Full Disclosure: I published this a month ago. It was brutally ignored by my most loyal readers. I’m trying to see something.
Originally called “Cinematic Songs” with an image of empty red velvet seats in a dark cinema, it sat next to a story with 304 reads. Granted, that was a Top Story. But usually my stories that aren’t Top Stories get 50-75 reads. This got 22.
People like images that are clean—not too much going on, just a focal point to draw the eyes in—and colorful. People like when I talk about myself or my life, so I put “my” in the title. It’s not clickbait. This is a deeply personal essay with a soundtrack. I have not altered the body of text in any way. Let’s see how this experiment goes. Perhaps I’ll write something afterwards about attracting more reads.
When asked in preschool what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’m on record as answering, “Madonna.”
Pressed further, I said I’d be a model, movie star, singer, author, and illustrator. Not I wanted to be—I said I would.
I was three years old. I had hyperlexia, already reading and writing.
Then came high school. I wanted to be a rock star, best friends with D’Arcy from Smashing Pumpkins. I wanted to be a filmmaker. I wanted to write and illustrate a memoir, direct and star in the autobiographical film adaptation, and oversee the soundtrack.
Some things I’ve done, others I’m working towards. I’ve acted in an indie film. I’m a retired nude model, but still collaborate with artists and photographers for fun. I plan to combine my watercolor paintings with my digital photography, and make mixed media self-portraits. I’m writing and illustrating a memoir that translates to film. I’m not the best singer, but I am constantly singing nonetheless.
One of my favorite things about Vocal is the integration of images and music through imbedded links. I love sharing playlists here.
Initially, I was excited to participate in the Musical Milestone Playlist challenge — but it proved to be too challenging. It was too close to what I’d like to do outside of Vocal, for a much, much larger audience, and in more than 5,000 words.
These are not milestones, or reflections of how they transformed me. They’re memories attached to my favorite songs from movie soundtracks.
The Spotify playlist is a mere one hour and four minutes, which doesn’t even begin to reveal my eclectic iTunes library, but it’s a glimpse.
“Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker, Jr.
It’s the summer of 1984. I’m just shy of two years old, with my September 7th birthday.
I cannot remember this occurring, but it’s one of my mother’s favorite stories. She’s told it so often I can see it in my mind’s eye.
Mom and I are in the one-room cinema of my rural Ohio hometown, which shows one film per week. Later, I’ll come here with my friends as a preteen. We’ll come every Tuesday, no matter what’s playing—for Tuesdays are when movie tickets are $2.
It’s Ghostbusters week. I’m a curly girly who adores singing along with the radio. I recognize the theme song, and stand on my chair, belting out,
“Who gon’ call? Ghooos-BUTTAHS!”
It is my first live performance, and according to my mother, the moviegoers loved it. It’s before my selective mutism overtakes me, and people see my trauma response as me being “shy.”
But like I said, it’s further back than I can remember. As an adult, I will do the psychological work to reclaim my inner child, remembering she loves an audience, and they love her back.
This song still slaps. I listen to it all the time. I’ve watched the original film as well as the 2016 one with my son. Who knew I’d be a ghostbuster someday, destroying what haunts me with shadow work?
I ain’t afraid of no ghosts.
“Soul to Squeeze” by Red Hot Chili Peppers
It’s summer 1993. I’ve finished my 5th grade year, a very challenging year.
The summer of 1992, Mom divorced my stepfather, a paranoid schizophrenic, a wife beater—and a pedophile too. A real winner, that one. She moved my little brother and I into her parents’ home. She no longer beat the shit out of me. For the first time in my life, I was safe where I lived.
My grandparents were rich, or that’s what I thought then. They were upper middle class in a poor town, and one of the wealthiest families there. They had a 4 bedroom, 2 1/2 bath house with a living room, family room, powder room, and walk-in closets. Each room was professionally decorated by interior designers. Most of the furniture was from Ethan Allen. All of it was well-crafted solid wood. Beautiful art hung on the walls.
Their house was in my hometown, but out in the country, off a state highway. I spent summers there during Mom’s workdays.
