For my Brother’s Birthday: 30 Years of Music Memories

What 30th birthday present do you get for the guy who has everything, including much better taste than you do? For the past few years, I’ve given my brother money and playlist for his birthday, but since this is a big one, I decided to make the playlist “30 Years of Musical Memories” and annotate it. 

The Last 30 Years and notes below…

My first, and maybe strongest, memory of my brother is of him wearing a long pajama shirt and strumming his plastic guitar while singing “Heaven is a Place on Earth” I think much to our parents chagrin, this was our favorite song and we not only insisted on listening to it on repeat in the car but performing it at home.

My parents tried to steer us towards better music when they introduced us to the Beatles’ Rubber Soul. We loved this album, but particular “Drive my Car” because we were little kids and “Beep beep beep beep yeah!” are the kind of lyrics that little kids love. There is a video of us someone dancing around living in circles – my brother driving a fake car and me attempting to look like a movie star.

Another good step away from Belinda Carlise was Led Zeppelin. We loved “Over the Hills and Far Away” and made our parents play the beginning over and over again because we liked the guitar breakdown. I think about this sometimes – whether my parents thought that having kids was so annoying and we were wrecking a good song by being totally irritating. But then I realize that it is objectively a pretty good breakdown…

Speaking of wrecking good songs…For many years, neither of us went anywhere without several stuffed animals, and we would routinely have them act out the Tom Petty album, Into the Great Wide Open. I remember distinctly that they would soar up to ceiling of the car, and then we would drop them on the line “must come down” in the song “Learning to Fly.”

Then there was the summer when we got into oldies. I might be making this up, but I think the first time I ever heard my little brother request to hear a specific song was when he asked for “Barbara Ann.” This was another one that we probably liked because the lyrics are borderline jibberish.

I do know for a fact that first CD my brother and I choose to buy was Billy Joel’s Stormfront. “We Didn’t Start the Fire” was a very popular song at the time; I can remember sitting with my brother and other kids we knew and trying to compete over who knew the most lyrics. There was no question that this would be our pick when we finally got a CD player at home. We took a family trip to a brand new store called HMV where there were thousands of CDs, which was the newest fangled medium for music available at the time. I think I remember my mom being sad that she’d born children who liked Billy Joel.

The next CD I remember us buying was Dookie – years later. By the time this album came out, I was undeniably uncool and my brother already knew way more about what was going on in the real world. He requested the album for Christmas, but I thought of it as mine as well. I remember listening to “Basket Case” in the car with my father, who was kind of shocked about the lyrics, and then immediately resigned to answering questions like “What’s a whore? What’s ‘stoned?’ What’s neurotic?”

Along the lines of mature adult content, we loved the musical Rent. One summer we decided to re-enact a performance for our father and godparents, but I lost my nerve before I was supposed to go on as Mimi and sing “Out Tonight.” My brother threw on a dress and completely killed it.

Although he was willing to pinch hit, as he got older, my brother mostly dictated the music we listened to as a family. I remember vacation in Florida we took with my father. All of us were hesitant about the trip for different reasons, but drove everywhere blasting a whole Blink 182 album (including “Feeling This”) out of our rental car. We thought we were so badass. In our defense, they weren’t as uncool then as they are now.

Speaking of bands we listened to that weren’t that cool: The Goo Goo Dolls. But at least we were self-aware about how lame they were. I remember being in the car with my brother listening to “Dizzy,” when he had a revelation, inspired by the line “whatever ever you are.” “I think pop music works because the the lyrics don’t actually mean anything, so nobody has to decide if they agree.” Totally smart, and also the first adult, intellectual conversation I remember having with my brother.

There were of course, many years, when we did more sharing of music than sharing of words. There was one summer when he didn’t really want to speak to me, but his best friend was visiting us and they needed me to drive them places. At the time, I was pretty much a classic and indie rock only person, and they were into mainstream rap. One song they insisted on playing at full volume was “Fire” by Joe Budden and Busta Rhymes. I insisted on calling him Joe Button, but eventually I got to like the song and we had a great time in that car. It’s a small thing, but I’m so grateful to my brother and his friend for that summer, because by listening to the songs they liked, I realized for the first time that it was possible, even ok, to change.

My brother has introduced me to a lot of music I wouldn’t have listened to you otherwise, but he’s also made me mixes with songs like Pat Benetar’s “All Fired Up” and “How Will I Know – Junior Vasquez Mix.” He’s also been really patient with me when I’ve liked his music but been unable to remember anything about the song.

