Putting together my soundtrack was surprising. Most of these songs would not appear on my 'favourites' list, and yet, in some way, they have become a part of me. Every song you hear is an experience - some will be swelling crescendos during the pinacle moments of your life, while others will be little more than background noise. But they're all threads in the tapestry of your life.
Track 1: I was 3 years old, my hair done in pigtails, and I was ecstatic to finally be wearing my robin's egg blue leotard and salmon pink tutu. I was on stage with my fellow dancers, my little blue eyes twinkling in the spotlight as I wondered where in the vast, dark audience sat my mummy and daddy. The music started, we snapped in unison, swaying from side to side. First we did the jitterbug, and then we put the boom-boom into the hearts of everyone who'd come to see us sparkle and shine. That's right - Miss Dixen had us little girls pointing our ballerina slipper-clad toes to the stylings of Wham's Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, and as the number saw us drop to the floor to give a spin on our bums, I feel confident in saying that we did not leave our audience hanging on like a yo-yo.
Track 2: A few years later, I was riding the bus to school. As a shortie, I still rode relatively close to the front, although not as close as those babies from kindergarten, such as my younger sister. I wore Vuarnet t-shirts, cool beyond my 7 year old comprehension, a gift from an aunt with money to burn. The Vuarnet almost made up for the fact that I wore a bright yellow backpack featuring The California Raisins (remember them? they heard it through the grapevine, yo) with matching plastic lunchpail and thermos. I remember 8th graders actually checking the tags in my shirts, and then sighing over their authenticity. And all the while Billy Idol sang Mony Mony over and over. Every time the song would end the 8th graders would riot until the poor beleaguered bus driver could rewind the tape and let it play again.
Track 3: 4 little girls would be crammed into the backseat of my Mom's Chevette. We would plead for our favourite song to played in the tape deck, and we'd sing along to the lyrics: Bob bob bob, bob, bob, bob. Sometimes our father would even let us drive on the last stretch home. We'd sit on his lap, the window rolled all the way down, our tiny hands grasping the wheel, and all the while believing we had complete control of the car. My personal favourite was to signal. Left, right, it didn't matter, as long as it blinked that we were turning. Years later, all 4 of us would be surprised to learn that the lyrics were not in fact Bob, bob, bob, but rather, the Beach Boys' Barbara Ann and even still, I think we're all pretty loyal to our first interpretation.
Track 4: The Brownie talent show was looming, and I was without a talent. I was fairly proficient with a Skip-It and could do some neat tricks with a Cat's cradle string, but neither of these things felt sufficiently impressive. So my mother, god bless her soul, choreographed a lip-synch and dance routine for a friend and myself to perform. We wore matching slouchy tie-dyed socks and thought we were the epitome of cool as we strutted our stuff to Madonna's Material Girl. In fact, I believe we were pretty cool, even if we believed the lyrics to actually be Cheerio Girl.
Track 5: Like every 80s family, we crowded around the TV to watch Full House, and to my young eyes, Uncle Jesse and his sexy, wavy mullet were definitely the stuff of girls' dreams. Jesse was cool because he rode a motorcycle, wore a leather jacket, and sang in a band, and in my mind most notable was his rendition of Doo Wah Diddy. Variously done by Manfredd Man and Rick Springfield, but to me, if she looked good and looked fine, it must be Jesse and the Rippers.
Track 6: Uncle Jesse was the strangely appealing adult figure, but far more accessible was my very first boy-band crush, Joey McIntyre of the New Kids on the Block. I wrote to him secretly in my unicorn diary, which I kept locked up under my pillow. I had the posters, the sticker collection, I watched the cartoon faithfully (at least until my Mom joined Weight Watchers and her weekly meeting clashed with the airtime), and even had the Official Joey McIntyre barbie doll so he could be hangin' tough with Barbie and her pals (embarrassingly, I also had the MC Hammer doll...apparently my Barbies were all groupie whores). If I want to take a retch-worthy stroll down memory lane, all I have to do is play I Wanna Be Loved By You, where they actually take time out of the song to speak the following words: I'm Joe, and I'm a Capricorn. And if you can relate to that, then check this out. Oh, girl, I wanna be loved, loved by you baby. Keep in mind that if I was 8, he was maybe 15. Hot and heavy stuff. The good news is, I totally outgrew my crush. However, my mother did not. If you are passing by her house around December, you can still hear her playing my old tape, the Christmas album, featuring the scintillating single, Funky Funky Christmas.