They had a horse pasture with a creek running through it. My grandfather retired from the Navy, then retired from his own construction company, and raced horses for a living. I mean he actually rode on a horse-dragged cart around the racetracks throughout Ohio. He had a pile of x-rays from his broken bones that I enjoyed looking at.
He didn’t stop racing until he had to, hooked up to an oxygen tank in his Lay-Z-Boy chair with emphysema. He was an avid Camel smoker. But that happened later, after they sold the house and moved to a condo. In this part of my story, there are horses.
And there’s music. There’s Red Hot Chili Peppers with their funkadelic rock.
I say my 5th grade year was challenging because I started the year at a new school. The little elementary school Mom went to as a girl, with grades 3rd–5th, and only six classrooms. There was a Japanese boy, and there was me. A half-black kid who was “shy.”
Needless to say, I went from being bullied at home to bullied at school. I’m not sure which was worse, since I was at school the majority of my time.
I heard Blood Sugar Sex Magik the summer after 5th grade and loved it. I was visiting my dad in Florida, finally allowed to. My stepfather forbid all contact. Dad was married to an incredible woman, Lisa. They’re divorced and I still love her. She’s the mother of three of my half-siblings. I have six half-siblings, and I’m the oldest, but that’s another story. Lisa took me to a friend’s wedding during my visit. The groom played Blood Sugar Sex Magik in it’s entirety during the reception, drunkenly singing out,
“Give it to me sweet sacred bliss, your mouth was made to suck my kiss!”
I’d never heard anything like it. Mom played nothing but 70’s funk and Prince, and Dr Dre’s The Chronic that summer. She listened to a hip hop and R&B radio station.
I obsessively watched MTV and VH1, so I’d seen the video for Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge” and liked it. But this album? It was a masterpiece.
Coneheads comes out. A movie I’ve still never seen. But this song is on the soundtrack, and I see the video. Something about it speaks to me so strongly. I am moved.
To this day, it’s one of my favorite tunes, and I love those Peppers.
“Science Fiction / Double Feature” by Richard O’Brien
It’s 1994. I’m finishing up my sixth grade year, with old friends again—for my entire county has one junior high. The kids from my old and new elementary schools are suddenly thrown together. I’m back with Julie, my best friend in the world.
Mom bought a house in town. It’s shit, and it’s on the wrong side of the tracks. But as fate would have it, it’s walking distance to the house Julie’s parents just bought.
I’m staying the night at Julie’s.
She has been talking to me about this movie, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It sounds insane. I wonder if Julie is making it up, as she is wont to do. She’s hilarious, but sometimes the things she says are pure fiction, and she reveals that after I’ve nearly pissed myself laughing.
She begs her mom to let us watch it. Her mom says it’s not appropriate. She informs her mom that my mom doesn’t care, and regularly plays Prince music around me.
We watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
What is this magic?
This film was made for me!
Is that… is that who I think it is?
That sweet transvestite was the wizard in The Worst Witch, my favorite childhood movie!
I would go on to do my own gender bending as an adult, frequenting LGBT bars.
I love the entire soundtrack (how can you not?), and the Glee episode dedicated to covering the soundtrack (again, how can you not?).
This is my favorite, though.
“Waiting for the Miracle” by Leonard Cohen
It’s 1996. I’m a freshman in high school, but Julie and I like to stay with a college friend on weekends. Mom allows it because of who this friend is. She’s the little sister of my former stepfather, and she’s nothing like him.
We love walking around the campus of Ohio State University in Columbus. There are so many cool shops.
Julie and I stop in a head shop full of bongs and band tees.
I hear a deep voice emanating from the speakers. It’s the sexiest voice I’ve ever heard.
“Who’s this singing?” I ask the cashier.
He looks at me, slightly annoyed I don’t know. Then he realizes I’m a baby. He goes easy on me.
“You know that Nirvana song that goes gimme a Leonard Cohen afterworld?” he half sings, half asks.
“Yeah! I know that song.”
“Well, this is Leonard Cohen,” he replies.
Later, when I’m eighteen, I’ll watch Natural Born Killers, which this particular song is from.
The movie is full of phenomenal music.
Cowboy Junkies’ cover of “Sweet Jane.” Nine Inch Nails’ “Something I Can Never Have.” “Ted, Just Admit It…….” by Jane’s Addiction. Patti Smith’s “Rock N Roll N****r.”
