Describing music is like tasting wine. The most amateur of wine tasters still feels the bitter, drying tannins, even if she’s unable to describe them. She can taste the sweet, the fruity, the oaky flavors, but she can’t identify their levels of complexity with the expertise of a seasoned sommelier.
I’ve visited nearly all the wineries in Nebraska, and I’ve developed a moderate vocabulary in the language of wine. Yet, despite years of listening, singing, and playing music, I struggle to discuss it.
We hear and seek out different elements of music. I’m fond of female vocals and lyric-centric songs. The music I like has identifying factors—meanings or connections to my own experiences.
2006 was my Summer of Freedom. 2007 was my Summer of Tightrope Walking. Summer Mix 2007 bounces between the thrill of new adventures, the shameless pride of entering a new, elite world and the longing for the stability of known comfort of home.
My perception of these songs now has nothing to do with authorial intent. I can’t tell you with any certainty what 18-year-old me felt when she heard these songs. I decidedly cannot speak with authority on what the artist intended the lyrics. I can only use the knowledge of my history and my summers to explain these mixes.
“Summersong” by the Decemberists ushers in my summer mix of 2007 with the peppy sound of waves crashing on the sand. As with most Decemberists songs, you can pretty much guarantee this track is really about heartbreak and death. I’m choosing to believe it’s about a boat. Some summer mix songs have meaning and depth. Some just sound the way summer feels. (For 2007, see: “Pool Party,” “Island in the Sun,” and “500 Miles”)
Then my mix moves on to the actual emotions—the terrifying feeling of exhilaration as you prepare to leave everything behind and the reassurance that it’s OK to move on. With “Oh My God” there’s the longing to be somewhere else, “a million miles from here, somewhere more familiar.” I felt the desire to go on to the next chapter of my life, coupled with the sense I would belong in my final destination.
“The Freest Man” almost apologizes for the eagerness of “Oh My God,” at the same time reminding you how important it is to escape the bell jar “balancing upon its pedestal.” Rebellious teen me loved the line, “Don’t forget that you called it all bullshit.” The same themes run through “Southern Girls in London Sing,” a favorite for its Omaha references. Despite—and maybe even because of—its incredibly long introduction, it signaled my impatience for the end of summer.
Another key element of this particular summer was the senior high school moments. Our Senior Song—“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”—serves as a reassuring commitment to not abandoning home and the many layers of meaning that I imbue into being Nebraskan. This was the song we sang at senior retreat and at ring ceremony. I gave rings to three juniors, and my best friend may never forgive me for only handing her a flower, not her class ring.
“Like a Prayer” brings us back to the high school dances of yore—hearing those first notes and dropping to the ground (“down on my knees”) so you can explode into dance with the beat. And even without the high school memories, the electric flavor of “Voulez-Vous Danser” and “Never Give Up on the Good Times” resonated with the fun and freedom of my high school experience. Both songs felt older to me, and I find a certain irony in using older sounds to remind yourself to hold on to the experiences of your present when you reach your future.
And, in conclusion, you get another typical leaving high school and moving on with your life show tune, “For Good.” Wicked was still incredibly popular back in 2007–the 2000s’ response to Vitamin C’s 1999 “Graduation (Friends Forever).” The radio still played Graduation hourly from May to June, but at school, we had “For Good” on repeat, reminding us that—despite all the trials and tribulations of high school, the people filling those hallways had strengthened us. Whether or not those people continued to be part of our lives, we owed them a depth of gratitude for their presence the past four years.
Summersong – The Decemberists
Oh My God – Kaiser Chiefs
The Freest Man – Tilly and the Wall
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough – Marvin Gaye
Pool Party – Aquabat
Like a Prayer – Madonna
Voulez-Vous Danser – Ace of Base
Never Give Up on the Good Times – Spice Girls
Sweetness – Jimmy Eat World
Chariot – Page France
And Your Bird Can Sing – The Beatles
Island in the Sun – Weezer
I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) – The Proclaimers
Southern Girls in London Sing – The Faint
All or Nothing – Athena Cage
Less Talk More Rokk – Freezepop
Smart Went Crazy – Atmosphere
Climb Trees – Sage Francis
Boys of Summer – Don Henley
For Good – Wicked
2007 Musical Highlights:
“Smart Went Crazy” is an Atmosphere favorite of mine. I loved this song before I knew this song. I saw the track title, and high school me thought, “This song is about me.” Spoiler alert: That song is not about me. Those lyrics do not reflect my life, but there’s something appealing about the destruction/love dichotomy of “carve my charm into your arms.”
“All or Nothing” is one of my favorite things about Save the Last Dance. It’s another example of my great love for pop music of the late 90s, early 2000s.