do anything other than the bare minimal amount of effort and my heaping amounts of disdain I obviously had for the work. As high school grew on, I became more and more of a loner as I was openly disdainful of the privileged lives of my classmates and the hypocrisy of the community around me. I had enough of a reputation that when a rumor sprung up that I was planning to gun down the school in retaliation over years of being a walking punch line, nobody batted an eye or came to defense. It was one of my humiliating experiences of my life to have to explain to one of my teachers that no I wasn’t planning to gun the school down although if I caught the asshole who started the rumor you can best believe I was gonna smash him in his fucking jaw with a fucking baseball bat. Ultimately, it helped me realize the dark place I had gone to and it helped me become a better person. People didn’t understand me. I did want revenge on the school but it was a different kind of revenge. I wanted to expose everybody of their hypocrisies. In high school, I was exposed to the joys of listening to Eminem. Eminem’s first two LPs are kind of an escapist revenge fantasies of a nerdy picked on white kid that was extremely appealing to me. It was something I could deeply relate to. I was obsessed with The Slim Shady LP back then. I used to sit in my room and listen to “Still Don’t Give A Fuck” for hours, daydreaming about speaking at my high school graduation and breaking out into the opening verse of the song, telling everyone to go fuck themselves, and then walk off triumphantly with my middle finger in the air into the sunset where I undoubtedly would go on to great success as a famous filmmaker. The song is the last song on the album and has a sort of anthemic quality to it as Eminem spits frantic darkly humorous verses about not caring what anybody else thinks. The sort of stuff that he should get back to. Ultimately, I grew up and matured and realized that I was acting like a childish asshole and that I needed to improve my attitude. However, I still occasionally like to throw on some Slim Shady and reminisce about the days when I fashioned myself a young James Dean in backwards baseball cap and some headphones.