I’ll watch the movie well over 100 times.
Much later still, I’ll go to college in Dayton, starting my freshman year at age 24. I’ll fall in love with my English teacher, who looks like Jennifer Connelly in her prime. I’ll find out she’s a poet earning her MFA; and she does mixed martial arts; and she has a child named Indigo. She’s everything to me.
I’ll write a review of Natural Born Killers and its layered symbolism for a class assignment. I’ll impress her.
She’ll love all my work. She’ll tell me I should be published.
“Do you think my tone is bitchy?” I’ll ask. That’s what grown men have said to me about my writing since I began sharing it online as a teenager.
“No,” she’ll say. “You have a strong voice as a writer, and I hope you never lose it.”
“Where Is My Mind?” by Pixies
I don’t have a memory for this one. I just fucking love Pixies, and Fight Club, which this is from.
“Playground Love” by Air (feat. Gordon Tracks)
Her name is ______. Her eyes are dark golden green like sun-dappled moss, her skin the gold ochre of sand, her hair deep sepia brown like freshly dug earth.
She’s the girl next door. She’s my friend. A close friend, who stays over at my house. I’m so in love with her it hurts, but she’ll never know.
I move next door to her when Mom buys that house, and I’m 11 years old. I won’t say what happened to her, but it’s rough. She’s still alive. Her life has been cruel.
It’s 2003. I still live at home, and see her visit home occasionally.
I watch The Virgin Suicides directed by Sofia Coppola, starring Kirsten Dunst. Even though they look nothing alike, the character Lux makes me think of ______.
I read the amazing book by Jeffrey Eugenides. I also read his novel Middlesex, about a person born intersex. I relate to it because of my androgyny and gender dysphoria. It helps me embrace who I am a tiny bit more than I did before reading it.
I discover Air, the French music duo who created the full soundtrack for The Virgin Suicides. I love their entire discography.
Later, I’ll write How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. The character Kathryn will be somewhat inspired by ______ and the sense of longing I felt for her.
Each time I hear “Playground Love” I think of her.
“Upside Down” by Jack Johnson
It’s 2014. I’m a military wife stationed in Honolulu. I’m the stay-at-home mother of a beautiful toddler boy. His name is Terry.
I don’t know how Curious George ends up on my iPad. Maybe my husband put it there. I’m watching it with Terry, sick in bed, trying to keep him occupied enough to not wander off.
The movie opens with this song, and a sequence of George still in Africa. It’s adorable. It makes my heart happy as I cuddle with my own curious little guy.
Later, I’ll move to Minneapolis in 2021, and have an adventurous year with Terry. Maybe the best year of my life. That year will end with him moving to Washington to live with his father.
I’ll feel a mixture of heartbreak and relief. Having devoted myself to taking care of others; wondering if my time will ever come. My time will come in 2022. I’ll have all the time in the world to write.
I’ll get a job taking care of Audrey the summer Terry leaves. It’ll be 35 hours a week, only half-days on Mondays and Wednesdays—with great pay, even weeks the family is out of town on vacation. Audrey will nap a lot. I’ll have more free time than I can recall having.
Audrey, a five-month-old baby when I start. My sunshine.
Today is the one-year anniversary of me taking care of her. Today is Saturday, and it’s rather perfect that I’ve been asked to spend the evening with Audrey while her parents go out for a Father’s Day dinner.
Audrey loves George. She has a book about him visiting a fire station that she demands I read every afternoon before nap time. We spend our days playing together. No screen time. But I did show her this music video, and she squealed with delight when she saw George.
“Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” by Harry Belafonte
It’s 2018. I’ve divorced my husband, and I have full physical custody of Terry. Terry and I moved to Portland, Oregon in the spring. He started kindergarten in the autumn.
I’m happy. Being a single mom isn’t a hard transition for me, because as a military wife, I already felt like one.
It’s October, my favorite time of the year. I’ve loved Halloween and all things spooky or macabre since childhood.
I spend Octobers watching “scary” children’s movies with Terry on Friday nights—our movie night.
We watch Frankenweenie.
Goosebumps 1 and 2.
The Nightmare Before Christmas.