Upon request, he made me a mix with “the song that talks about Sha-day?” (“Replay”). When I told him I really liked the song with the lyrics “Baby you’re my A-Train” he only insisted a few times that no such song existed before figuring out it was “Best I Ever Had.” And even then, he wasn’t too judgmental when he asked, “Why the hell would he say she was his A-train?”

Although we shared certain musical tastes with our parents and each other, (we got all into Bruce Springsteen, belatedly, the summer and I distinctly remember when my father and brother picked me up from the airport after summer camp cranking, “Badlands”), there came a point in my life when my brother really helped me expand my interests – and myself.

He was visiting San Francisco for Outside Lands and suggested I come with him and his friends. I thought, at the time, that nothing in the world sounded worse than wasting three days at a music festival, except maybe wasting it with my brother’s friends from LA. I couldn’t have been more wrong. They were wonderful people, we had a blast and I realized that you don’t to be productive every second of every day. Watching Muse perform “Starlight” with my brother and his incredible friends will always be one of the best memories of my life.

Plus, I learned I liked electronic music, which I think my brother considered a massive victory. He sent me songs like Tiesto’s “Don’t Ditch” and invited me to join him at Electric Zoo (Although I was admittedly most excited to hear “Club Can’t Handle Me”). With our combined heights, the two of us jumping up and down are probably terrifying, but we had a blast. For the first time in my life I realized I could learn a lot from my brother, but it was also the first time in my life when I was willing to let go of my own rigid rules and ideas about how to be.

I admired so much about my brother, especially the ways we were different. He was first person with whom I was able to be silent. That same summer we took a road trip together. We each made a CD – his with new electronic music and mine with old songs from our childhood and teenage years. I included songs like “These Words” by Natasha Bedingfield and was so happy that he had the same memories of them that I did. He was happy that I was totally into all the new music he shared. We barely talked for 8 hours and it was one of the best car rides of my life.

We went back to more music festivals together – one time with some of my friends from high school. One time we split up, I went with my friends and he went with his. For some reasons, when my friends got really happy — relishing in lipstick application and talking about how we were all sisters — I got really sad. Every time my friends would say, “We’re sisters” I would cry and say, “But nothing lasts forever.” We went to see Passion Pit and I didn’t cheer up, until during “Moth’s Wings” my brother and his friends appeared out of nowhere. Obviously the details are fuzzy for me, but I was suddenly smiling and I remember hearing someone say, “She just needed to find her brother.”

After this, we identified how important our shared love of music was, especially in light of our tricky family life growing up. We decided to start a blog called “The World the Children Made” based on the Deadmau5 song “The Veldt.” Let’s just say it was a great idea, and one day, I know we’ll actually execute on something.

Although for many years music held us together when talking was difficult, recently more  talking has factored into our relationship. Sometimes about music. I remember him telling me that he listened to “Sigh No More” for a full day while deciding whether to end a bad relationship, and I think of him and how thoughtful, determined and honest he is every time I hear this song. I remember him telling me he played the song “Every Day” by Eric Prydz on repeat some mornings. He said the song could be both bleak and happy, so it carried him from the time it was still dark until when the sun came out. 

He’s starting to sound like a really serious person, which he can be, but he’s also hilarious. Our next summer at Outside Lands, he blew my mind by making up genius fake lyrics to Haim’s “Falling.” We also had an amazing time watching the Killers, another show that I think was made more special by how much we listened to the band when we were younger. (And also by the memory of the time he let my my step-sister do his makeup to look like Robert Jones and my step-dad put the pictures in a video to the tune of “When You Were Young.”)

He’s also the only man who could drive me around LA cranking Big Sean’s “I Don’t Fuck With You” with you and get me to think it was a great song (rather than going on a rant about misogyny.) But maybe I would have liked it anyway, because these days, our taste is more and more aligned.

A couple of days ago, he sent me the new Mumford & Sons song, “There Will Be Time.” I’d already been listening to it obsessively for a week, and it made me so happy to think we’d both discovered the same song on our own.

Along those lines, song #30, “Something New” is one that I always associate with my brother, but I can’t remember if he sent it to me or I sent it to him. For all of our differences (and there are many, his passion for shoes being the least of them) music has helped us to understand the important ways in which we’re similar. We both shared the experience of having our world break apart, and we both bounced back, aligned about what it means to go forward. As I get older, I meet so many people who let setbacks ruin their lives, who don’t take accountability for their lives, who get mired in the past, who end up broken. And so often, the people dragging you down are your own family members.

It’s not remarkable that my brother and I share a past. It’s remarkable that we both have the same ideas about the future, and that we’ve been able to (mostly) support each other as we get there. Here’s to the next 30 years!

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