Track 7: When I first got my walkman (well, it was really just a portable tape player...we were too poor for the Sony stuff), I realized it gave me enormous influence. There is a picture of me, wearing neon pink tights with conspicuous holes in the crotchal area, sitting on the kitchen floor beside my youngest sister, who was sitting naked on the pottie. I was apparently being a good big sister my rewarding her 'making' by letting her have a listen to my Big Girl music. We fit both our small heads in between one set of earphones, and together we listened to Sugar, Sugar by the Archies, and I taught her to sing along to the lyrics. Perhaps this is why she has such a shy bladder today, and rarely tinkles without some sort of background music.
Track 8: It seems to me that a great proportion of my childhood was spent doing dishes. We were a family of 6, and after every meal there would be a mountain of pots and pans, all of them charred because my mother didn't so much cook as burn. My oldest younger sister and I were permanently on dish detail. We would take turns washing and drying, and we would fight and draw blood over who had to wash, because apparently that sucked the most. On Monday nights my mother would leave the 2 of us alone to do these dishes, as she would take the 2 youngest sisters off to Williamstown for skating lessons. As soon as they were out the door, I would blast Duane Eddy's Rebel Rouser on the stereo, and believe me, it certainly would rouse me. We still bear scars today, and yet, these are not entirely bad memories, because when we weren't chasing each other around the house, we were busy being sisters: teasing each other about boys, negotiating clothing loans, and being close in a way we haven't been since.
Track 9: My mother and sister share a trashy taste in pop music. My childish ears were scarred by the likes of Celine Dion and Mariah Carey. Pee-uke. However, once in a while she surprised us, and that was certainly the case with Chris DeBurgh's Patricia the Stripper. Imagine, if you will, a family of 5 women at this point, all of whom know by heart the following lyrics:
And with a swing of her hips
She started to strip
To tremendous applause
She took of her drawers
And with a lick of her lips
She undid all her clips
And threw it all in the air
And everybody stared
And as the last piece of clothing
Fell to the floor
The police were banging on the door
On a Saturday night
And you know we had dance moves for this. Oh yes we fucking did.
Track 10: The first song I ever slow danced to with a boy was Jump Around, by House of Pain. If you're thinking that it's not exactly a ballad, you're right. But I walked into the romantic glow of the school gymnasium, wearing green jeans and a matching green suede vest, and Joel asked, so I said yes. And it was magic.
Tracks 11, 12: The first 2 CDs I owned are CDs my young ears maybe should not have been listening to, but this was in the days before parental advisories marred all the packaging. I remember sitting on the floor of my mother's room helping her to fold laundry, as we both sang along to I'll Make Love To You by Boys II Men. My ears still blush to remember this. This is probably as close as she and I ever came to having The Talk. Even more explicit were the lyrics to TLC's Red Light Special, but what can you expect from a trio who wore condoms on their clothing? Ah, the innocence of youth.
Track 13: The first song I ever downloaded from the computer was Nothing Much Happens, by Ben Lee. It took 7 hours, and at the time I felt it was totally worth it.
Track 14: Welcome to teenage angst. I was listening to a lot of mellon collie music, being very emo before emo was really invented, but at any rate sharing in the seething anger and teen spirit that pervaded the time. I remember listening in particular to Leave it Alone, by Moist, and writing some not very original poetry "inspired" by what I thought I heard. This song is like a tunnel through time for me, and it delivers me over and over again to the same spots - the carpet in Anna's room, my purple bedspread, the van in which I learned to drive.
