The life cycle of a song

Saturday, February 20, 2021 - 2:26pm

NOSELL

Design by Erin Ruark

The “First Time”

Maybe a friend sends it to you with a little text saying “thought you’d like this!!” that instantly makes your chest balloon. Or maybe it comes up on a Spotify radio station or playlist. Perhaps it intrigues you from the depths of a book passage. It’s possible you choose it because the album art looked interesting. Maybe it means a lot instantly. Maybe it takes a second to settle in, finding the perfect way to inhabit your brain. Whatever the case, that song stays with you. For some reason, it’s really lodged in there. You can’t get it out of your head. The two of you are intertwined.

 

The Three Days Where You Play It A Million Times

With your cell phone, you can take it anywhere. The song becomes the thing you most consistently spend time with. You’re working most of the time, but luckily you can concentrate while listening to music. You put it on in the background when you find time to hang out with friends. It accompanies you to the grocery store, people staring at you as you hum it in the aisles. You write the lyrics you like best on the back of your hand, and you listen to it seven times in a row. And each time, you seem to somehow like it better.

 

You Add It To Playlists

What’s that emotion you’re feeling right now? You can’t quite figure it out. Your finger absentmindedly hovers on your mouse, as you look over your playlists. The song sits on your mind, and you decide it’s time to give it a home. But which one to add it to? These days, it feels like everything in your life is constantly moving fluidly into the next thing. There are no times to stop and breathe (except winter break, when everything stopped just a little too much). All you can do is take the things as they come and try to process them even as you’re moving on to the next. 

But this song, it just seems to fit into some niche. It clicks, somehow, God, you know that sounds cheesy. It’s when you’re adding it to the playlist that you usually listen to at 1 a.m. that you realize, maybe this is a sad song. How strange that this comes as a surprise. It’s not immediately apparent, you suppose, thinking about how maybe the touches of trumpets or drifting guitar strings hide the impact of the lyrics. This tune walks some strange line across your mind. You guess that you just haven’t really taken the time to figure out why that is. Why does the song’s balance appeal to you right now? What is it you love at the moment that makes this blend of notes and emotions make sense? What is it you need?

 

You Send It To Loved Ones

It sounds almost like that song that played over and over that September when you and your best friend were 16 and she had her own car and gave you summery, open-windowed car rides home from school — it has the same bass line, maybe. You text it to her, and immediately she writes back that she misses you. What does quality time mean in a pandemic? What does it mean when you and your best friend go to different colleges? Sometimes, the best you can do is send a song you think she’d like and schedule a FaceTime. Something about that shared experience of listening to the song at the same time in completely different places. Together, but apart.

Actually, there’s a recorded giggle in that tune that sounds almost like your mother’s laugh. You haven’t called her in a bit. The song isn’t a guilt trip, just a reminder; A time to check-in, both with your mother and yourself. 

The sample of murmuring voices underneath the main melody — that too, sounds like the parties your parents would have when you were small, and all you could do was tiptoe to your cracked door and watch as you were supposed to sleep. The rest of your family would attend if they were in town. 

You miss them too. Sometimes, if your mom really likes the music you show her, she’ll send it to all the people she loves. It feels like watching the song spiderweb away from you, and you just watch to see where it goes. She tells you about how she texted it to your cousin and ended up calling them for a while. 

Having all her family living far away weighs down on her sometimes. Still, every day in the times between her meetings and cooking dinner and replying to her emails and doing laundry and trying to fix her jammed printer, she somehow finds time to get on the phone with them. You can hear her wistful tones twisting throughout the house as she tries to spend time with them in any way she can, even abroad.

 

You’ve Maybe Played It Too Much

You wake up with it playing in your head for the fifth day in a row. And at work, your fingers can’t stop tapping out this mysterious rhythm; you realize that it’s the bridge of the song. You’ve started a new playlist, but it’s just that song. You can’t think of anything else to add.

 

You’ve Definitely Played It Way Too Much

Your friends roll their eyes when you queue it yet again in the car. You realize that you’ve listened to almost no new music lately. It’s been at the top of your “Recently Played” list for a week and a half. And, oh no, is it starting to annoy you? Just a little bit maybe? 

You and the song need some time apart.

 

The Rediscovery

Three months later and you have your “liked” songs on shuffle, when it rises to the top of the list and starts playing. “Damn, this is a good song,” you think, and almost laugh at the time when it took over your brain for two weeks. The period of obsessive infatuation is gone, and the song lives more clearly inside you. It comes when you need it, but doesn’t stay uninvited. It becomes part of your vocabulary, a song you can reference easily while not letting it take over everything. There are new ways it figures into your life. You don’t use it as an anchor to facilitate wallowing anymore. Instead, you let it gently remind you of the time it did that in your past, and you think of how differently the song seems to sound now. 

It’s about knowing when to spend time with this piece, when it helps heal you and when it drags you down and when it just kind of gets on your nerves if you’re feeling jumpy that day. 

The sounds you choose to spend time with — when and how you spend time with them — build up to some image of yourself in those moments. Once you know, it will take time to unravel and understand. For the moment, that feels okay: You know a song that will help.

Daily Arts Writer Rosa Sofia Kaminski can be reached at fiakamin@umich.edu.


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