I am not a music-while-I-work kinda girl. While writing or editing, music typically gets in my way. Instead of focusing on the project, I’ll often sing along or find my mind wandering back to a time before.
This morning, however, as I sat in front of the screen, I realized I needed music to kickstart my week and opened YouTube whose imaginary panel of advisors recommended a few playlists to me based on my previous choices; but all were from albums I knew would distract me from the careful proofreading I was required to perform.
The last option in the row of recommended playlists was one I haven’t listened to … in almost forever: America’s Greatest Hits.
I recognized the album cover as one that used to be among my parents’ combined record collection that moved to the finished basement once they purchased a stereo with a cassette player for the living room. I remember only really discovering these records, though — Kansas, The Eagles, The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Jim Croce — the summer I turned ten and went off to sleepaway camp. Music, from that summer on, became the soundtrack to my memories. Music became longing.
That summer, now that I think about it, was also when I first discovered my own taste for music. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate music before — some of my earliest memories are singing harmonies in the backseat of my father’s car with my brother. But what I remember about discovering the record collection is understanding that music is not just words and melody strung together; it’s a legacy. There was a reason why certain songs ended up sung around a campfire. There was a reason why I laid on my back on the Berber carpet in the basement while Photographs and Memories crackled over the speakers, filling me with a certain sense of sorrow.
The only title familiar to me on America’s Greatest Hits.before I pressed play was “A Horse With No Name.” But as I faced the screen to review the manuscript I was working on and as the album moved along, I found myself humming along knowingly from time to time — curious that I had stumbled upon an album that was both surprisingly and pleasantly familiar, but neutral enough to allow me to stay focused on the task at hand. (Ironic since many of the songs are, indeed, about longing.)
This music, unlike my mixed tapes which seem to always jolt me back, kept me rooted in the present, but still subtly soothed by the comforts of home. Not the home I am often drawn back to — the emotionally-charged home of Milan Kundera or Proust. Home without the overwhelming nostalgia. Without the compelling need to look back.