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Solo journeys and musical memories

Tracing my childhood, one song at a time

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I love going places on my own. There’s something so calming about walking through the streets, surrounded by the bustling movement of people, but not having to say a word to anyone. In the past year I have travelled by train across the country, walked aimlessly around the streets of both home and university, and once took a spontaneous day trip to London during term time – all accompanied by no one other than my own thoughts.

My own thoughts, that is, and a pair of headphones. Almost instinctively, I have rarely journeyed anywhere without the backdrop of some kind of music or another. Sound has been the extra layer tying every solitary adventure and its musings together. Various songs, albums and playlists therefore have particular associations in my mind, a single listen able to transport me back to a specific time, place and even emotion.

Recently I have started consciously curating musical memories as I go about my solo travels. In Michaelmas I made an Autumn playlist, gradually editing and adding as the term moved on, till by December I had a 42-song strong playlist that, if I listen to it now, takes me back to the months of October and November and everything that happened to me then. I did the same for the Christmas holidays, and for Lent term.

It can be a bittersweet thing: no period is pure and constant joy, and it can be strange to have encapsulated times when I was sad, tired or irritated. However, where one song reminds me of walking across Parker’s Piece with tears in my eyes, another does so of watching Autumn leaves fall as I walk home after a lovely chat with a friend. But it’s not just a deliberately constructed idea – music throughout my life has unconsciously allowed me to gather an emotional history in all its highs and lows, weirdness and happiness. In this spirit, please entertain this brief and admittedly self-involved foray into my musical past: songs that are not necessarily my favourites, or ones I still listen to all the time, but that hold particular meanings and memories for me.

(They Long To Be) Close to You – Carpenters

This is the song that my parents used to sing to me as I fell asleep as a child, so is probably pretty much the first song I have any memory of. However, the specific (and very sentimental) memory it recalls is of being about 3 years-old and in nursery. We had to go around the circle and tell everyone what our favourite song was; when I said Close to You my teacher had never heard of it, so I sang it for her and it made her cry.

In Between Days – The Cure

This has probably been one of the most consistently played songs throughout my life. However, no matter how much I play it, it will always remind me of listening to my dad play a battered old tape of his during car journeys when I was about 6. The tape had several bangers on it – honourable mention to Teenage Kicks by The Undertones – but none I remember feeling so clearly as the opening drums and guitar of In Between Days, with which I am yet to fall out of love.

Camisado – Panic! At the Disco

I would be lying if I tried to pretend that there wasn’t a period when I was, to put it bluntly, a massive fucking emo. This one is very much nostalgia for me as a former favourite song, representing a 13-year-old Emily who would enthuse and obsess about the things she loved to a slightly terrifying degree. Whilst I am now more likely to be found doing my own panicking at the disco than listening to their music, I look back fondly on a version of myself who was a little bit strange but also almost entirely okay with that.

17 – Youth Lagoon

I used to listen to this one when I was – you guessed it – 17. It reminds me of university applications and tram journeys across Sheffield to go and work the evening shift at Lush, alongside all the accompanying sweet scents and bath bomb dust. It’s a particularly weird one, in that it really doesn’t feel as though it can have been that long ago, but listening to it reminds me of how different I am from my sixth-form self.

Hunger – Florence + the Machine

The whole High as Hope album holds a special place in my heart as the main thing I listened to for the entirety of last summer, but this single in particular is definitely one of my most powerful musical memories. It is beautiful and cathartic in equal measure, and was a massive source of comfort to me at the end of a fairly chaotic first year. Seeing Florence at the O2 in November very nearly killed me off, but also perfectly rounded off her important place in many a lonely walk between May and September of last year.

So there you have it! An abridged chronicling of my musical history, because memories are important and playlists are fun. For transparency’s sake I should probably mention that I went through a fleeting but wild One Direction phase in Y8, which I am sure has emotional resonance the like of which I am yet to fully comprehend.

Cover Photo credit to Jerry Chen