It's funny how music gets itself so deeply intertwined with specific memories.
There's a pop punk album my friends and I had on repeat throughout the summer of 2004 — to this day I can't listen to it without feeling high-school drunk.
Twelve years later, the opening beat to Modest Mouse's "Float On" also takes me back to 2004, and one very specific party that I should probably stop describing right now.
And that's just 2004 — I could go on like this for almost the entirety of my iPod's shuffle.
In fact, flipping through my dusty old CD binders (look it up kids, it's a thing), there's not a single disc print that doesn't conjure up some key memory, feeling or moment in time. It covers the whole range: happy, hopeful, soul-crushing existential dread, and so on.
Until recently — around the time I got busy with school and then work — music was a major part of my identity.
But I've found something very upsetting happens to you as you get older and set off on your own, if you're not careful.
You become lame.
As your tastes soften and your social circles contract, popular music no longer finds its way to you.
Suddenly, you realize you've been listening to all the same stuff as you were five years ago, because you haven't made time to seek out new music.
You pretty much just wait for the new releases from all your old favourite bands, but they never quite live up to the classics, do they?
What are all the cool kids listening to these days? And where the hell are they listening to it? YouTube? What's a Spotify?
And then, one night you end up at a club somehow and everyone's all grindy and sweaty, and the music is loud and shitty and you've never heard any of it before, and you're tired and you just want to go home to your sweatpants.
In some ways, that's like the passing of the torch. When new music actively eludes you, you've effectively turned in your Certificate of Youth. Traded it in for a pair of grey sweats, a good night's sleep and a banana in the morning for breakfast with your 6 a.m. coffee.
When my car battery died last January, taking my entire stereo system with it, I opted to forego the expensive (relative to my budget) repair, and just not listen to music. I chose instead to drive in silence.
Let that sink in for a moment. In the interest of saving money I chose to literally drive for hours serenaded by nothing but my own miserable thoughts.
At first, I thought the extra thinking time would do me some good. "I'll be able to clear my head, and maybe even uncover some long-buried philosophical revelations!" I thought.
After three weeks of silent driving I became very depressed.
I never really realized how crucial music is to my everyday mental well-being until it just wasn't there. And until January, it was at least there at some point in every day.
It's hard to say with words what music really means to the soul, because it's a language all its own — it's something everyone can relate to on a basic human level.
Sure, everyone has their own tastes and every culture its songs, but have you ever met someone who just doesn't like music? Like, at all?
I haven't, and now that I think about it, I'd imagine I can do without meeting that person.
I bet they wear a lot of grey, refuse to curse and are a real drag at parties.
And though sometimes I can't help but feel like an early-onset Homer Simpson, worried about staying hip and cool long after my days of being "with it" have passed — "It'll happen to you," as Grandpa said — it's possible I just need to try harder.
Lately I'm rocking the iPhone-in-the-cupholder stereo system in my car. The sound quality sucks but I've noticed I feel much less like a hopeless, aimless sack in recent weeks.
And I've also taken it upon myself to actively seek out new music.
Getting older is a surprising amount of work, but I'm far from an old man.
Just starting to feel the early burn of the long haul is all.