Friday, April 13, 2012

The 30 Songs Of My 30 Years--An Autobiographical Playlist

Well, here I am. 2 hours and 15 minutes into my 30s. To commemorate the occasion, I've made a 30 song autobiographical playlist. Not necessarily my 30 favorite songs. In fact, some of them are terrible, though I'm sure at the time I didn't think so. But these songs that have stood out to me at one point in time or another. Many songs made the long list. It was tough cutting it down. Painful, really. But I did it. Here it is-my life, according to music.

1. "I Love Rock and Roll"-Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.
April 13, 1982-The number 1 song in U.S. that day. It pretty much set the stage for the rest of my life. No song could make better sense. :)

2. "This Cowboy's Hat"-Chris Ledoux
I debated putting this song first, as I'm pretty sure I was listening to Chris Ledoux in the womb. I remember being a small child listening to him with my parents. Chris was no manufactured pop country star. He toured the rodeo circuit, winning the bareback riding championship at the National Finals Rodeo. Hence, his music is representative of the rodeo life my parents led and hoped for me. (oops).

3. "The Look"-Roxette
I remember this being my first favorite song, along with Warrant's "Cherry Pie." I picked this over "Cherry Pie" because I distinctly remember being in my bedroom around the age of 4 or 5 and hearing this on the radio and loving it. Then, when I was a few years older, I wondered if my dad left because I listened to rock n' roll (it's evil, you know. ;) ) This could play into part of my cynicism toward modern Christianity. :)

4. "Amarillo by Morning"-George Strait
Much like Chris Ledoux, George is a classic, and also a rodeo champion, though a team roper rather than bronc rider. (Yes, I said "bronc." Only wanna-be cowboys say "bronco.") George may also have been played while I was in the womb. It was to this song and others like it that my mom taught me to two-step in our kitchen. George and Chris are the two country acts I will go back to again and again. They're the only one's who matter. :)

5. "Jesus Freak"-DC Talk
Well, we've reached middle school. That pretty much explains that.
Oh, also, when I was in Finland in 2010, long after these guys should have retired, Kevin Max, one of the trio, played at a music fest put on by an organization my friends work/volunteer with. Wondering if he would play it, we all grinned at each other and yelled every word right along with him when he did.

6. "Where the 0 meets the 15"-Five Iron Frenzy
How to choose which Five Iron song?! It finally came down to this one and "Dandelions," which I based a children's book on my junior year of high school. (We had to make it for class.) I chose this one in the end because it was my first favorite Five Iron song and also about an intersection in Denver, where I lived for bit of time later in my 20s. I still geek out when I'm in Denver on the corner of  "Colfax and Broadway." I still have a flyer from the first Five Iron show I saw in Brookings, SD at Joe House where we thought we were cool stuff by hanging out with the gang. Kids were  in the alley outside Joe House skanking (dancing to ska, not being whores) in the snow. Several years later, I discovered that some of my friends I wouldn't meet until my early to mid 20s were at that show.

7. "Blindspot"-Brandtson
The first time I ever heard this song, I was in love with it. It rocked my world. It's one of the few songs where I've been immediately taken by it. Introduced to it by my friend Skye, it still remains one of my favorite songs ever. I heard it on a compilation disc, and if I'm not mistaken, I got the whole CD for my 16th birthday. I still have a Brandston sticker and flyer that I got a Cornerstone one year in a New Kids on the Block folder full of flyers and stickers accumulated throughout high school and early college.

8. "Strawberry Wine"-Deana Carter
There may have been a scandal at a small baptist church the summer I was 17.

9. "A Question Alone"-Spoken
Spoken was my favorite band for close to a decade. I have photos of me on my 18th birthday and 28th birthdays (and many in between) wearing my Spoken hoodie that I got when I saw them when I was 17. That show when I was 17 was one of the first times I saw them...maybe the second. They played "A Question Alone" that night, which at that time was about to come out on their new record "Echoes of the Spirit Still Dwell." This, like Blindspot, was one of those moments when I heard a song for the first time and was struck in awe. I can still see Matt (the vocalist) performing a certain part of it from that night. I'll probably be buried in that Spoken hoodie. (Ideally, not soon.)

10. "Yellow"-Coldplay
New Years Day, 2001. What better way to ring in the new year than going roller skating with your best friend? That day, as we circled the rink, "Yellow" came on. I'd never heard it, but somehow it stuck with me. I'd randomly hear it on the radio, but always missed the name of the artist. Thankfully, my roommate at the time clued me in. It was a band called Coldplay. The rest is pretty much history. It has become one of my top 3 favorite songs of all time. I cried when I finally saw them play it live in the fall of 2008.

