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My taste in music has been shaped by people I no longer know

I owe the ghosts of friends and boyfriends past for showing me some of my favorite songs


"Every single line in that song is heavy with meaning." Illustration published on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019.

Recently I found myself sitting slouched on the light rail with music from the band Joy Again blasting through my AirPods. Creeky DIY songs of ghosts and lust and loss blasted into my ears, and I sat there, simultaneously thinking about everything and nothing, and then I came to a realization.

There are so many people I have met in college who meant something to me at one point or another but are no longer in my life. And, oh no — a lot of the people I used to spend time with, and who used to know me, no longer do, but they still know all my secrets.

Those thoughts are discomforting, but the impact they had on me far outweighs the fear or sense of loss. For me, I can look back at the memories I have of people I used to know — and no longer know — through the music they shared with me.

In many ways, my taste in music is just a fusion of what others have shared with me. I would like to have enough faith in myself to believe that I could’ve found these artists on my own, but would I have? It's unlikely. I have ex-boyfriends and random people in my dorm hall freshman year to thank for my discoveries.

“We Go Home Together” by Mount Kimbie, James Blake

For someone who listens to the music of James Blake every day of her life and reflects on King Krule’s 2017 album “The OOZ” as if it’s a sacred piece of history, I have no clue why I hadn’t heard Mount Kimbie’s 2017 project “Love What Survives” until December 2018. How did I go so long without it? I don't understand.

A link to the album was sent to me over a simple green-bubbled text message. I was slouched against a sticky pale wall on the floor of the second level of the G. Homer Durham Language and Literature building, a nightmarish building to have a class in. My then-boyfriend shared the song with me — he thought I would love it, and I did. 

I sat there and swallowed excited reactions to the project as I saved almost every song.

When “We Go Home Together” slapped into focus, I must’ve squeezed my earphones into my ears in hope of sucking up every element of the track.

He, the then-boyfriend and I, no longer chat, but I will always be thankful for him introducing that album to me.

Armchairs” by Andrew Bird

I was at a party. A coworker I rarely talked to was telling me about Andrew Bird for some reason. I handed him my phone, and he typed in probably five songs off of Bird's 2007 album “Armchair Apocrypha.” 

He said something along the lines of, “These are my favorites, but they’re all good.” He was so right.

I had heard of Andrew Bird but hadn’t given him the time of day for no particular reason. When I sat down the next day, referring to the note the guy at the party left, I decided to scrap the list and listen through. It was transformative. Every single line in that song is heavy with meaning. 

"Grab hold of your bootstraps and pull like hell / Until gravity feels sorry for you and lets you go / As if you lack the proper chemicals to know, oh / The way it felt the last time you let yourself fall this low..."

Who would I be now without songs like “Simple X,” “Armchairs” and “Yawny at the Apocalypse?” I don't even want to think about it. 

“O.T.D.” by Brad Stank

I hate to admit it, but one of my Tinder matches way back when told me about this one. We only talked for maybe a day. I remember listening to this song on repeat last year so much that at one point I had to pause my music altogether because my head felt like it was spinning in circles.

It’s just a great song. I still see the guy around campus, and we never make eye contact, which is hilarious, but I’m thankful for the tune.

I’ve also featured another song by Brad Stank in a blog I wrote for The State Press last year.

READ MORE: B-Sides: 8-Track

“80808” by Death Grips

My love for Death Grips is undeniable. When I tried to listen to them a few years ago though, I must’ve turned the music off not even 15 seconds into the song that was playing. But it wasn’t until the rainiest period of last fall did I get turned onto “Hacker,” “The Fever (Aye Aye)” and later, “80808” among others. 

I don’t know if I liked them more because my perspective on music had changed since the last time I had listened to them or because I dove in wanting to like them because of the person who showed me their music.

Besides, there is actually nothing better than blasting Death Grips at 6:30 a.m. on a trek to the shuttle, which became a part of my routine last semester. 

“Patience” by Guns N’ Roses

There’s something so therapeutic about the whistling in the intro to this song paired with imperfect strums. To be honest, I’ve never really cared to listen to Guns N’ Roses, but it wasn’t until my first semester at ASU that their music came into my life.

It was early October — the time in Arizona when I wish it were cold. The time when I wish there are leaves turning a crisp orange and burgundy on trees before falling and flooding the streets, filling the city with autumnal hues. There’s something about older guitar-heavy rock and folk songs that elevates my plane of existence outside Arizona for a few minutes during this season. 

This song was defining for my fall semester of freshman year. I remember walking down Palm Walk during the first not uncomfortably hot days, listening to this song as the sun's rays moved through the palm leaves. I listened and imagined I was elsewhere.

I haven't talked to the guy who sent me the song in over a year, but we do have mutual friends — it's almost as if we never knew one another. 

But when I listen to this song, I remember the very brief connection we had, and then I carry on with my day.

Reach the reporter at or follow @jessiemy94 on Twitter. 

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