Soundtracks for Life and Musical Horoscopes

Here’s something about me that you may not know: I believe that life needs a soundtrack. Some people use music to get them in a better mood, or a calmer mood, or to relax. I’m the opposite. I find a song that reflects what I’m feeling at that particular moment. It’s like instead of standing outside shouting obscenities when I’m having a bad day, I crank my music up as loud as it will go and let Dierks Bentley or Elle King shout it for me. I remember when I was a new-ish nurse practitioner and I couldn’t keep up with my notes in clinic, they would pile up, and then come 4:30 I would have 13 or 14 clinic notes to do all at once. I would take a stack of hand-written scribbles up to my office with notes about what the patient’s complaint was and their specific exam findings, find the right song to let the pressure out of my soul, and then crank it up as loud as it would go and blast it on repeat until I finished typing things up. On days like that, it was usually “Drunk on a Plane” by Dierks Bentley or “Slide” by the Goo Goo Dolls. I have no idea why.

I also have like, 150 pages of a novel on my laptop, and when I was writing it, the first thing I did was make a soundtrack for what the main character would be feeling in each scene to inspire myself. Unfortunately due to my inability to commit to a plot line, nothing has ever come of it, but I still like the music. 

When I have a horrible day at work, I have a playlist called Drown Out the Day. It has Adele, Ashley McBryde, Dierks Bentley, Kanye West, the Pitch Perfect acapella…whatever I think will make life suck less. 

Today was a Brett Eldredge day. I remember buying his first album when I was on a beach trip with my mom and the kids, and Benjamin Button was maybe 2 years old and couldn’t sleep, so mom propped up a bunch of pillows, turned on some TV show for him, and gave him a pile of snacks. I couldn’t go back to sleep because a 2 year old whose mother is sleeping is a bad idea, so I impulse-bought albums on iTunes. Brett Eldredge is my perfect beach soundtrack. The other benefit is that once you’ve established what the song is for, every time you hear it, the song takes you back to that moment. Like when I graduated high school and they played Kenny Chesney’s “I Go Back,” or when I got married and my mom was so furious that I chose the postlude to be Rascal Flatts “Life is a Highway.” (You can read about how traumatized my mom was by that here: https://settingupstones.com/2020/05/27/life-is-a-highway/)

Sometimes Christina Yang and I send each other screenshots of what we’re listening to. Usually it’s because one of us thinks the other one will like the song, but sometimes it is to dare the person to criticize us. Like this gem from today. She ridiculed my Gary Allen, so I raised her a Backstreet Boys. It’s all in good fun. 

But I do have one friend who has a special talent. She likes to call it “musical horoscope.” I don’t remember when or how it started, but one day I sent Lexi Gray a screenshot of what I was listening to, and she told me exactly what I was feeling. Over time, it got to be a sort of challenge. I tell her what song I’m listening to, and she gives an eerily specific interpretation of my mood based only on that song. She has never been wrong. Not a single time. 

Now, if I were a normal human who stuck to a particular genre, maybe this wouldn’t be so impressive. But the only thing more chaotic than the thoughts running through my brain at any given time is my playlist. Everything from movie soundtracks, to country classics, to gospel, to Elle King….my music choices are as unpredictable as my moods on any given day. 

Case in point, the day I decided I was desperate to listen to “The Phantom of the Opera” soundtrack. This is the kind of thing Christina Yang would judge me for. As a matter of fact, she has judged me for it. When I sent her the screenshot of Phantom, she replied, “There’s absolutely no reason a straight, white pentecostal woman from the heart of the south should ever under any circumstances be buying the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack unless she is supporting her gay liberal son in pursuit of his fulfilling a life long dream of winning a Tony one day.” Not gonna lie, although I felt like she was being judgmental, I laughed. But when I sent the same thing to Lexi Gray? “You’re feeling melodramatic and ready to make a scene.” Oddly enough, she was on point. 

Or the time I sent her a message that said, “It’s a Miranda Lambert day.” She replied with, “Break some windows and drive your truck through the mud. The universe has not been fair to you and it’s time to muck it up.” Also on point. 

And this one— Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance With Me.” She said it meant I was a free woman. Based on the timeline, she was exactly right. 

My personal fav was when I bought the Tim McGraw trilogy on iTunes. In addition to telling me I was feeling thankful for the weekend and fancy and sassy, she added, “ You are the exact demographic he targeted when making this combo greatest hits album.” 

Every once in a while, she’ll let me have a turn at guessing her moods. I love it when that happens. The only way I can accurately assess it is to turn off my overthinking and just go with a feeling. When I am able to do that, which is NOT OFTEN as anyone in my inner circle will tell you, I imagine it is the same feeling that the couples sitting in the individual bath tubs get in the Cialis commercials. Free and content. I get more satisfaction from correctly guessing her music mood than I do from buying a fountain pen. That might not seem significant, but I promise, it is. Once she sent me a text that said she was listening to Avril Lavigne. My guess was that she was reverting to her childhood and tired of being told what to do. My best work, though, was the most recent one. She sent me a band I’d never heard of. I listened to a 30 second clip and sent back, “You wish you could have marijuana but you’ll settle for a massage.” 

This little game means literally nothing in the grand scheme of things. But I’ve been told that I need to focus on gratitude so that I prevent the slippery slide into despair that I’m prone to experiencing when I’m hyper-focused on all the things that are missing in my life. And this little game? It brings me joy, and silly or not, you can pry it out of my cold dead hands. What would be on your soundtrack?

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