11. "Criticism as Inspiration"-Pedro the Lion
If I'm not mistaken, this was the first Pedro song I ever heard. I think my friend Skye put them on a mix for me in the late 90s or early 2000s. Anyway, they of course grew to be one of my favorite bands. David Bazan, at the time, had things to say about modern day Christianity that I felt were important to for people to hear.  His progression (regression?) of faith has been interesting to listen to over the last decade. Many of my thoughts have often aligned with his, until recently, when our understandings have diverged. He's no longer a theist, let alone a Christian, and honestly, I can't blame him. We've wrestled with many of the same ideas, which is why I've loved his music for so long. I picked this song of his, again, because it was the first song of his I heard and has a relatively poignant message regarding the absurdity of Christians flouting their holiness. Also, on the hard copy of this playlist, I put the live version of the song that was recorded in Omaha, NE at the show I was at with a couple of good friends who have since started dating, got married, and are now expecting their first child. :)

12. "Nice and Blue"-mewithoutYou
In the summer of 2001, I went with several friends to a music festival called Cornerstone. It was the first day of the festival. My friends and I had just watched a band we loved called Dead Poetic, but we thought we'd stick around that stage and see what the next band had to offer. That little decision may have changed me life. Okay, maybe not that drastically, but we were rewarded for our decision. mewithoutYou took the stage, and though it was only the afternoon of the first day of the fest, I knew it would be the best show I would see all week. It was. (Pedro the Lion would have been in the running if they would not have played main stage and been forced to edit a song for content. Ugh.) Since then, mewithoutYou has been in regular rotation on my listening devices (The announcement of a thing called an iPod wouldn't even occur for three and a half months.) "Nice and Blue" has always been my favorite song of theirs, and it was on their first album and was played that first fateful day in July of 2001. My email address for quite sometime and an occasional screen name is derived from that song: blindedsight--from the line "Though no longer blind, I can't yet see."
May 30, 2012 mewithoutYou in Omaha! 11 years later, and I'll be front and center.

13. "If These Scars Could Speak"-Zao
Oh, my hardcore years and none better than Zao. This song pretty much represents that few years in my life when every two weeks or show my tattooed friends and I would shell out $5-$10 to slam into one another, do the lawnmower (the hardcore version, not disco), be covered in hundreds of other peoples sweat, and growl along with whatever vocalist would thrust the mic in our faces. My badass days. I'm kind of a pansy now.

14. "Soundtrack for Salvation"-Nodes of Ranvier
A lot on the same lines as the song above, except that these guys were from my home town.  My friends and I would faithfully arrive each time they played and scream along. Yelling the intro to this song was always a good time. One of the guitar players eventually became my roommate and a really good friend. There were 4 of us in that house and we were never the only ones home. In fact, if we were, we'd look around and go "Where is everyone?" Those years were filled with much beer, billiards, music, games, star gazing, and the occasional bloke laying under the Christmas tree making comments that would make a few of us have to go into the kitchen where we collapsed onto the floor laughing. Okay...that only happened once.

15. "Brightest"-Copeland
Somehow, despite being at a Nodes show, this band Copeland ended up playing with them. Since we were all prepared to scream along words we didn't know with a band we hadn't heard, we were quite surprised when they took the stage and played happy and sappy little acoustic songs. However, we were all quite smitten with their loveliness. Afterwards, we were chatting with them and ended up becoming friends. They even offered me a room to live in in Atlanta, where I really wanted to move to work with this organization called Revolution, run by Jay Bakker. Bakker as in Jim and Tammy Faye. He is their son, but has somehow managed to come out of some pretty awful situations with a reasonable faith. Much like David Bazan and I, Bakker and I have wrestled with (and continue to wrestle with) many of the same ideas conservative evangelicalism had once indoctrinated us with. In a sea of rules and legalism, somehow we found the simple(?) idea of grace.

16. "Ball and Chain"-Social Distortion

Admittedly, the first time I heard "Ball and Chain," it was a cover by a Christian band that I can't remember the name of. But, I recognized a good song when I heard one. A few years later, I started thinking for myself and discovered the awesomeness of Social D. I was Mike Ness (lead singer) for a friend's rock n' roll costume birthday party one year. For a good portion of my early 20s, I couldn't get enough Social D. Punk meets country. What could be more perfect for me?

