Today I had to borrow my dad’s car to pick my daughter up from school. The radio was set to 104.3, Classic Rock and when a commercial came on, I clicked his presets, and just as I predicted, they were exactly like mine would be (if I wasn’t sharing my presets with my husband), verifying what I already suspected: I have the musical taste of a middle-aged white man. It’s not surprising I have a similar musical taste as my dad, I grew up listening to the same two Beatles tapes in the car, over and over. His musical tastes determined my default preferences.
1980s rock songs became the melancholic melody to my adolescence and I blame the radio station at the donut shop, permanently set to the classic rock station. In 1988, Chicago, Jefferson Airplane, and Styx formed the soundtrack while I cleaned u-shaped mustard-colored Formica counters with bleach. Incidentally, I never thought I was actually getting the counters clean. The rags we used felt like a collection of germs congealed into the wrinkles of the graying terry cloth mini towel, but I did as I was told. I poured the bleach on the rag, scrubbed the counters, and put them in the dishwasher under power wash and heated dry to sterilize them. This was the protocol my father and the morning crew decided and the state health inspector approved. He never had an issue with our sub-counter bleach rags; all he cared about was our hair net usage and a sign in the bathroom instructing employees to wash their hands. My father wrote “ALL EMPLOYEES MUST WASH HANDS” in ballpoint pen (not even marker!) on a ripped out piece of lined paper from the composition notebook he used to keep the books. Employees received their pay in small white envelopes with their names or initials written on them in the same ballpoint pen.
There are songs which feel nostalgic even from the first listen, like how you meet a child who has an old soul. The Beatles’ Let it Be (or 30 other songs), The Eagles’ Hotel California, American Pie by Don Maclean, Cats in the Cradle by Cat Stevens, Jim Croce’s Time in a Bottle. While other teenagers bopped to Madonna and Michael Jackson (hipper kids were obsessed with Depeche Mode), I developed the musical taste of a white man having a midlife crisis.
My musical taste has expanded and can be summarized as classic rock + gypsy + latin (or Russian) + sad music. My custom Pandora station blends all my favorites: from Beatles to Gogol Bordello to French songs and Matisyahu, Ray LaMontagne and the Civil Wars (who broke up after two albums but they’re tremendous and amazing and sad as hell). My son loves my mix (scientifically proven that intelligence comes from the mother) and listens to my station while away from home, which brings an altogether new intense sensation of nostalgia and connection.
It’s fascinating to witness the musical taste pass along through the generations, like love for a favorite sports team. Songs imprint themselves as the soundtrack to our memories and help keep them alive.