If you were to sit me down and ask me to tell you what the most important things in my life are, I would say family, friends, school, and music – in that order. For as long as I can remember, music has been a powerful tool in my life, as it is in the lives of many. Whether I am creating my own music or listening to the music created by others, it all transports me to another place. Certain songs remind me of people, places, or times in my life – bad or good. I am able to momentarily forget where I am and see the world from another perspective.
For my digital writing project, I wanted to create something that told a story of who I am. I considered videos and Twitteratures, but as I was driving home for Thanksgiving break a song came on that instantly sent me back to a story from my past. It was right then that I knew the only way to tell my story is through music which has had such a strong impact on my life.
Below you will find a Spotify playlist I have created containing 16 songs that sum up the major moments in my life. Below that, I have written short blurbs to tell you why each song is important in my life. These are the songs that have helped me become who I am today.
So allow my music to do for you what it does for me and take a step back into my life…
Song #1: Waterfalls by TLC
On July 2nd, 1995 at 11:11 am, Erin Nicole Winters entered the world – but not as most babies do. My mom would kill me if she knew I was telling you this but I had to be sucked out by a special vacuum. I guess I just wasn’t ready for the real world yet. As my mom held her newborn baby girl and watched the Fourth of July fireworks out her hospital room window, TLC was somewhere celebrating their brand new #1 hit: Waterfalls.
Song #2: The Macarena by Los Del Rio
This classic line dance always reminds me of my early childhood days. My extended family has always been extremely close and would celebrate my hometown’s annual festival, BBQ Days, by shutting down the beer garden every night. At two years old, my family brought me into the beer garden one hot, July afternoon. This song came over the speakers and I jumped into action. I crawled on top of the picnic table and danced the Macarena with as much energy and gusto as I could muster. I don’t remember doing this, but my family makes sure that they fill me in on the details every time they get the chance. To this day I love being the life of the party. I dance the Macarena whenever I get the chance and am not afraid to make a fool of myself in order to have a good time.
Song #3: Jump, Jive, and Wail by The Brian Setzer Orchestra
A white ford explorer. Leather backseats. Weekly trips to Target and Cub with my mom, dad, and brother Jacob. I had the musical education of a lifetime in that backseat and this song was always one of my favorites. Dad cranks the bass and volume up enough so the cars next to us can hear our jam session. Everyone sings at the top of their lungs. Family bonding, the only way we knew how. Our family has never been overly affectionate. We have trouble finding ways to spend time together because our interests are so far in opposite directions. Music has been the one thing in all of our lives that has brought us together. We might fight over getting the aux cord or who gets to pick the music but it’s where our family comes together to become one.
Song #4: Big Yellow Taxi by Counting Crows
My first thought when this song begins is Justin Seaver and going to his mom’s daycare. He was my childhood best friend and we lived only 6 houses apart. We spent our days biking around the block, creating secret clubhouses in the backyard, playing pretend wedding (!First kiss alert!), and constructing intricate Leggo structures. Once when we were playing ‘skate park’ Leggos, this song came on the radio and Justin quietly whispered to me that this song was naughty. When I questioned him, he told me to listen carefully. According to Justin, the lyrics in the chorus were: “Pave paradise and put up a f***ing life.” It didn’t make sense, but that didn’t matter to six year olds. I spent upwards of five years believing that those were the lyrics. I’ve always been one to follow the rules. I wouldn’t even sing the word ‘babe’ in front of my parents until late high school.
Song #5: Welcome to My Life by Simple Plan
Fast forward to junior high. If I can assume, it was a terrible time for everyone. I thought I had it all, but in one day everything crumbled around me. The girls I thought were my best friends turned on me. They made up a rumor that I was a lesbian – which in 2008 and especially in my tiny school was not okay. Everyone stopped talking to me. My parents couldn’t understand what I was going through and I was too embarrassed to tell them anyway. My best friend created an online status that she wished I were dead. At some points I wished I was too. This song was one of my only comforts during this dark period. I remember blasting it in my ears with headphones and crying into my pillow -alone and in the dark. I would spend hours writing and rewriting the lyrics on sticky notes and hiding them so my parents wouldn’t find them. To Adriana, Cassidy, and Mellina: Thank you for pulling me out from my darkest days. Before now, I’ve never shared with anyone the importance of this song, which comforted me in my darkest days. Music has the power to make us feel like we aren’t alone. I lost myself in these lyrics and they helped me feel like there were other people in this world that felt the same way as I did.
