My first memory of when music triggered an emotional response is when I was very young, perhaps 6 years old. Not every night, but on occasion, my Mom would help me fall asleep sleep by singing to me. It may have been only a few times but it stands out prominently enough as a memory to have ignited an awareness of music’s connection to emotions. The song was Leaving on Jet Plane, most likely Peter, Paul and Mary’s version, even though both theirs and John Denver’s records were frequently on the turntable in our house. The melody, sung a cappella by my mom’s hushed voice, was suitable for a lullaby and it would immediately transport me to an airport where I would see myself walking toward an airplane with a suitcase, a curious mind and a lonely heart for I was off an adventure into the big mysterious world and wondering if I would ever see my family again. I would feel tears building in my eyes with the lyrics “Don't know when I'll be back again Oh babe, I hate to go”. Even at an early age the experience made me feel that life was a gift and that I was grateful just to be alive and have a family. The emotions that the song produced were intoxicating. The haunting melody would end the day in an authentic emotion of gratitude. It was a safe place where I could feel emotions and have them mirrored in song. What I didn’t know is that I was initiating the compilation of a soundtrack for my life based on the sound of emotion and this was the first track on the mixtape. This pattern continued into my adulthood.
The next chapter of my life delivered more musical stimulation to select the next track from. In my early years, I played ice hockey daily. Living in a small town meant that the hockey rink was in a larger neighboring town. So the drive to and fro included either the music on the radio or the music in my head. More often than not, the music in my head was more influential or responsive to my current state of emotions. Owing both to its sweeping tune and the content of the movie in which it first appeared, Vangelis' song Chariots of Fire was in the family record collection and I recall being drawn to the powerful melody at the age of 6 but by the age of 9 it had become somewhat synonymous with the a big event on our family television, and a pivotal demonstration of human achievement - The Olympic Games. Chariots of Fire was the official theme for the 1984 Winter Olympics for a reason that many people felt was a anthem of human achievement and of course athletic success. The song would play on loop in my head on the way to hockey matches, it wasn’t pumping me up with adrenaline, it was soothing me with emotional richness. The soaring melody of Chariots of Fire helped me make sense of my engagement with society in the complex world of adolescence and competitive sports. The visuals that were synched with this soundtrack were an imaginary game that I guess, I would now call extreme roadside skiing. In Massachusetts, where I grew up, there was often snow on the side of the road and I would visualize myself on some great 80’s neon colored skis, gliding along beside the car. The snowplows made interesting formations and large mounds to jump off of but unlike regular skiing, even when there wasn’t snow I could be gliding up and down the mounds of earth on either side of driveways, dodging mailboxes, jumping over cars and soaring over intersections pulling off rad tricks in some kind of new Super Mario Brothers level. It was my own private extreme Olympic sport and I always won the gold medal. From the moment I shut the door to I when was at the rink lugging in my huge bag of hockey gear , I had the Chariots of Fire theme song in my head.
The next song that made it to onto the mixtape was a game changer, it’s like I knew it was happening, and it compelled me to buy my first cassette tape, even though I had to borrow my older sister’s boombox to listen to it. I was 10 when the movie Mannequin came out and the movie’s theme song Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now hit me like an emotional freight train. It helped tell the story, assisted my connection to the characters and like music does so well, it supported the emotional content. Simultaneously, as a young hockey fan the song caught my attention again in 1993 for the Montreal Canadians NHL team during their 24th Conquest of The Stanley Cup. Legend has it that while driving home after a lost game, head coach Jaques Demers heard the song playing on the radio and realized it was an empowering song. The next day, at the Montreal Forum he gave each player a copy of the song with a small card saying "We're on a mission, nothing's gonna stop us". And to attest to the power of music the team soon started to win. He played the song throughout all the playoff games and they eventually won the Stanley Cup that year over the Los Angeles Kings in the finals . As a Boston Bruins supporter and Wayne Gretzky fan ( who at that moment played with the LA Kings ) this was quite the departure for me to get caught up in routing for the Montreal Canadiens to win the Stanley Cup but the real reason I was behind le Club de hockey Canadian must have been simply that I was feeling how the power of music, an undeniably sappy song as well, motivated a team of adult men, tough hockey players, win the game and the whole experience swept me of my skates. The song also introduced me to Starship’s other single We Built This City on Rock & Roll - which I thought was wicked rad ( said with Boston accent) and I just had to have those songs. I had seen my brother and sister get cassette tapes and choose their music by going to Sam Goody to pick out their hot new cassette tape with their allowance. Now it was my turn. So there it was, I got my first cassette single, came home, put on my coolest Ocean Pacific shirt and danced around in my own MTV love story. But just when I thought I had figured out how music paired with my adolescence, a new force had entered into my life.
