Floating in Charleston to sweating in Newport.
Taj Mahal’s music came into my life just before leaving Asheville for the first time. His song “Queen Bee” popped up on one of Spotify’s curated playlists and immediately landed itself on my list of favorite songs. I’m not going to pretend to understand musical theory or any of the technical stuff, so all of these upcoming song posts are going to exclusively focus on the associations I have with the songs.
Spoiler: Earlier this summer, I sat in bed compiling a list of songs for a series of blogs. I got the idea while working behind a bar struggling to pick music for the dinner rush when Road To Nowhere came on. Talking Heads radio is always my go-to station, sometimes I get worried that people will start to notice that I’m *always* playing the same station but also, it’s the Talking Heads so I don’t mind being known for that. Anyway, I started thinking about the first vivid memory I have with the song and it inspired me to make a list of songs with similar memories. The night went on, and I would periodically stop to jot a song down into a new note on my phone. I got home around 2:30am and spent hours in bed scrolling through old playlists. I had a list of about 20 before noticing that the birds started to chirp signaling that the sun was about to rise and the 86 was about to start picking up passengers outside of my house causing my windows to rattle. In the morning, I looked at the list and was hit with the realization that I had to actually write posts about them and of course, weeks went by and I started to drift away from the idea.
This summer has been characterized by what feels like an irreversible writers block so the thought of writing ~30+ posts about songs felt a little overwhelming. I mean, which one would I even start with? I’ve also been bullying myself a little bit more than usual. I didn’t want to write because I was worried that whatever I put on paper would sound terrible, or that it wouldn’t accurately explain the memories attached. I started to accept that the memories would wither away in my notes app, but they deserve better. So here we go, the beginning of a new series on music and how certain songs have become historical markers, a serendipitous collection of connections I’ve made with people and/or places over the past 28 years.
Here we go!
My decision to leave Asheville for the first time was the closest thing I have ever had to a premeditated move. I moved to Asheville on accident after a road trip was unexpectedly cut short by a blown head gasket which is really fun story that I’m saving for the eventual “Road to Nowhere” post. I spent a year living in that hazy little mountain city and part of my contentment was inspired by knowing it wasn’t permanent. I created connections with lifelong friends. I found a bar that welcomed me as a regular with a $1.50 can of Genessee, cracked open and ready to go right as I sat down. My job at the hostel gave me the opportunity to show off this beautiful city to those looking for Appalachian bluegrass or simply an escape into the mountains. Looking back on it almost 6 years later, it breaks my heart to see how easy it was to flee from a home that I worked so hard to create. It was almost like I had something to prove? Like, I recognized how happy and comfortable I was but somehow that translated into a reason for me to leave. I looked at all the periods of my life where things came crashing down without warning and I loved Asheville too much to let that happen. I wanted to enjoy every last minute I had there and quickly sever it to protect the memory from heartbreak. By giving myself a timeline, I was able to encapsulate all the joy and run before anything bad could touch it. I recognized that I loved my life in Asheville more than I ever thought would be possible.
So, I booked a one-way ticket to Indonesia and left.
Taj Mahal came into the picture a few weeks before my flight when I was working a slow morning shift at the hostel. I was getting ready to go pick up felt, glitter, and a hot glue gun from a fabric store. Staff (old and new) would drive down to Folly Beach every year with a silly, elaborate float for the Folly-Gras parade. Somewhere in between coordinating rides, costumes, and other logistical stuff, the song “Queen Bee” became part of my daily routine. I added it to every playlist and would start almost every day with that exact song. The song brings me back to overflowing bins of laundry, porch-hangs with guests from all over, and looking at the mountains from the windows of my super crunchy Subaru Forester. My flight to Indonesia was open-ended. I was planning on staying out there until I either ran out of money, or found a new place to call home. My first association to this song involved that transitional period in between Asheville and Indonesia.
The second major association occurred three weeks ago. My friend (and roommate) Maggie, who works for the Newport Folk Festival, randomly surprised me with a 1-day pass for Friday. I was beyond excited before I even had the chance to look up the line up, but I couldn’t begin to explain the joy I felt when I saw Taj Mahal’s name on the lineup.
