Gender & Identity Life

When I listen to my parents’ music, I find myself

It’s been maybe a year or more since I kept up with my iTunes, so it probably doesn’t reflect my music tastes very well anymore. But if I were to have my ideal iTunes it would probably contain some artists that you would expect for a 20 year old. The Fray, OneRepublic, Peter Hollens, Brooklyn Duo, and The Lion King soundtrack, for example.

But then there would be some names that you totally wouldn’t expect. How did they get there? The simple answer would be because of my parents.

Before I was old enough to have my own taste in music we would ride in the car and listen to my Mom’s CDs. And after my parents finished our basement they also left a giant collection of their CDs there. My brother and I would then put them on as background when we would play around downstairs, slowly learning the songs my parents loved.

When I became old enough to develop my own taste in music it became quickly apparent that it was going to be much different than my parents. I was into young stars, only a few years older than I was who were doing either traditional, classical songs or a popera type thing. But still there were memories behind my parents’ songs that made them special.

Because the appeal of these songs is so much in the memories they are sometimes of a totally different genre than what I usually listen to.  So rock is generally too chaotic for me, but at the same time I’d find it strange to have an iTunes without Santana’s Supernatural album on it. If I’m feeling particularly sassy or need a wake up you’ll sometimes find me singing along to the songs in my room while I work.

Then there are a few songs and albums that it would be unlikely to find on any twentysomething iPod just because the artists are more of my parents’ generation, and I likely wouldn’t have been exposed to them if it weren’t for the old CDs I found lying around. I have a vivid memory of my mom being somewhat embarrassed on my behalf when I said I enjoyed Yanni’s music, just because she claimed I was too young to be dating myself that way (Let’s ignore the fact that I also enjoy classical music, which is much older than Yanni. I am also far from the only one to like this kind of music).

Am I a little self-conscious that I like some of these artists? Yes. But I also think if you ask a lot of people what their music tastes are like they will say they like “some weird stuff.” Mainstream music is great, but everyone has tastes that diverge from the most popular songs.

And sometimes it’s nice to be able to pull up a little Van Morrison to play if my Mom and I are hanging out in my room together. There’s a strange and special bond that forms over having a bit of an overlapping taste in music. And it’s always fun to hear memories that my Mom has that feature these same songs.

When I played piano this added a new dimension to sharing songs with family members. I once learned the theme song from the cheesy 1970’s movie Love Story for my Aunt.  I learned a version of “Fly Me to the Moon” for my Mom. I can’t pick up sheet music and read it easily, but for me taking the time to learn these songs was another way of creating a musical bond with my Mom or aunt, and saying “I love you.”

So yes, some of these old songs are cheesy, especially for someone of my age. But they also have a strong emotional connection that’s hard to get with a top 40 song.  These are not the coolest songs, but they are the ones that I will sometimes turn to when I’m in the weirdest moods, and the ones that remind me of home and a special connection with my family.

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By Grace Ballenger

Grace Ballenger is currently pursuing a BA at Wellesley College where she studies English and Spanish. One of her (too many) goals this summer is to make the list of musicals she wants to listen to shorter.