Song #6: Tonight is the Night by Outasight
In high school I was able to turn a new leaf. I found friends who accepted me. I joined theater and was voted into student council. I was involved and was happy. My friends and I spent every moment together, being as rebellious and daring as we could without breaking laws (most laws anyway). We spent nights window surfing, jumping the fence and swimming in the pool at night, having spoon train sleepovers where we somehow fit seven people on one mattress and slept that way. We played hide and seek in Walmart at midnight and drove around town with people in the trunk. This was our anthem. We made every night an adventure. Today, this song leaves me with almost a bitter taste in my mouth. I chalk it up to nostalgia. I miss the carefree days and I miss the people I spent every moment with. Leaving high school meant leaving behind the best friends I had ever had.
Song #7: Smile by Uncle Kracker
December 5, 2012. Aiden took me on my first real date. We saw Wreck it Wralph and when he dropped me off at my house he gave me my first real kiss. I was terrible. I stopped him just as he was going in and told him I didn’t know what I was doing. He was so sweet despite my awkward blunder. He asked me to be his girlfriend. I said yes. He texted me the lyrics to this song and it became something special to us. Love songs are special. It doesn’t matter how many times I hear this song, for the rest of my life this song will flood my brain with memories of Aiden. His smile, his laugh, the smell of his cologne, the pet names we had for each other…
Song #8: Tattoos on This Town by Jason Aldean
This song will forever remind me of my rural hometown, Belle Plaine. This was our graduation song and it was perfect in every way. I graduated with 111 friends. We knew each others’ families, where they lived, where they were going to college or work, and what their car looked like. We may not have always seen eye to eye, but we cared for each other. The class of 2013 left their own tattoos all over Belle Plaine.
Song #9: Falling by Horseplay
This song is extremely near and dear to my heart. One of my best friends from high school, Jayden, wrote this song for me during our first semester in college. We both were trying to navigate the difficulties of college: meeting new friends, missing significant others at home, crazy roommates, and just overall homesickness. I remember spending nights listening to this song on repeat in my dorm room with tears falling silently down my cheeks. I didn’t think I was going to make it. I thought I was a failure. This song was a reminder that there were people that loved me and were rooting for me all the time. This song become the friend I needed that I hadn’t yet made at NDSU.
Song #10: Stay by Florida Georgia Line
You knew this one was coming. The break-up song. February 2014. Aiden and I had made it just over a year together. I was young and head over heels in love and I thought it was a forever love. So when it ended, my heart was completely broken. We were on the phone. We were fighting. I told him that it felt like I could either be happy at college and unhappy with him or happy with him but unhappy at college. For me, that meant that we would need to work through it and find a solution. For him, that meant it was over. I’ve never cried harder. I was four hours away and was dumped over the phone. I texted him these lyrics the next morning. To this day, when this song starts, my stomach drops. Music can also have the power to cause us pain and I tortured myself with this song for months. I knew that just like Smile, by Uncle Kracker, this song would bring back memories, only this one would bring back the ‘bad stuff’. The fights, the separation, and every detail of the heartbreak.
Song #11: #SELFIE by The Chainsmokers
The spring semester of my freshman year became one of the most fun and exciting times of my life thus far. I became friends with three amazing girls and we spent every possible moment together. We went to the circus, we pulled all-nighters pretending to be productive, we drank wine coolers in our dorm rooms and thought we were the coolest girls out there. We had fun in every sense of the word. It’s embarrassing to admit now, but this song became our anthem. We would crank it every time we were in the car, singing every word with the windows down.
Song #12: Work from Home by Fifth Harmony
My sophomore and junior year of college I spent living in a dorm full of freshman girls, working as an RA. The experience helped me grow as an individual, as a leader, and as a friend. I laughed, I cried, I thought about quitting, I saved lives and made an impact on the lives of those around me all while making lifetime friends. ‘Work From Home’ describes the life of an RA, or at least we bent the rules so it did. My staff and I spend countless nights dancing to this song in the hall office while residents walked past, judging to no end. We worked the night shift and we loved it.