A few days before the festival, Maggie and I were sitting out on the back porch typing away on our laptops. I was annotating notes for a summer class and she was working on last-minute things for the festival. We started talking about the line up and I began explaining how much I loved that one song by Taj Mahal before putting it on. This inspired a whole conversation about sentimental associations and all the unique ways we find attachments to certain people, places, and/or things. This led to a conversation about relationships and how we have learned to approach them, but also to a conversation about making space for creating a relationship with ourselves.
Part of that relationship relies on showing ourselves compassion, just like we would show others when mistakes or blunders are made. We talked about how we have both been trying to get over our own bouts of writers block. I don’t regularly write because the fear of writing something “ugly” becomes overwhelming. The majority of these posts all started out with an opening line that went something like “I have no idea what to write about but…” Once I force myself to sit and start writing, something always happens but its a struggle to actually get myself to sit down. First drafts are supposed to be shitty, and if you’re writing just for the sake of writing, who cares? We made a pact that we had to write something after Newport, and I suppose this is me keeping up with that promise. There was also another unexpected burst of inspiration that occurred a few weeks earlier at a crowded bar. The person I was briefly hooking up with told me that I was a “good writer, but that I wasn’t great. You know, I’m just not a professional like Shakespeare or anything.”
I watched my own self-deprecating thoughts transport into the body of someone I already lowered my standards for. I had this weird moment a few weeks later when I thought about how we sing karaoke for the joy of making a fool of ourselves, not because we’re necessarily good at singing. I thought about how the best meals are simple ones seasoned with sentimentality, it’s always been more than putting a bunch of high-quality ingredients together in a 5-star kitchen. I thought about how buy concert tickets to see our favorite songs come to life right in front of us, not because we expect it to sound just like the album recording.
I pushed my way towards the front of the crowd but I couldn’t wiggle my way to the center so I watched from the far left of the barricade. My view was mostly blocked by the speakers but I found a spot where I could see Taj Mahal as long as I was standing on my tippy toes. Before he started to play Queen Bee, he mentioned that he usually waits until the end of his set but the “moment just felt right.” At one point, I turned towards the crowd and saw couples twirling around together. I saw a woman singing to the very rotund baby giggling in her arms. I noticed all the other folks swaying and dancing alone as he continued on with his set. Catching all of these small moments made me feel as if I was intruding on the creation of a core memory. Every one of us had an emotional attachment to his music. Those associations brought all of us to the crowd that day, so simply being a part of the crowd while all of those little moments happened just felt really special. While watching Taj Mahal perform “Queen Bee” in the sweltering heat at Newport, I had another one of those “humans are so dang cute & endearing” moments.
The margins of our notebooks are usually decorated with weird doodles. We brought back the Polaroid camera because of the nostalgia for being able to hold a physical copy of a memory in the palms of our hands. We sing songs to ourselves (and our animals) when were home alone (or with others) because it makes the mundane more enjoyable. I write about the perils of my dating life, warm cups of coffee, my commute on public transit, and then post these stories on the internet because it makes me feel good. I write these mostly to document my own life so I can come back at any point and relive all the weird antics I’ve gotten into over the past 28 years. Some of you are here because for some reason, you like hearing about my days.
Wanna know a secret? I also want to know about your day because you’re a human with a wealth of stories and quirks. Embrace your hobbies. Write several shitty first drafts. Sing songs about making breakfast every morning. Spend hours in your room binding a book for someone because you want to. Do things that make you happy for the sake of being happy.
If someone tells you that you’re bad at your hobby, grab the safety scissors and snip them out of your life like you would during arts & crafts. Hell, embrace that hobby even more simply out of spite. I may call myself a bad writer, but only I can call myself that. I write about feeling the sunshine on my face, the songs that comforted me during pivotal moments in my life, and the adventures of being a buck-toothed wild child. I write about the ostensibly mundane aspects of life so I can live vicariously through them years later. I don’t write sonnets, nor do I care much for playwriting or fame. I write about being inspired by songs like Queen Bee, the magic of connecting with strangers, and the indescribable joy of sitting on a porch.
Btw Maggie, it’s your turn.