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Boomboxes and Dictionaries
Soundtrack to My Life
01/21/12 at 08:12 AM by Matt Chylak
This started as an assignment for one of my music classes, where I was supposed to write a "musical autobiography" that would describe how music has impacted my life. But isn't that sort've ridiculous? It would be impossible for me to adequately address how music has affected my life because when I am not eating, sleeping, attending class, or running (and sometimes during all of those activities), I am interacting with music on some level. In an attempt to demonstrate how music has ingrained itself in my life, I've compiled a short playlist paired with memories that will always be tied to these songs.

1. “I Want It That Way” by The Backstreet Boys
As a child (like most children, I’m assuming), I probably listened to a lot of music that was specifically targeted at kids. I remember being super excited when I got the Pokemon: The Movie soundtrack for Christmas one year. In light of that, my first introduction to popular radio music was definitely the Backstreet Boys. My cousin Gina had posters all over her bedroom walls (her favorite was Brian) and she played their music every time I came over. I forced my mom to buy me their debut CD and blasted it nonstop in our home cabinet stereo—my dad actually moved the stereo out of the living room because he was sick of hearing “that crappy music.” I never really got into ‘bubblegum pop’ like Britney Spears and I hated N’Sync (come on! They were total rip-offs!), but to this day I’ll jam “I Want It That Way” and sing along to the whole song.

2. “In Too Deep” by Sum 41 & 3. “Radio Player” by Allister
The first CD I ever bought for myself was All Killer No Filler by Sum 41. I was in third grade and my friend Dave (who’s still one of my best friends) let me listen to it on his Walkman after school one day. Most people like “Fat Lip” because that was the big single on the Now! compilations (never bought one myself, but my cousin Annie had like eight of them), but “In Too Deep” spoke to emotions I probably didn’t even have at that age. Plus, the melodies were so good! You listen to an album like that, all brash and summery, and it makes in impact on you, especially at that age, when you’re starting to define what you like. The other song that sparked my love of pop punk is “Radio Player” by Allister, one of the first bands I ever heard from the now-defunct Drive-Thru Records. In the early 2000s, Drive-Thru literally told me what to listen to: this was a time before computer downloading, so when I heard of a new Drive-Thru band (Something Corporate, New Found Glory, etc.…I can literally still name all twenty) I immediately went out, bought their new record, and loved it. This shaped my musical tastes, and now I write blog posts and music reviews for the site AbsolutePunk.net, which caters to that same music demographic.

4. “Touch The Sky” by Kanye West
This album is the reason I almost died when I was fourteen. I was in Ocean City, MD the summer before high school and was going for a run (I wanted to get on the varsity cross country team). Before returning to my hotel, I crossed the six-lane Coastal Highway to see if the record store across the street had Kanye’s new album Late Registration. Long story short: on the way back I got hit by a car and totaled it with my forehead. There’s a line in this song—one of my favorite rap songs ever—that goes “I think I died in the accident, ‘cause this must be heaven.” Chance?

5. “Tangled Up In Blue” by Bob Dylan
I’ve been making mix CDs for my Uncle Joe at Christmastime since at least 2004, and looking at the old playlists always reminds me of how tastes change (I mean, did he really need to hear “Drunk Kid Catholic” by Bright Eyes in 2006?). Nevertheless, my uncle is probably the guy who most got me into “older” music. He tells stories about random 60’s songs that make them come ALIVE for me, and he’s one of the only people in the world who I feel comfortable blathering about music to for hours on end. My favorite vignette (which he re-tells every time this song title even comes up) was one I first heard when I included this song on a mix CD for him. He looked at me strangely and said this song has his favorite Dylan line: ”I must admit, I was a little uneasy when she bent down to tie the laces of my shoooooooooooooe.” Yep, I have no idea, either.

6. “Ninety Miles an Hour” by Matt Chylak
If you look at the artist for this one, you might notice something. Yep, I play music. Throughout high school, I had a backing band and played for thousands of people. Writing music has been a large part of my creative life, and part of the reason I am pursuing an emphasis in Creative Writing for my English major. This is one of the songs from my first album—I have two on iTunes—and was probably one of the more popular ones. There’s nothing in the world like standing on stage and hearing a few hundred people sing your words back to you.

7. “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People
I started working at WXPN radio station last summer as a research assistant on their morning show. Every morning I would hear a variety of songs, but this one kept getting played. This was early in the song’s radio cycle, before it became the impossible-to-escape jam of July and August. I met the band at a festival I was working at for XPN, and they could not believe that I had heard of them. I told them it was going to be a hit on the radio and they just smiled kind of sadly and thanked me. Later that week, I played it for my cousin in the car and said, “This song’s going to be huge!” She listened to the whole thing and then replied, “ehhhh…I don’t see it.” For me, this song represents what I want my future career to be like: enjoying myself around music and finding new bands that I can show to other people.

8. “The Boy Who Blocked His Own Shot” by Brand New
This is my favorite song by my favorite band ever. Brand New is a band from Long Island that literally grew up with me. They have four albums, all of them very different, and their sounds match up to where I was in my life experience, from adolescence to unsure maturity—their most recent one was released the night before I left for Penn for the first time. I spent my New Years’ Eve this year at a show with them in Atlantic City, and it was one of the best nights of my life. Though it’s the last song on my playlist, this song is chronologically from their 2003 album Deja Entendu, which means “Already Heard”. There is a line in the bridge that is my favorite lyric ever, and though the song lines refer to a girl, they also perfectly encapsulate my relationship with music: “You are the smell before rain. You are the blood in my veins.”
Tags: musical autobiography, writing, songs that mean a lot
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