Track 15: I had (and have) the privilege of seeing a lot of great music live. I first crowd-surfed to Finger Eleven, got involved in a violent mosh pit watching Green Day, was slathered in lotion by 2 very gay men who inexplicably sang to me "Jamie's Got a Gun" at a Hole concert, got severiously sun burned watching Foo Fighters, hosed down by security at silverchair, saw a friend through a contact lens emergency during a Watchmen set, had my rib cage compressed against the fence at Smashing Pumpkins, and most notably to me, made out in a port-a-pottie a Deftones concert, and had the left shoe torn off my foot somewhere between Catherine Wheel and A Perfect Circle....but most notably to me was an Our Lady Peace concert, where I used my elbows as primitive digging tools to secure myself a prime spot at the front of the mosh pit, where surely Raine Maida would admire my spiky hair and notice that I knew his lyrics better than he did himself. And he did. He got off the stage, took my hand, and had me sing a strain of Hope into his mic. I nearly died. Of course, just moments before my friends had deserted me, headed to the bathroom, and I knew that since no one had seen, no one would believe. But as Raine retook the stage and a hundred girls crushed me in order to get a look at my blessed hand, I saw that in fact my friend had seen, and everyone believed. The next year he would pen the lyrics I miss your purple hair, I miss the way you taste, and I would insist to everyone that these lyrics were meant for me, even after I received threatening letters from his wife.
Tracks 16, 17: We crossed the borders to where we still couldn't legally drink, but where our fake IDs might better be believed. We stood nearly naked in the cold Canadian winter air, not to save ourselves the $1 coat check, but because our barely-there outfits didn't have pockets for claims tickets. I had this tiny black tube top infused with silver thread that we dubbed my 'lucky' top because....well, because. You know. This was before SUVs took over the market, so my generation was still having sex in minivans and pickup trucks, if we were lucky. But we didn't go to have tequila shots bought for us, or to have lots of digits inked on our arms, we went so we could dance, and dance we did. Maybe it was a little whoreish of us, Kel, to gyrate on top of those speakers, but god we had fun. Remember "the contest"? Remember Whitney's It's Not Right But It's Okay, and Faith Evan's Love Like This (you gotta $50 bill, put your hand(s) up!)? Yeah, me too. Good times.
Track 18: Nothing says Cornwall, Ontario like making out in the parking lot of Tim Horton's. I think once we did a little more than that, didn't we, Jason? I know that you'll remember how Underworld was always playing when we had sex, but at the time I was too high to understand it was music we were listening to, so for me, it will always be Wheat's Don't I Hold You on the radio.
Track 19: Frosh week at the University of Ottawa, there was one song that owned the radio, and regrettably, it was Who Let The Dogs Out by Baha Men. That song followed me on pub crawls, booze cruises, and oddest of all, at a rave where the only thing I could really see were my silver platform Candies sneakers. But I could feel the music pulsing in the floor, and I could certainly feel the sweaty flesh of the fervid dancing of those around me. And then suddenly, so suddenly I thought it couldn't be real, the jungle house music switched to Who Let The Dogs Out? (who? who? who?), and I really wondered what the hell I was doing there for a split second before I joined the thirsty throngs.
Track 20: On our wedding day, 3 Dominican men sang to us "Oh Donna", but cleverly changed the lyrics to "Oh Jamie Lee", which made me laugh very unlady-likely in the middle of my vows. But our wedding song will always be the one we chose to dance to at our reception, and the fact that 3 out 3 grandmothers present cringed visibly made it all the sweeter. True, a song by Ed K. from Live and Neneh Cherry wouldn't qualify for just anyone as wedding material, but we like to take the road less-traveled. And every time I hear Walk Into This Room, I promise not to let them get to your spark.
Track 21: And now, as I work feverishly to put my soul to words, I find myself listening to a rather obvious choice, Everclear's Father of Mine. Art sings Father of mine, tell me what do you see when you look back at your wasted life and you don't see me? and sometimes, I find myself wondering the exact same thing. But while it helps me reflect on my past, it mostly reminds me of what I do have, what I love most in life, what I treasure, what I hold dear, and above all, of my ability to dance through it all.