The jukebox, a Wurlitzer with glowing color-changing side panels and an unused coin slot for quarters only, is my favorite artifact from my childhood home. It plays 45 RPMs that have one song per side, and for each song there is a handwritten (by my dad) label next to a number, which you then punch in on the row of keys that display numbers 0-9 in order to play it. The jukebox was the first thing I showed to my friends when they came over. We would dance around to the old tunes blasting out of the speakers, and I would sing along to every song since I knew them all by heart (my favorite was “Bird Dog” by the Everly Brothers).
Later, my parents installed a more up-to-date “jukebox,” a 200-CD player in the basement whose contents could be played in almost every room of our house. At any time now, the whole house and part of the backyard can be booming with music—from Tchaikovsky to The Band, from Eric Clapton to Edith Piaf and back again, our music library has painted my life and who I am with songs. I believe that I’ll make my home into a similar music bomb, ready to let loose its country drawls, soulful roars, catchy choruses, electric solos, and magical orchestras, all at the touch of a button.
Beyond these songs, though, there are stories. There are stories with every song because on the other end, there are ears and moments in which to hear them, hearts to process their meaning, and feet to dance them into the wee hours of the night. I don’t remember how each song I’ve ever heard sounded to me the first time I heard it, but I do remember my mom telling me that “Happy Together” by the Turtles was popular when she and my father met on spring break in the Bahamas, 1967. Their young romance glowed through her nostalgic smile. I remember being in the car with my dad while “A Place in the Sun” by Stevie Wonder played at full volume, and watching a tear roll down his cheek. I remember eating dinner with friends and breaking into song as Neil Diamond rang over the speakers, and feeling the memory of a familiar scene wrap its arms around us in the summer night. Whether a song makes us sing along, cry, dance, smile, or listen in silence, every reaction offers those around us a small story about ourselves: our heartbreaks, joys, depressions, memories, and moments.
The playing of a song can connect the lives of ten people sitting at a dinner table, twenty strangers sitting at a bar, or hundreds of people on a dance floor. It can reconnect you to yourself again. I believe that we all have a soundtrack to our lives, and whenever we hear a little part of it being played, our stories, and therefore we, ourselves, come to life, for all or for no one to hear.
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