Song #13: Beer Barrel Polka by Nat King Cole
Before the fourth chord of this song I can picture hot summer days spent picking raspberries from Grandma’s garden and Grandpa finding me the biggest carrot to eat. The cousins would play volleyball while Grandpa grilled burgers. After we ate, Grandma and Grandpa would pull out their instruments and host a mini concert for the family. With her on the accordion and him on the drum set, everyone would sing along to polka after polka. About ten years ago, my Grandpa was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and his memory declined rapidly. I made it a priority to visit my Grandpa in the nursing home as often as I could and we would always sing those same old polkas together. It seemed that even though he couldn’t remember my name, he was able to sing the Beer Barrel Polka with me. In January of 2016, I visited my Grandpa for the last time. We sang the Beer Barrel Polka together one last time. He was in his final days and we all knew it. He could barely open his eyes. But as I was saying goodbye, he kissed my hand. That is all the proof I needed to know that my Grandpa loved me right up to his last day. It is partly because of my Grandpa that music plays such an influential role in my life as it was for him. Love for music and musical talent is a trait, passed down from our family and I was blessed with genes from multiple family members.
Song #14: It Wasn’t Me by Shaggy
In May of 2016, I studied abroad in Scotland and England with a group of 12 amazing NDSU English students. We worked our way from Edinburgh, Scotland to London, England, every day chalk full of sights and activities. Our tour director, Mike, goofed around with us nearly every moment of the day. Once he started this song and we made fun of him for singing such an old song and for refusing to say ‘bangin’ in front of us. That night, a group of seven of us went out on the town in London. To put it lightly, we got drunk, each of us holding two drinks at a time, and when this song came on in the nightclub we were at, we all freaked out and took a video of us singing the song to show Mike the next day. Now, this song will forever remind me of our carefree days (and nights) in the UK.
Song #15: Cheers to the Fall by Andra Day
This song entered my life more recently. I saw Andra Day in concert over the summer and fell in love with her style of music. I added a bunch of her songs to my Spotify account without really knowing them. Fast forward to this Fall: I left my job as an RA and was struggling to find a place to belong at NDSU if I was no longer a student leader. Then, I made a mistake and was put on behavioral probation with the university, meaning that I could not participate in many campus organizations. I didn’t get the job I wanted because of this standing. I was lost. I lost my sense of joy and happiness and felt like a complete disappointment to everyone around me. I was walking home one day, after struggling through classes without seeing the point of going, and this song came on. I really listened to the lyrics for the first time and connected with them immediately. It resonated with me that everyone is going to fall down at some point, even the most successful people. Even me. But that doesn’t mean we have to be down forever. Andra Day says, “Cheers to the fall.” Let it happen. Fall down. All the way to the bottom. And then get back up and climb back to where you want to be. The moment I got back to my apartment I called the counseling center on campus and set up an appointment. I have since been meeting with a counselor once a week and have determined that I’ve been struggling with severe depression and anxiety for about nine years, always pushing it under the surface and pretending it doesn’t exist. I’ve started taking multiple medications trying to overcome this barrier. This fall, I fell.
Song #16: Still I Rise composed by Rosephayne Powell
This song is where I end my story… for now. A song of hope. I spent three years singing in the women’s choir, Cantemus, here at NDSU, and this was our anthem. We sang it every fall and with each year that has gone by the song has become more and more influential in my life. Last fall, the composer, Rosephanye Powell came to NDSU to talk with us about how important the message of this song is and to work on it with us. This song sends a message of hope and strength to every woman that has been in Cantemus. After I started working towards overcoming my depression and anxiety, I decided to get the words “Still I Rise” tattooed on my arm for a constant reminder of my strength to overcome adversity.
And this is where I leave you. A message to me and to all of you:
Your story matters – embrace it. Whether it be through music, or photographs, or writing, or anything you can think of. Step back and look at where you are today. Figure out what brought you to this place.
Share your story. Help others to see you for who you truly are and where you have come from.
You will fall, and that’s okay. You will also rise.
This piece was by far the most fun out of everything in my portfolio to complete. I found that the words I wanted to share about my life flowed smoothly and came easily to me when I played the song I was writing about. The images of each memory formed in my head with every song on the playlist.
What I didn’t know is that this is already a formed genre in the world of writing. I guess I wasn’t naive enough to believe I was the only one to think of this, but I didn’t know it was a defined genre. However, this only helped me feel more connected to other writers who have had similar experiences when creating a playlist as I have.
Coming back to this for revisions was difficult at first, because I was so in love with it the first time around, but after re-reading it and hearing suggestions from my peers and professors, I have found places to add more to this story. First, I have added more about why music is so powerful in my life. I focused my audio essay on how I fell in love with music and what it means to me, but I have incorporated some of that into this story. I began with telling what these songs make me think of, but I have added more reflection throughout the playlist on what these songs did for me and why they have been so important. I believe this adds another layer to my memoir – beyond just the stories themselves, to dig deeper into how these stories have created who I am today.