The Music That Made Me: Laywoman’s Edition

The recent issue of Rolling Stone includes a “playlist” feature with 15 artists discussing the music that made them them. Midlife Mixtape posted her version and invited blogger friends to do the same — who can resist that challenge?

Herewith, a few travels through my musical genetics.

The songs that made me

“Sixteen Tons,” Tennessee Ernie Ford

I was fascinated with this record when I was about six years old. We had a 45 of it, like this:
Tennessee Ernie Ford-Sixteen Tons-Capitol 3262-Jack Fascinato

Something about Ford’s deep voice and the lyrics about the suffering of the common man — so apropos as I was growing up in a steel-mill town in Colorado, not too far from the old Ludlow Massacre site — I ate it up. I remember listening to it (on my little portable record player? on my parents’ hi-fi? I can’t recall), marching around the room as it played. Plus, oboe.

“Faithfully,” Journey

I wouldn’t classify myself as a major Journey fan. I basically only know Frontiers, which was the first rock album I bought, in fifth grade. Journey was rollerskating music for me. Still, in my mind, I’m circling that rink, wistfully singing along under my breath.

“Close to Me,” The Cure

The Cure’s album The Head on the Door was one of the records in my first order box from the Columbia Record Club, in 1985. It Blew. My. Mind. I basically loved every song, as I memorized the lyrics while lying on the floor of the tiny bedroom I shared with my sister during middle school, piled high with bookshelves and bunk beds and our collections of hundreds of stuffed animals (and one living hamster). I’m still crazy about that album.

I’ll pick out this song, because the video was one of the early videos I saw, too, back in MTV’s toddler years. I didn’t know people could be so WEIRD, and I loved it.

“Unloveable,” The Smiths

At first, I thought it was laughable for me to select a Smiths song that is THE Smiths song for me, but then I realized, no, this is the one. People tend to call The Smiths depressing, but during my teen years, they were my security blanket. That Morrissey could put voice to my fears in this song still makes my inner teen relax and settle. “I wear black on the outside, because black is how I feel on the inside” was my mantra ca. 1986-19–… um … well … moving right along. And because every song on this list goes hand in glove (see what I did there?) with a physical location, I’ll place this one in front of the big mirrored closet door in my next bedroom, in the suburbs, where I could gaze morosely at myself while practicing Gothy dance moves.

“Zebulon,” Einstürzende Neubauten

Really, this is getting silly, because this is more like bands that made me. I’ve listened to EN for 25+ years. I’m not sure if I found EN because I was studying German, or if I kept studying German because I’d found EN. But “Zebulon” came later, around the time I met my husband. When I’d get drunk and rave about EN (a band he already knew — bonus points for him!), his eyes would get all starry, and the first time I paced and ranted to him in my claustrophobic living room of my apartment, he totally got why this was my song. It encompasses nearly all of EN, to me — mystery, poetics, soft/hard juxtaposed. Plus it’s kinda sexy (English lyrics here).

“Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” White Stripes

This video was on TV one day when I walked into the family room of the first house we bought. Maybe somewhere around 0:50. My memory is that I stared at the TV for the next three minutes and only stopped listening to the White Stripes periodically for the next ten years. I can’t even remember why the video would have been on, because I don’t think we had cable, but my memory of that time is pretty haphazard, because it was just a few months after our daughter was born.

“(I Got Spurs That) Jingle, Jangle, Jingle,” Riders in the Sky

Once the smoke cleared from the procreation, this song is the one that I remember from the time that made us a family. My little girl was obsessed with horses and cowboys practically from day one. Somewhere, we got this album of cowboy songs, and we listened to it over and over. We danced to it, listened to it in the car, and for a couple years, she chilled out while riding around the house on her dad’s shoulders, being bounced to it. I can’t even hear this song without hearing her three-year-old voice piping along with it in my head. (Our alternate was Lucinda Williams’ Essence, which we called “Lady Cowboy Songs.”)

“The Twist,” Frightened Rabbit

I don’t know how I found Frightened Rabbit, really. I’d heard them off and on on Radio 1190 and OpenAir here in Denver. Finally I went looking online, and after I heard this version of “The Twist,” from, I fell down the rabbithole (har har). I watched a ton of videos online, and soon downloaded The Midnight Organ Fight. It was summer 2012, I think. That night, or the next, I found my husband innocently enjoying an evening beer on the bench on the front porch, and brought my phone out, and forced him to listen to the entire album while I paused between songs to offer an exegesis of each. (What can I say? I’ve always been like that. I guess he knew what he was getting into.)

My husband doesn’t love FR like I do. Which is OK, because I love them really a lot. I especially love that I’m not too old to fall in love with a band again. That I’m not done being made by music.

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  1. So glad you hopped on the bandwagon. One of the most fascinating things I’m learning through this exercise is how many of us have some old school country and western in our rear view mirrors…and yet felt perfectly at home with the Cure and the Smiths. Great piece and thanks again for joining in!

    • Susanna
      May 15

      Now we just need a smackdown edition … I just read that Fine Tuning *turned toward* country music because of “Cruise,” and that needs some serious ‘splaining, in my book. Ha!

  2. May 15

    As I commented to Nancy, I would need a few days to be able to decide what songs to pick, and even then, I’d be sure I could have done a better job. I’d spend hours agonizing over which Smiths song to pick, I’m impressed you were so certain.

    • Susanna
      May 15

      Perhaps I have an advantage in that I’m writing a whole memoir about this. And writing fast might be easier — like ripping the bandage off!

  3. May 16

    The Cure and The Smiths – YES! Head on the Door was one of my absolute fave albums…and “Unloveable”? Oh man I’ve quoted that song sooo many times. “If I seem a little strange, well that’s because I am” 🙂

    Great list!

    • Susanna
      May 16

      Yes, I guess that’s what made “Unloveable” THE song by the Smiths — I ran through all the lyrics like “uh-huh, yes, yes, yep, OOH that line, yeah …” — especially at age … um … pre-20. Pre-22. Never mind.

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