But this particular evening, he wants to see Beetlejuice. He hears me offhandedly reference it, and wants to know what I’m talking about.
He loves it. Especially the scene with this song.
Later, it’ll become a song we sing and dance to every morning of the pandemic.
“Running with the Wolves” by AURORA
It’s the summer of 2021. It’s Terry’s last night in Portland.
His dad will drive down from Washington in the morning to pick him up. He’ll spend the obligatory eight weeks there, per our divorce decree. When he comes back to me, it’ll be on an airplane. I am moving to Minneapolis.
Terry never had a crib. We did the attachment parenting thing, cosleeping and baby-wearing until he was three years old.
He’s eight, and still wishes he could sleep in my bed. I tell him he’s too old, and too much of a bed hog. Our compromise is that he can sleep with me on Friday nights after our movie. That’s it.
It’s movie night, and we’re curled up in his bed with the dinosaur sheets from Pottery Barn Kids. It’s his last night there, too. I’m selling all my furniture.
I have always allowed Terry to choose the shows or films we watch together. Tonight, we are watching Wolfwalkers. It’s so beautiful I cry.
Later, I’ll realize this song is from the woman who does the secret siren voice in “Into the Unknown”—my favorite song from the Frozen 2 soundtrack. I’ll realize she also sung “I Went Too Far”—my favorite song featured on HBO’s Girls, which has the best music of any television show ever.
I’ll realize I love AURORA.
I’ll write Kill Switch, inspired by this song.
“Across the Universe” by Fiona Apple
It’s May 2023. I’ve lived here, in this unit, since November.
My previous apartment was what Terry wanted. I can admit I was a pushover. Everything was what Terry wanted.
We lived in the vibrant LynLake neighborhood of Uptown, in a brand new “luxury” building. And the apartment was gorgeous, with polished concrete floors and stainless steel appliances. It was also ridiculously small. And the neighborhood wasn’t particularly safe at night. Sometimes, getting home late from Mall of America with Terry, I was worried for us.
Prior to getting divorced, I’d never lived somewhere with my name the only name on the lease. I lived with family. Roommates. Lovers.
When Terry went to live with his father the summer before turning ten, it hit me. I was going to live completely alone. It was thrilling. The decision about where to go when my lease ended was entirely up to me.
I chose the perfect neighborhood. Cedar-Isles-Dean. It’s walking distance to Uptown, with all the good shops and cafes. It’s walking distance to swanky Linden Hills, where Audrey lives. It’s surrounded by Lake Bde Maka Ska, Lake of the Isles, and Cedar Lake. I can take an edible, walk across the street, and lounge on the beach. I feel safe running before sunrise.
My apartment is charmingly vintage, and twice the size of my last place for the same price—with free heat, which is a lifesaver during Minnesota winters. I have gleaming hardwood floors. I have original purple tiles and a pedestal sink in my bathroom.
Terry asks me, “Why do you like vintage places so much, Momma? Is it because it’s from when you were a little girl?”
I laugh hysterically.
But anyways, I’m on my own this night, a Friday night. No longer movie night with my baby boy. I’ve created a new ritual for myself—Shabbat.
I am setting out the candles; the charcuterie board with all-beef salami and other delights; the wine.
I’m listening to Fiona Apple cover a Beatles song from the movie Pleasantville. My AirPods are in. I’m crazy about Fiona and The Beatles. I’m smiling and singing,
“Nothings gonna change my worlllddd… nothings gonna change my worrrlldd…”
Suddenly, I hear a masculine voice join in. A neighbor is in the stairwell. He cannot hear the song my AirPods are playing, but he can hear me. We perform an a cappella duet through my closed kitchen door.
It’s one of the most glorious things to ever happen to me, someone who always dreamed of living inside a musical for just one day, or one song.
I am filled with joy. Life is crazy sometimes, but I’m going to be okay.
The Other Songs:
“You Could Make a Killing” by Aimee Mann – Cruel Intentions
“Worried Shoes” by Karen O and the Kids – Where the Wild Things Are
“Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” by Nancy Sinatra – Kill Bill Vol. 1
“Talk Show Host” by Radiohead – Romeo & Juliet
“Lady, Your Roof Brings Me Down” by Scott Weiland – Great Expectations