17. "Everything"-Lifehouse
We've reached the Finland portion of the playlist.Though really, this and the next two songs stand out more to me regarding Finns in America than this American in Finland. One snowy weekend in March of 2005, my life changed forever. Some of you may remember a time when I never cared about Finland. Others of you (mostly, those of you who met me after this weekend) may not believe there ever was such a time. That weekend and this song mark the turning point. I went from Sioux Falls, SD to De Smet, SD to stay with my cousins for the weekend. They were hosting an exchange student from Finland named Maria that year. I had met her a few times over Christmas and whatnot, but didn't know her very well. That was to change. I had been away from the Church for several years, due to anger, pain, cynicism, apathy, and other things of the sort. That weekend, Maria's brothers came to visit and I played host. I arrived in DeSmet on Friday evening and her brother's were a few hours behind me. The next day, the four of us, along with my cousin Garrett, went into Brookings to do some shopping and grab some dinner. Maria purchased 2 CDs-Lifehouse's "No Name Face," and Jimmy Eat World's "Bleed American." It was about a 45 minute drive back to DeSmet from Brookings, so we decided to listen to the Lifehouse album. If you're not aware of the spirituality music (and other creative endeavors) possesses, I urge you to seek that out. From the moment that record came on until we pulled into the driveway, not one of the five of us said a word. The music played, filling the car with what I'm going to call the presence of God. Really, it's hard to explain. We sat and listened and some entitity of beauty encompassed us. There was stillness. There was beauty. There was love. When we got home, Maria and I talked about our faiths, how I had somewhat lost mine, but what had just happened in the car brought me back to pure Love. The next morning, when I was about to leave for Sioux Falls, Maria gave me a note reminding me of the absolute love and faithfulness of God, and rollled it up, keeping it rolled with a silver ring which I still wear on special occasions to this day.

18. Ilta On Tullut Luojani-(A Finnish Lullaby)
While Maria's brother's were here, along with Garrett, the five of us fell asleep in my living room. It was late and we were all wrapped in blankets when the three Finns sang a lullaby from when they were kids. I believe it's the equivalent of "Now I lay me down to sleep."  Finnish musicians are masters at crafting haunting melodies, and this song was no different. After that night, I made them sing it to me repeatedly both while they were in American and when I was in Finland in 2006. One year, for my birthday, I recieved a mix CD from Finland. On the CD was Maria and her brother, Juhana, singing the lullaby. Clearly, that's my favorite version, though not the one I could find online. :)

19. "Hear You Me"-Jimmy Eat World
I had already loved this song for years, but when Maria bought it and we started listening to it, it reminded me of how much I liked it. After that weekend in March, Maria stayed with me in Sioux Falls quite often. We would drive around and listen to music, talk about God, hopes, dreams, crushes, and all sorts of girl talk. We became fast friends. The dreaded day came when she had to go back to Finland. I arrived at the airport to see her off with a portable CD player and headphones, "Hear You Me," cued up. We sat together on the airport seats, I with one headphone, Maria with the other, and we listened to that song and cried together. I think somewhere there is a photo of us sitting there, heads together, faces red and puffy from tears. When I talk about Finland, I'm not just talking about some silly obsession or even just friends. Somehow, those people, that nation, grabbed a part of my soul, reminded me that God truly is beautiful and good, and blessed me beyond what they can imagine. 

 20. "Bittersweet Symphony"-The Verve
In the spring of 2007 I moved to Seattle. In the summer of 2007, I moved back. When I left Seattle that morning, as I drove east across the bride over Lake Washington, with Seattle in my rear view mirror, I blared this song. It looked a lot like the final scene from Cruel Intentions. Mine was not an original idea. :) I blared that song because it became clear to me that "It's a bittersweet symphony, this life." It also spawned a battle with the idea of "home." I still haven't come to a conclusion on that idea, though I wrestle with it and write about it often. It's a strong theme that runs through my life: the balance (or lack there-of) of home with this insatiable wanderlust that so strongly has a hold of me.

21. "Society" Eddie Vedder
Clearly, I don't live the typical life. I am 30 and single. I have no place of my own and relatively little belongings. Settling down seems like a far off and unlikely end. In the early 1990s, there was a man named Christopher McCandless who had a similar life. He was quite a bit more transient than me, and met a much more gruesome end (I hope), but his ideas challenged that of the "American Dream," and what society expected of him. He wandered the country, searching for himself. On two different occasions, he ended up living and working in a small town in Eastern South Dakota called Carthage. Much of my paternal side of the family is from Carthage and McCandless lived next door to my great-grandparents for a bit. There is a change I ran into him a time or two. After his untimely death, Jon Krakauer wrote a book about him. Several years later, Sean Penn made that book into a movie. Both were called Into the Wild. Eddie Vedder did the soundtrack and this song, "Society," could be my anthem. 

22. "Glosoli"-Sigur Ros
Seeing Sigur Ros live for the first time was when I began to discover that God could be seen and heard. I cried both times I saw them and fully expect to again when I see them in August of 2012. In her TEDtalk, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love speaks of time when peoples in the North African desert would gather for dances. I'll quote Gilbert here, because she words it much better than I can:
I know you’ve all seen at some point in your life a performance like this."It’s as if time stopped, and the dancer stepped through a portal. He wasn’t doing anything different than he’d done a thousand times before, but for some reason everything was aligned and he no longer appeared to just move. Instead, he seemed to be lifted from within and below."And when this happened, people knew it for what it was," she said. "They called it by its name. They’d put their hands together and would start to chant Allah, Allah. ‘God, God.’"
I get very excited about music. You don't have to know me long to see that. It's because, music can be so much more than just music. This is exactly what I was getting at when I was speaking about the moment the Finns and I were in the car listening to "Everything." It's something beyond us. 

