Soundtrack To My Life


Holidays are our escape from the drudge of everyday life. There’s no morning commute, no nine-to-five. We leave our diets at home in order to pamper and indulge. We step out of our comfort zones and open ourselves up to new experiences, new cultures, and new places. Holidays give us something to look forward to, something to eagerly plan. It isn’t surprising, then, that we so desperately cling to the memories.

We take photographs to remind us of the beauty we’ve seen, of the people we’ve met and the places we’ve explored. Yet no picture can ever do justice to the vibrancy of life, the multitude of shades and hues that make a place what it is. We cook meals that we ate, we bring home bottles of wine from France, Aquavit from Denmark and beer from Germany. Yet we can never truly recreate. The ingredients are different, the water isn’t the same, outside the beer halls the taste just isn’t quite right.

Photographs, videos, food, souvenirs – we hope that these objects will act as a conduit, that they will let us relive our experiences. They offer glimpses into the past but in order to truly feel, to immerse yourself in sensations you thought were behind you, all it takes is a bit of music.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate in my life so far. I’ve traveled to 22 countries in my 22 years, and 7 of those I’ve explored on my own. I came upon this secret completely by accident when I was on the train between Geneva and Salzburg. The scenery was stunning – the Alps in winter – and I rather felt like a character in a film. Here I was, a Brooklyn boy gallivanting across Europe with nothing but a carry-on sized bag, a bundle of books and myself for company. I needed an appropriate soundtrack. We were in a tunnel and, as I noticed the light approaching, I switched on ‘The Call’ by Regina Spektor. At the critical point of the song, the beauty of her voice, of her lyrics melted into the landscape around me. From the darkness we emerged into a snowy valley, the mountains jutting so high that I couldn’t see their peaks for the clouds. As I write this I’m listening to the song and the same sense of awe, of majesty, is gripping at my chest. It’s a sense of empowerment, and it’s incredibly humbling. This song does more than remind me of the visual beauty or the crisp smell of January – it forces me to feel what I felt at the time.

For my next solo trip I decided to make full use of this discovery. I bought Florence + The Machine’s album Ceremonials in Edinburgh airport on my way to Oslo, that way the music was untainted by any previous associations. It was the only music I listened to the entire three days. As I wandered the streets of this new city, my head was filled with the power of her voice. Looking back on it, it’s surprising how obsessive I was able to be. But I was determined. It was an extremely contrived gesture but it paid off. I listen to ‘Never Let Me Go’ and I’m back on the roof of Oslo’s opera house, watching the lights of the city dance across the water in the harbour. But again, I don’t just see, I feel. At the time I was torn between my ex and a potential guy and as I listen to her words now, I experience the sense of surety, the clarity that the trip gave me. I learned so much about myself; I realized what I wanted, where I wanted to go and who I wanted to be. And if ever I forget, or become unsure, I know that I have the means to rediscover that truth.

Music has such a grip over our feelings. It inspires and strikes fear, it endears and it disgusts. Characters in film and television have theme songs, or reprises specific to them, and it allows the viewer to form a remarkably emotional attachment. I have pictures of the Northern Lights, I have a block of Norwegian brunost (brown cheese) in my fridge, and I keep salty liquorice at hand for reminders of my time in Norway. But when I want to truly relive my time there, to remember how I felt and what I learned, I simply turn up the volume and let Florence wash over me.

For best results, I’d recommend a stripped back, emotive, slightly dramatic album à la Lana Del Rey, Florence + The Machine or Lorde. It’s best if it’s something you’ve never listened to before. Experience new music at the same time as new places – marry the two from the beginning and the memories will always be linked.

image – kevin dooley