With all due respect to the bard, I think music serves as the food of memories, not love. But by all means, play on.
Music is my ultimate emotional recall tool. What do I mean by that? I can listen to a song now that I listened to in junior high and have total recall about people, places, and certain events. I can picture scenes in my mind as they happened (or at least as my brain remembers them), including whatever emotions I was feeling at the time.
Some writers will listen to songs from their youth to get back in touch with their inner teenagers. That’s a little tougher for me because while my characters are an extension of me to some extent, they aren’t me. I like to think they are their own people. And I can’t imagine how some of my characters might be thinking about the guys they like if I’m listening to “One” by U2 or “Black” by Pearl Jam. And perhaps it’s because I’m older now, but “Institutionalized” by Suicidal Tendencies makes me laugh more than remind me of what it was like to be at my parents’ mercy.
I’m not belittling my playlist from back then. Not at all. My “ideal guy” song back then (circa 1984) was “Somebody” by Depeche Mode, and it still holds up:
I mean, who can argue that Martin Gore isn’t singing about the perfect life partner? But it’s old, and from a completely different generation. I’m not saying that kids these days wouldn’t appreciate it, but I’m acknowledging my age, and that’s why I have a whole other Pandora station, strictly devoted to what I think my characters would be listening to right now. It’s more current stuff, though I’ve realized (much to my dismay) that some of these songs are from the ‘00s and are considered “old school.” (If planning my 20-year high school reunion last year wasn’t enough to make me feel old, this certainly did.)
This may be old school, but this is what I’d envision my characters calling the “ideal guy” song now (circa 2007): “I Could Get Used to This” by Everlife.
Same general concept, but with a different delivery. And even I, in my old and jaded adult stage, can appreciate it.
As I go through revisions for WTRPCPSU – and also as I inch my way through The WIP, I’m relying on my Pandora station more than ever. I don’t feel like it’s enough for me to tell a story or paint a picture. When I was younger, my favorite books made me feel. They drew me in and made me cry and laugh and get angry with characters. That’s why it’s so important for me to get these emotions right. It’s not enough for me to remember what it’s like to be a teen. I want to capture what it’s like to be a teen today.
I may not be able to walk in their shoes (I wouldn’t pass for a high schooler anymore), but I can listen to their music (or, at least, something more current than my high school soundtrack) and let it speak to me. And while themes haven’t changed over the past 25 years or so, it’s still nice to feel like I’m getting a fresh perspective.