As we approach the roaring 2020s, we’re all in the midst of our online apps telling us how we lived the past decade.
The data can be enthralling, but is just a glossing of what really happened.
Over the course of the past 10 years, according to Spotify, I’ve listened to a lot of Led Zeppelin.
I remember blasting “Going to California” on repeat as I was driving from New Jersey to California. I definitely scream sang to “I Can’t Quit You, Baby” horrendously in between casual flings and bigger relationships.
Despite this, and it may be recency bias speaking, I don’t think Zep was the soundtrack to my decade.
Since Jan. 1, 2010, I’ve done a few things like: graduate high school, go away to college, live in another country, lots and lots of waitressing, turn 21, gain a lot of weight after turning 21, dump my college boyfriend, get back together with my college boyfriend, get dumped by my college boyfriend, land my first big job in advertising, quit my first big job in advertising, move back in with my parents, get a job at my hometown newspaper, move into a house by the beach with friends, help start a retail fish market, drive across the country and back, struggle to find the right job for me, decide I should just move to Alaska, turn down a job in Alaska, get another job in Alaska, move to Alaska, move to Seward, quit smoking, lose that weight from turning 21, run a marathon and start writing a column.
Did I miss anything? Of course I did, because those are the highlights. Led Zeppelin is the constant of my past decade but constants don’t mark milestones.
Where was the band The xx on my musical decade wrap-up? I would listen to them each time I took the walk back to my apartment from my college boyfriend during that breakup I mentioned. The melancholic melodies would help sooth me and the heartbreakingly romantic lyrics would give me fodder for our next conversation. But, breakups don’t (or shouldn’t) last as long as relationships so The xx is just a blip on my musical radar but every time I hear one of those songs while sitting in a coffee shop I’m thrown back to that time.
When I ran my first half marathon, it took me two and a half hours. During the entire run, I listened to Led Zeppelin. I love running to Led Zeppelin since I rarely need to skip a song, but as I progressed in my running I found it more efficient and engaging to run without music. Now, when I run, I listen to the world around me and try to give my thoughts time on the center stage.
How does that fit into the data?
When I lived in London, I went out to a club and saw a local band. I took their CD back to my apartment, uploaded it onto my phone and listened to it every day on my tube ride to work. If I started when I left my place, it would finish as I walked into my office. I can’t remember the name of the band, though, and wouldn’t be able to whistle the tune, but if I heard it in passing I know the nostalgia would flood in.
I remember when I first moved into an apartment just a block from the ocean, I raided my roommate’s vinyl collection and landed on one album — the “Dirty Dancing” soundtrack. For weeks, I played it loudly while dancing in the living room before running down to the beach for a quick swim. There’s no way to show that through an app, but I do still know all the words to “Hungry Eyes.”
And where is “Tangled Up in Blue” anyway? When I moved out, I bought my own record player. Now, whenever I’m in the mood to relax I’ll put “Blood on the Tracks” on and listen to Bob Dylan croon, just like I did for years before Spotify existed and like I’ll do for years after the app is long gone. Where do you think I got the name for this column?
I engaged with and enjoyed the Spotify wrap-up, because it gave me a general tone of each year over the past 10. In 2012, I loved Pearl Jam and in 2019 I loved Taylor Swift, with some Rihanna in between.
I’ll continue to enjoy Led Zeppelin, but I think the real fun of revisiting the decade is in the blips and the habits that can’t be quantified. There are the songs or artists that came in briefly and defined a moment, were guest artists in the soundtrack of your decade, leaving you with a feeling that data just can’t really explain. And then there are the artists that are just for you, a forgotten band on the underground or a lifelong constant that you listen to in your own way.
No matter what the data says, if you see me with headphones on, there’s no telling what I’m listening to.