Music has a remarkable way of holding on to tendrils of our subconscious selves, inextricably linking itself with experience and existence. It’s funny how music becomes part of experience as well as part of the recollection of experience. I’m sure we all have particular experiences permanently associated with certain songs or artists or albums, and as an exercise in catharsis I thought I’d begin to share some of those experiences.
Now as a warning, neither the song I am about to discuss nor the experience it is linked to is particularly appreciable or even acknowledgeable, in the greater scheme of things. But to me it was a defining moment, and this song is forever marked with the events of a day back in high school.
Geek that I was (am?), I went on a little trip to Cleveland in 10th grade for a national medical competition. I had qualified for the spelling bee, and I have to say I was definitely looking forward to the trip and even more to the competition. All the qualifiers from the entire school district met up in the airport, and I discovered, to my great chagrin, that there were three girls and three guys. The inevitable pair-up was going to happen and I was definitely going to lose. And naturally that did happen, seeing as how one couple was already in existence, and I ended up being consistently left with the nerdy dungeons and dragons fellow who really didn’t care to befriend me. I just wanted company, but ended up being left pretty much alone. In reality, that was okay with me, but it was high school, and that’s just not how things work.
So here’s getting to the point. The night after all the competitions were over, there was a dance. Chaperoned, of course, but a dance nonetheless. I begged for permission to stay in the hotel room and read a book, but permission was denied and I had to go to the dance. I had never been to any sort of dance before, thanks to my previously sheltered existence, and was therefore overwhelmed by the dim lights, loud music, and the crowd. I went and sat in a corner and was admonished by my teacher, told that I had to go and join the crowd or else. So there I was, thrown for a loop.
I joined the group that I knew and was promptly ignored, as was expected, and then came the song. ‘Genie In a Bottle’ by Christina Aguilera. One of the worst songs I know. Catchy, I know. But a work of art? Not by any stretch of the imagination. Well, that was the song that everyone enjoyed the most, and the one that proved to me, without a doubt, that there was just no place for me in this world of loud lights and flashy music. The other girls were on top of their game, slithering and slinking and being as genie-like and Christina-like as 16-year-olds could possibly be. I tried, for a few minutes, to be part of that, but just couldn’t bring myself to it.
Now I’ve found my world, I’ve found my skin and I’m happy with it. But that song still fills me with a sense of inadequacy and – dare i say it? – shame and embarrassment. The reason I bring up this whole story is not to talk about Christina Aguilera or about high school drama. It is to show you how powerful music can be. I can’t quite remember the faces of those girls that made me feel like I was so much less than them. I can’t remember the names of the boys whose appreciation I also wanted. I can’t remember the ballroom of the hotel very well, and I can’t remember anything that happened in that trip except that I won that spelling bee and brought home a huge gold medal. But my mind hasn’t forgotten that song and the power it has to make me feel all of those emotions again. Music is a powerful thing.