As you may have guessed, my home away from home was the local ice skating arena. A New England community center, a place of practicing teamwork and personal achievement. A platform for goal setting and idolizing our athletic heroes. Of course, let us not forget the rustic accommodations for audience members, sweaty locker rooms, cold temperatures, harsh echoes, hot pretzels, frozen pizza and other standard concessions. I was a rink rat, not by choice, but by vocational location. A place where one of our main goals might be how to trick the soda machine into giving you a free soda, or that magical moment when you find a quarter under the vending machine. But the rink was full of surprises. There were occasions that I would go to the rink with my parents to watch my older brother’s team or to pick up my sister after her figure skating practice. On one specific event I was reluctantly attending my sisters’ showcase competition. It was a routine she had been working on for some time and the public was invited to watch her and her teammates perform. There were so many sequence embroidered unitards, it was a bit overwhelming for a young hockey boy but I considered it part of the deal. After all, I was proud to be an ice rink family. My brother and I both played hockey, my dad was a hockey coach my mother was an ice hockey cheerleader from Minnesota. We were a rare breed and there I was, in my team jacket, sitting on the cold, splintery wood stands and I embraced my world. My sister skated to the middle of the ice and the first warped notes of the song creeped into the air like the familiar warm analogue sound of the cassette deck had been withered by the cold and was feeling skittish about being projected at a distorted volume through what could have been cardboard box enclosed speakers. The song, which never made it on a mixtape of mine, but made an impact on my future discernment of music, was Putin’ on the Ritz, yes, you guessed it - Taco’s 80s version. I remember reflecting upon my awareness that music effects me emotionally and thinking that the vocal delivery of the song was uncomfortably mixed but strikingly distinct, and being a bit confused about how the way the song was crafted fit in with my understanding of music. I paired it with the experience I had going from being accustomed to Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan and Jim Croce on the home turntable to being enraptured by cheesy 80s anthems and I accepted my fate would be navigating the world of the ever changing musical future, an understanding that even Grace Slick herself would attest to from her days with Jefferson Airplane. As kids, we all had a feeling that our futures were going to be bright with neon colors in a Max Headroom digiverse. So I sat there and let the song pour over me like that liquid cheese sauce on the nachos from the concession stand. I sat there in a heavy trance which welcomed one of those moments where it seems like as soon as you let yourself be ok with an uncomfortable situation then something magic happens? I was snapped back from my daydream with the rhythmless scattered patter of applause. Disturbed by the thought of having to wait for my sister to change out of her costume, I had no idea what was about to happen. What I heard was the reverberated riffs of some 50’s style guitar work slide through the metallic echo chamber of the rink and it caught my attention. I looked to the center of the ice where the spotlight warmed the harsh glow of the overhead fluorescent flood lights . And there she was. In a hot pink unitard with cat ears cat tail and a little bow tie. The song Stray Cats Strut pulsed through the cheap rink speaker. The figure skater, I can’t recall her name, was moving to the music in a way that I didn’t know would effect me the way it did. She had stray cat strut and stray cat style and I was enchanted by her beauty and the song paired perfectly with my emotions. On the way home from the rink, with the beats of Stray Cat Strut in my head, I glowingly asked if we could stop at Sam Goody. There was a new single I wanted to add to my playlist. The Stray Cats' theme song was a pivotal track that I associated with the emotions of my attraction to girls so naturally I considered music as the vehicle of this attraction. So, in the 4th grade when I developed an interest in a classmate and she mentioned she liked Guns N Roses, I immediately went out and bought the cassettes. It turned out that she didn’t have one of the albums and I let her borrow it, which essentially meant to us that we were officially going steady. I was the only boy invited to her birthday party which we had plotted through handwritten love notes passed secretly in class with the aid of our mutual friends . At the party we turned on the strobe light and blasted Guns N Roses’ Living on A Prayer. These patterns of music selection have continued to this day. Music matches well with meaningful experiences because it heightens the expressive language of the emotions. Post your own story here...What songs made it onto your first mixtape?