A (Musical) Retrospective for a New Year: High School and College

To continue my end-of-year, musically-framed life retrospective (the intro is here and part one is here):

I entered high school listening to the likes of Bon Jovi (as described here) and graduated a big fan of R.E.M.  Somewhere in between I got into the grunge stuff (Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Hole).  I also started appreciating the folk-y stuff (Simon & Garfunkel, Peter, Paul & Mary), and some of the music that developed out of that sound (I went through a big Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians phase, I recall.)

Here’s one of my favorite Edie Brickell songs (which I haven’t heard in at least a decade; it just came back to me as I was writing this!!):

But as far as high school music was concerned for me:  this was the early nineties, and you could actually still sometimes find good radio stations – and so I tended to just listen to the radio all the time.  I always went for the “alternative” channels – and they played pretty good music.

I remember one in particular that I liked a lot:  107.9, The End.  And the only reason I remember that name is that they inaugurated themselves (when I was like a junior in high school or something) by playing continuously, all day long their first day, R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It.” I thought that was very cool.

Here’s that one (because now it’s stuck in my head):

But the problem with listening to the radio so much is that I never actually got to know the names of most of the songs or bands that I was listening to.  I was the queen of making mix tapes from the radio and then playing those until they fell to pieces (literally.)  I didn’t buy much music.

R.E.M. was one exception though.  I LOVED THEM.  I still do – and am sad that they are now defunct.

One other notable exception was the Pump Up the Volume soundtrack.  I had that on cassette tape and played it pretty much into the ground.

“Wave of Mutilation” was my favorite – and one of my absolute favorite songs at that time, I remember.  (Actually, I still really like this song!):


College is the time when I started paying more attention to little things like the actual names of bands.  I went to a really big school (Ohio State) and was living a COMPLETELY different life there than what I’d lived up to then (coming as I was from suburban northeastern Ohio and Catholic school.)  Music became extremely important to me then – as kind of a touch-base entity, I think, in that great big sea of people and activity.

For the first time in my life, I actually had access to live music.  Growing up, there was no way I could really see bands.  You had to get up to Cleveland or at least Akron to see anything – and I wasn’t necessarily allowed to do that (even if I’d known anybody who was into doing that sort of stuff…which I didn’t.)  Seeing a band live was a major deal – so really didn’t happen.

But in college we often saw bands play at bars.  No names that I can recall.  A lot of reggae, for some reason – not because we sought it out; it just worked out that way.  But the radio, and the bigger-name bands that got radio play were still my primary go-to listens.

I remember that I really, really liked Tori Amos my freshman year.  Also Pearl Jam, and especially Nirvana.

I think I must have liked the song, “Two Princes” (Spin Doctors) a lot – because hearing it flashes me back instantly to my freshman dorm room.  I had the lower bunk – the one with the unfortunately good view of my roommate’s Billy Ray Cyrus poster.  I hear “Two Princes” and I think immediately of lounging there with school books, and the Billy Ray poster, thinking about what I was going to do that weekend.

Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” also reminds me greatly of my freshman year in college.  That one and Garth Brooks’ “I’ve Got Friends in Low Places.”  (But I’m not embedding the Garth Brooks because I HATE that song!!)

Here’s “Personal Jesus”:

Those two songs remind me greatly of the end of a typical beer-soaked Friday or Saturday night in a ratty dance bar on High Street.  I think one or both were played every single end-of-night.  They take me immediately back – in my mind, in my feelings.  It’s kind of uncanny.  (Music is so powerful that way.)


I can’t hear “Blister in the Sun” without thinking of New Year’s Eve my sophomore year in college.

I lived in a house that year, not the dorm anymore and we had a New Year’s party there; I think it was our first party.  I don’t remember anything about it at all – just a few vague images.  But I hear this song and I remember that it was a really fun, kind of nutty night.  The song is just imbued with that emotional memory.  (Though it also simultaneously reminds me of the movie Reality Bites.  I forget when I first saw that, but it was somewhere not too far removed from this time.)

I hear “Patience” by Guns-n-Roses and I remember the guy who had the room next to mine in the house I lived in that year.  He’d play that song at top-volume and moon about the girl who’d recently dumped him.  Then he’d knock on my window and we’d sit out on the roof and chat.  (yes, he was cute.  no, we never got together.)


I flash back to the first time I had a car at school (the summer after my junior year) when I hear Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason.”  I remember playing that one and driving with the windows down…meeting my friends for ice cream…getting into jogging for the first time (and really only time; I hate jogging!  But I liked it that summer.)

