Looking Inward: What Music Can Do

by Emily Russell

Sun Star Columnist


Music can inspire, it can empower, it can start revolutions and riots, but it can also bring you down. If you happened upon my last piece in the Sun Star, you would know that I’m recovering from the end of a two- year relationship, leaving me highly susceptible to lyrical woes. In the days and weeks that followed our breakup, I’ve steered clear of all of the music that once made me happy and hopeful for our future. Not being able to listen to the music that brought me so much joy over the last two years has made my music library seem quite thin. No longer can I bust a move to Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros “Better Days” or belt out the lyrics to their song, which became our song, “Man on Fire.”

Just like smell, music for me can take on an entirely new meaning, a meaning I associate with a certain person, place or time in my life. Jack Johnson’s music reminds me of my dorm room in Spurr House at boarding school, where I spent hours listening to his surf-rock music on my brand new Harman Kardon speakers. The Smith’s music takes me specifically back to the Albertslund platform where I spent many mornings waiting for the train into Copenhagen during my college semester abroad in Denmark. Every Radiohead song ever makes me nostalgic for the relationship I was in during the last months of college and the year off we spent living and working in New York City.

When I boarded the plane from New York to Fairbanks, I succumbed to the most stereotypical playlist for the state of Alaska, Eddie Vedder’s movie soundtrack from “Into the Wild.”

Despite the common resentment for Alexander McCandless’s story and legacy in Alaska, the music that Pearl Jam’s Vedder wrote for the movie is the perfect musical portrayal of such an awe-inspiring and humbling landscape. Since the day I stepped off the plane and into the perpetual dusk that defines August evenings in Alaska, my music library has largely been defined by the man that quickly became my best friend, my partner in crime and soon my partner in life.

I can associate so many moments and feelings from the last two years with the songs and playlists that populate my music library. So, I knew that if I were to ever recover from the blow of this breakup I had to repopulate my library by rediscovering old favorites and unearthing new ones. Paul Simon has done wonders, as has Taylor Swift and OK Go. I’ve been turned on to the powerfully beat-driven music of Ibeyi, a duo of Cuban twins, and the songwriting sweetness of The Lone Bellow, a Brooklyn-based folk rock group. But I miss the bands and artists that I’ve fallen in love with over the past two years: Alabama Shakes, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, Ben Howard, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Valerie June, Frazey Ford and Oscar Isaac from the “Inside Llewyn Davis Soundtrack.”

I know that I’ll be able to revisit these musical gems someday soon, just as I’ve done with Radiohead and the other artists that make me nostalgic for my past relationships and past experiences. My love for Hurray for the Riff Raff and Alabama Shakes is too strong to shake, and I know that one day it will work out for us. Some relationships are just too special to let go of completely.

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