Noura at 22
When I was 22, I had a lot of time on my hands. Too much time. Fresh out of college, and none too pleased to have been ejected from my academic cocoon, I was living at home and wallowing in the doldrums commuting to DC for internships and a part time office job. The cycle of MARC train rides, city walking, and data entry marathons took its toll on my playlists: even my favorite songs became stale, and so I found myself in constant need of fresh music.
Though year 22 announced itself with under-employment, death, and many unfortunate drunken “episodes,” I saw a dramatic improvement in my prospects as spring and summer rolled around. I embraced my, shall we say, relaxed schedule and went on road trips to visit friends. I started dating. I got into grad school. And, most importantly, once summer was in full swing, no job schedule could prevent me from skipping town and going to the beach any day of the week.
Sorting my itunes by “date added,” there’s a clear demarcation between the melancholy of December, January, and February, to the euphoria of the months that concluded year 22. In the list that follows, I could have chosen a representative sample of songs paralleling these developments, but decided to skew towards those that embody the exuberant portion of this year. I mean to say: summer has only just begun and I am in the mood to write about perfect summer songs.
“Dog Roses,” The Duke Spirit
As originally planned, December 2008 was supposed to have been a liberated, adventure-filled month. The itinerary included: my first visit to Scotland, a stopover to visit family in Switzerland, and lastly, my second Christmas in Lebanon (the first Christmas I celebrated in Lebanon, I was one month old).
I discovered “Dog Roses” a few days prior to leaving as I scoured the internet for new music to soundtrack my journey. The strumming guitars that introduce the song immediately set an ominous tone. Liela Moss sings of the dangers of living the shadows of memory. The central metaphor here is a house, which she and presumably a former lover revisit following the demise of the relationship. The house personifies their past – pictures, mementos, memories – they’re all there, reviving a long-lost life.
My grandfather had a house that came to embody our family. Nestled at the end of a village road in the Chouf Mountains southeast of Beirut, the house overlooks a terraced valley on one side, and an orchard on the other. Built by his grandfather then left in disrepair for many years, the house became my grandfather’s project for 25 years as he worked to renovate it. He meticulously tended to the garden. He installed indoor plumbing. Mostly importantly, he turned the house into a monument for our family. Hundred of pictures—from black and white portraits of fez-capped ancestors to graduation photos of all the grandchildren—line the walls, bookcases, and windowsills.
The day I left for Scotland, we received a frantic call from Lebanon. I was the first to pick up. There was a woman on the other line whose voice I did not recognize. I turned the phone over to my mother, who knew, instinctively, what the call would reveal. My grandfather was in the hospital, unconscious.
I went to Scotland that night. During the trip, I had my cell phone tethered to me, waiting for the inevitable phone call that he had died. It came on my third day in Scotland as my friend and I lay in her bed watching “A Knight’s Tale” on her laptop. My father flew to Beirut that evening, and spent the next two weeks making funeral arrangements, receiving condolences, and cleaning out his childhood home. I never made it to my second Christmas in Lebanon.
“Soul Rebel,” Bob Marley and the Wailers
I have a long history with a few Bob Marley songs. To me, Bob Marley is quintessential road trip music. Yes, many of his songs have an epic, journeyman quality to them, but this is more a product of my father’s musical tastes than my own. The Bob Marley & the Wailers album Legend had its permanent location in his car, and it played on repeat on any road trip undertaken by my family.
“Soul Rebel” is not on Legend. I probably found it on a Saturday night when I was bored, unwilling to drive downtown to see friends, and rummaging through my father’s CDs. The song is sung in minor key and led by Marley with significant vocal input from the Wailers. The lines that Marley sings independently are simultaneously mournful and hopeful. The Wailers harmonize on almost every other line, lending to the song a melodious, prayer-like quality.
What 22-year-old can’t relate to fantasist declarations of this song? In the song’s refrain, Marley’s voice swells into the lyric “I’m a rebel/soul rebel/I’m a capturer, soul adventurer.” He’s the wanderer trapped by convention, responsibility, and terrestrial limitation. When you’re 22, exorbitantly self-conscious, and faced with an uncertain future, this lyric rings true. At my parent’s house, I can’t claim not to have lived comfortably in a loving environment, but returning home from living on my own for four years, it felt like confinement. I loathed the MARC train. I felt stagnant. So when Marley preaches, “if you’re not living good/you gotta travel wide,” every escapist reverie that ever roamed through my mind came to the forefront as a welcome fantasy, yet ultimately fruitless distraction from my quotidian listlessness.
“40 Day Dream,” Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
How many times did I play this song with the windows down, my arm dangling down the side of the car, watching bugs splatter on my windshield? To be honest, how many times did I play this song after going to get ice cream is a better question.
I don’t particularly enjoy the larger catalog of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. It’s too—hippy for me. The visual of 15 shoeless, stoned, unwashed band members is superficially unappealing, and most of their other songs, with the exception of “Home,” sound as if they were recorded by high school pot heads who aspired to be the next Great American Jam Band. “40 Day Dream” stands as one of the exceptional tracks from the album Up From Below: it’s a buoyant love song carried by swelling cadences and a refrain that begs to be sung out loud.
“Detroit ’67,” Sam Roberts
Summer 2009 was the first summer that I had friends living in the city. Laura, my college roommate, lived in a ramshackle three bedroom flat atop a Bolton Hill row home with no air conditioning that was stuffed with three cats, discarded art projects, and an impressive variety of empty beer bottles. Dinners, dance parties, or really just sitting around and talking quickly turned her living room into a sauna, and so we’d seek respite at sunset on her tar roof, with its impressive panorama of Baltimore’s lilting rooftops.
Sam Roberts’ “Detroit ’67” is tied to this impression of the Baltimore skyline at sunset. As the song opens with the lyric “I went walkin’ at street level/feeling strange and disheveled/past the abattoir and the glory holes/like a film noire in the starring role,” you are overtaken by the urge to walk—no, strut—John Travolta-in-Saturday-Night-Fever-style down the cracked, weed-sprouting sidewalks of Baltimore City. Your feet move to the rhythm of the pounding piano chords. The song might be about Detroit, but who doesn’t know the feeling of marching down the street and feeling like you really own the place? You fit right into the history of it all.
As someone particularly prone to fits of nostalgia, the refrain of the song—“Does anyone here tonight/Remember those times?/Can anyone here tonight/Just tell me what they felt like”—hits at my obsession with mentally capturing those moments where nothing special is happening, but you absolutely do not want to forget. The mid-summer sunset from a Baltimore roof. Watching the firecrackers spitting flames on the street below on 4th of July. Ambulance sirens muted by Baltimore’s legendary humidity. It’s the Proustian dilemma: how do you describe and how do you remember the indescribable?
“My Last Mistake,” Dan Auerbach
“My Last Mistake” isn’t a song that most people would describe as uplifting or joyous. Its lyrics speak to heartache and regret. It’s about letting someone go, or being let go.
We all know that getting over someone is hard work. It takes immense resolve. It requires patience. It necessitates reflection on the whys, the hows, and the whens of the demise of the relationship. Like an addict in recovery, you make a vow, usually to be broken, that this time, you’ve learned from your mistakes.
I was getting over someone when I came to love this song but I somehow managed to avoid coupling the music to the memory. This songs makes me happy. It makes me tap my feet. It makes me want to play air guitar, mimicking Auerbach’s ascending riffs. And if I’m driving and it comes on, I feel like a racecar driver, tunnel vision to the finish line.
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