When I was working on my book, I had to include music, lyrics and poetry to help illustrate the experiences of the story’s hero. I couldn’t resist giving it a soundtrack of sorts, mostly because so many of my most vivid memories from high school and college are so closely tied to specific songs.  And I just remember how important songs were at that time. Whenever friends ask me why I want to write YA fiction, I tell them that there’s a certain urgency and intensity you have as a teenager that makes the stories from that time of your life more exciting to tell. For example, the label “best friend” isn’t just thrown around. It’s something you consider carefully and constantly evaluate. Best really means best. And, if someone hurts you, you’re crushed. And when you love a song, you really, really love that song.

I still love music and songs, but almost all of the songs that really bring me back to a specific time and place are from high school and college. Here are just a few:


Lovefool, The Cardigans

This certainly isn’t the most original example I could come up with. Pretty much every girl my age watched Baz Lurhman’s “Romeo and Juliet,” fell hard for Leo Dicaprio as he stared longingly at Claire Danes through a fish tank and then immediately bought the soundtrack to the movie so they could play “Lovefool” on repeat. It’s a happy, dreamy little tune (even if it is about a woman desperately begging a man to pretend to love her…yikes) that will forever remind me of riding shot gun in my friend Sara’s little red Hyundai she named “Inga.” We had nowhere to go really (even the mall was two towns away) but it was exciting to have the freedom of our own vehicle and blast our favorite song – Lovefool – and sing along. This song will always feel like giddy, free happiness to me.


Silent all These Years, Tori Amos

I had friends and was involved in sports and activities in high school, but I definitely had a loner/introvert side. I spent a significant amount of time alone in my room writing poetry or poring over song lyrics, trying to interpret the meaning behind them. This song is definitely the anthem for my inner introvert. I remember discovering Tori and being instantly fascinated and obsessed. Her songs were like these electrically charged little word puzzles. And whenever I figured them out, they always seemed to relate to something I was dealing with in my own life.  “Silent all These Years” felt so delicate and sad and special to me. I hear this song and I am instantly back in my childhood bedroom, sitting on the peach, carpeted floor and following along in the CD lyric book, even though I already knew all the words.


It’s Not Up to You, Bjork

I spent the first three years of college sharing a dorm room the size of a jail cell with a roommate whose musical taste varied greatly from mine. She thought my indie music was weird and sad, and I thought her mainstream hip-hop was trite and repetitive. We found a middle ground with Lauryn Hill (sidenote: “Lost Ones” is the theme song to my freshman year of college, but that’s its own story…) but most of the time we respectfully alternated stereos and kept the volume at a reasonable level.

Senior year I managed to score a single (with my own bathroom!) which meant I could play whatever music I wanted at whatever volume I felt like. For some reason, Bjork’s Vespertine dominated my 3-disc changer. It was a weird time for me – I’d just lost 2 grandparents in less than one year, the twin towers had just been attacked and I had a secret crush on “just a friend” that was making me miserable. Bjork’s haunting melodies were both calming and inspiring. And singing along to the lyrics for “It’s Not Up to You” was like chanting a reassuring mantra.

It’s not up to you

Oh, it never really was

It’s not up to you

Oh, it never really was

With everything that was going on, I felt like Bjork was telling me “Chill. Trust the universe.” And honestly, if anyone is channeling the meaning of the universe, it’s Bjork.

Question: What songs will always bring you back to a specific time and place?

7 thoughts on “Three IMPORTANT Songs

  1. All of Tori’s Little Earthquakes truly transforms me back to certain times in my life, as does the b side, here. in my head. SATY, like you, was my girl during those loner high school days:)

  2. Love your writing Jenessa. You are so honest and spot on.

    Jason and I went to see Alanis Morisette in October. I literally wept throughout the entire 2 hour concert. (He was like–why are you crying on our date night at a concert you wanted to go to? But I digress) Jagged Little Pill was ONE of my college Freshman year albums. I have a few others. But it was so amazing to me. It accompanied a time when I thought and felt things I had never dared to before. When I heard those songs again, even though we are both older and mothers now, I was taken back to that time and seriously felt all of those emotions again.

    Sadly, I also realized I don’t really experience music like that anymore. And most of the music that really makes me feel something is from a previous time, but boy can it make me feel. And for that I’ll always be grateful.

    Sidbar: I love Lovefool too. That was a college Sophmore year album for me!

    1. Yes! “Jagged Little Pill” was another blare-the-music-and-sing-along album for me. Absolutely. “You Oughtta Know” was so new to me in how gritty, raw and angry it felt. I think Alanis was important to a lot of young women at that time who needed an outlet for anger and frustration.
      Thanks for the compliments and comment – so appreciate the support.

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