And that was also the year (as I wrote previously) where I used to listen to Oasis’s “Don’t Look Back in Anger” and look at my atlas and imagine all the places I’d visit someday.  (That makes me feel wistful right now!)


Moving forward another year or so:  I hear R.E.M.’s “Bittersweet Me” (or actually that entire album:  New Adventures in Hi-Fi) and I immediately remember driving to my first job after college, when I was still living in Columbus (OH).

I didn’t know what I wanted to be doing with myself.  That feeling just screams out of that album for me; it’s totally tangled up with it. I was dealing with my feelings by forcing myself to find something that “sounded good” rather than allowing myself room to explore and just feel my way (which was not, in hindsight, a very healthy way to handle things.)

I was really nervous about messing up, making wrong choices.  I was equally nervous about getting bound into some job that would be numbing.  I wanted to do something interesting…new.  I wanted to experience things – but I couldn’t define what.

What I really wanted was to travel – and my parents were very much against this (a girl alone???)  And I let myself get talked into seeing that sort of exploration as a pipe dream…or as something to do “later” when I’d established myself in some fashion.

Which just put more of an onus on me to actually DO that (establish myself.)  It wasn’t the best time.

So, at the time I was listening to this album a lot, I was just beginning to seriously stress about it all.  My lease was about to run out.  My job was pressuring me to commit for a year (sign a contract with them to that effect.)  I had to make some serious choices – and I just didn’t know.  Any song off that album takes me right back to that time and those feelings.

Here’s “Bittersweet Me”:


This is a particularly notable moment for me – as (I see very, very clearly now) it was that discontent, that floundering, that ended up affecting the next decade+ of my life so strongly.

And so that’s probably a good place to end this.  (I’m trying not to make these posts too long.)


Post-college will be up next…


[I don’t know how interesting this little series of posts really is for anybody else to read…but this project is proving really fun to write/shape.  I’m kind of excited to see how the rest of it comes together!!]


7 thoughts on “A (Musical) Retrospective for a New Year: High School and College

  1. Wow, we must be the same age as all these songs have meaning and memory for me as well. Even the Pump Up the Volume soundtrack. I had that, too, and as soon as you mentioned it the song Everybody Knows started playing in my head. I’ve always been a huge REM fan. My best friend from high school went to the University of Georgia in Athens where they’re from and she used to always see Michael Stipe out at various bars. Well when I was a young, star-struck freshman I thought that was the coolest thing ever because I LOVED REM. One weekend I was in Athens visiting and we were out bar-hopping, and I was on a ridiculous mission to find Michael. As the night went on and we continued drinking, I was getting more bummed because I hadn’t spotted him yet. At the last bar we visited, my friend and I made a quick bathroom stop and according to our other friends, Michael Stipe and another REM band member popped in and out, and we completely missed him. I was beyond let down. Don’t ask me what I would have done if I had actually seen them. I’m pretty shy in situations like that so I probably would have just giggled in the corner and stared, which probably would have been best. I loved these posts. Happy New Year!!


    1. Your comment totally made my night…thank you!!

      I’m not having a bad night particularly – but it IS New Year’s, and I’m sitting here blogging, which is perhaps a tiny bit sad. If I’m not doing something social and celebratory to ring in the new year, I feel like I should at least be in a thoughtful, zen-like environment, where I could very philosophically mark the moment. And I’m not AT ALL (my kids stayed up for the ball dropping in Times Square for one thing – which totally blew any chance for “zen”!)

      But now I’m just laughing because all I can think about is what I’d do if I saw Michael Stipe – and as much as I’d like to think I’d be cool and just calmly thank him for his music or something, I’m pretty sure I’d make a total idiot of myself and start babbling or laughing – and then hate myself afterwards. So pathetic! I’m 39, by the way – which would lead you to think perhaps that I have more poise. But no!! (Not where Michael Stipe is concerned, at least.)

      I also LOVE that you know the Pump Up the Volume soundtrack!!!

      Yeah…this definitely made my night. Happy New Year!


      1. Well now I’m really glad I shared that story! For what it’s worth, my New Year’s Eve was rather bland as well. I watched my friend’s three boys yesterday, plus my two, so I was beyond exhausted. My kids passed out early and since I’m traveling today (eventually) my husband had to check out my car, which was nice but I ended up hanging out alone reading, watching TV, and cruising around on the internet. Seriously, your posts made my night. I’m 38 and graduated high school in 1993. I knew we had to be close to the same age. I love what you’re doing with the music posts, especially since I relate to EVERY song. I haven’t read the most recent one since I’m trying to get everyone out the door. Mostly, I’m procrastinating.


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