23. "Soft Skeletons"-Anberlin
All I'd ever wanted to do was travel abroad. I wanted to experience life in another culture. I wanted it so badly, I couldn't imagine the difficulties it might bring about. I learned these well during my last few months of living and teaching English in South Korea. Speaking to a "little girl with so much hurt for such a young age," this song became my battle cry for not only my time there, but for facing many struggles. For "how can you expect to win this war if you're too afraid to fight?"

24. "Wonderwall"-Oasis
Have you ever had a dream come true? Not a dream like,  "I've always wanted to travel to Europe and now I have," but a dream you have when you're sleeping. I had a dream one late winter night about this song and a certain person. A few months later, in real life, I was standing next to that person at a concert, when the artist covered this song. That sort of thing sticks with you, you know?

25. "The Waiting"-Tom Petty
Pretty much the theme of the last two years of my life. Notice the URL address? Pretty much, 'nuff said.

26. "With or Without You"-U2
Again, how to choose which U2 song? It was between this one and "Sunday Bloody Sunday," which has become my favorite since breaking in to see them in the summer of 2011. 60,000 people chanting in unison "Sunday Bloody Sunday" is pretty moving. But I went with "With or Without You," because it's been a longtime favorite, and I ended up singing it with my friend at Karaoke the same night some very close friends were seeing them across the pond. And the song resonates with my thoughts about...nevermind. 

27. "How He Loves"-John Mark McMillan
I went to a little Bible study with a few friends in Korea. We startaed by singing a few songs. That was the first time I'd ever heard this song. It struck me immediately, I had to find out who did it. The thing that stuck out to me the most was the line "If grace is an ocean, we're all sinking." The only thing I love as much as music is the ocean. I once wrote an essay for a class in undergrad about how it seems to me like the ocean is a lover. Singing about the ocean, comparing it to grace...what can I say? The immensity of grace, the immensity of music, the immensity of the's far too much to take in. 

28. "The Cave"-Mumford and Sons
Here again is a song that hit me hard the first time I heard it. Within minutes, I was online purchasing the whole album. Not only is it a neo-hillbilly style that blends my past and future, but Marcus Mumford (vocalist, primary song writer) is right there with David Bazan, Jay Bakker, and I, wrestling with this strange faith and spirituality throughout the whole album. In "The Cave," we hear "I'll find strength in pain and I will change my ways. I'll know my name as it's called again." Like several other artists on this list, I could have picked a number of songs. "Roll Away Your Stone," was a close second. But this song, along with being my original fav, has me belting out several lines with whole-hearted emotion. "Cuz I need freedom now, and I need to know how, to live my life as it's meant to be!" Mumford and Sons are also quite reminiscent of the sort of music I've been listening to these days. And also, what kind of philosophy student would I be if I didn't give Plato a shout out?

29. "Daylight"-Brave Saint Saturn
BSS is a side project of a few members of Five Iron Frenzy, and this song "Daylight" usually is referenced as my favorite song of all time. After nearly a decade, I still blare this song in my car when I need to have a good cry. I feel like the only way to explain this song is to do just that. Blare it loudly in your car and be overtaken by it. This was the first song I listened today, the first song of my 30s.

30. "Shake It Out"-Florence and the Machine
Well, we made it to the end. there were several changes and edits to this list, but this the final cut. "Screaming Infedelities" by Dashboard Confessional got cut to make room for this. I thought I'd end my 30 year autobiographical playlist with my favorite song on this, my 30th birthday. I can't stop listening to this song, and when I see Florence this August at Lolla, I'll give her a run for her money when we both cry out "and it's hard to dance with the devil on you back, so shake him off! whoa-ooo-ooo!" And what a place to end my twenties and enter my thirties but by shaking off insecurities, negativities, and woes and exchange it for dancing? The idea of the dancer is one that comes to me repeatedly in writing. One story in particular....a girl, a runner, who runs her whole life, finds herself in a great hall with the One whose lead her home to dance.

The entire playlist here.


  1. Beautiful list! I love the stories behind each song you've selected. Can't wait to experience Sigur Ros with you, and you can fully expect for me to be dancing alongside you as you belt it out with Florence. <3

  2. Well, I said this on FB, but I really think this is cool idea. Its interesting to see the progression of your life in music.

  3. Awesome list! I love that you posted explanations to go with each song! Thanks for sharing! :) :)