Friday, June 20, 2014

Background sounds

I’m kind of a sucker for a good listicle (a good one, mind you, not just some lazy slapdash rundown of the first eight things in a random category that popped into someone’s head) and I’d say that this qualifies: The 99 Best Soundtracks Of The ’90s. I’m asserting that it’s an objectively good read, certainly a nigh-exhaustive one, but at the same time I admit there’s a lot of subjective, nostalgic appeal in it for me.

I was in college during the early-to-mid 90’s, which was probably the height of my musical awareness (the combination of getting outside the bubble of my childhood environment, which impacted the movies I saw, books and comics I read, everything, plus the fact that music is the pop culture that can be consumed at the same time that you are studying, or road tripping, or out socializing at the local watering hole, etc.) and I can certainly attest to the fact that I listened to movie soundtracks a lot. I fully endorse the implicit thesis of the listicle, namely that the 90’s were basically the golden age for those sonic compilations of songs from or inspired by motion pictures, and so the overlap of the pinnacle of the phenomenon and my dorm-dwelling days is a happy coincidence for me.

If you haven’t already checked out the link, I’m going to spoil some of the contents of the list here by acknowledging that quite a few of them were in heavy rotation in my college quarters, particularly The Crow, Singles, The Commitments, Mallrats and of course, Tank Girl. The author of the Buzzfeed piece correctly points out that a great movie soundtrack album is like a great mixtape, and of course numerous tracks from these beloved compilation CDs ended up getting further propagated onto actual mixtapes my roommate and I made for our friends. The author dings one of the innovations of the Mallrats disc thusly: “All of the random Mallrats clips scattered throughout the soundtrack, which is a cute idea until every teenage boy in the world thought it was cool to put those dialogue clips on all of their mixtapes.” In my defense, while I admit to being inspired by the dialogue snippets, my friends and I didn’t simply copy those Mallrats tracks onto mixtapes, we figured out how to isolate exchanges from other movies (say, Planes Trains and Automobiles) and sandwich those between songs on CD-RWs.

Have I ever told the story of the time we threw a post-college house party and one of my friends had taken charge of making the mix CD for it, and as the night wore along I kept stopping in my tracks as each new song would start, so that I could tell whoever was within earshot “I love this song!!!” as if it were fortuitous serendipity influencing the whims of a DJ, and not a mix my friend had specifically put together based on solicited input including my own? Good times.

Anyway, the bittersweet part for me in reading a 90’s rundown like this is how those musical artifacts are gone from my life now. Because they were never really mine to begin with. One of the things I really like about the typical American college experience is how communal everything is. If one person has a car, then a circle of, like, four to seven friends has access to transportation as needed. Most roommates are pretty good about sharing the comforts of home, which was definitely true in my case, and lucky for me that it was. I never really acquired a ton of stuff as a teenager, and I prided myself on being able to move back and forth from campus to my parents’ every a few times each year with a minimal load of belongings. My roommate was kind of the opposite, and he had every dorm amenity imaginable: a tv, a nicer stereo than mine, a video game system, a VCR, a microwave oven, a mini-fridge, &c. &c. With the exception of my clothes and my books, everything in our dorm room not furnished by the office of residence life belonged to my roommate, from the halogen floor lamp to the Brita water filter pitcher. And that was fine by me! I was welcome to use any and all of it (assuming my roommate wasn’t already doing so) and at the same time I was traveling light through life. I thought it was a pretty good deal.

But the downside, as I say, is that when school was over and we went our separate ways, the big binder full of CDs with the movie soundtracks and the old Monty Python comedy albums and the mid-90’s output of R.E.M. and all certainly wasn’t coming with me. I have my own area rugs and coffee maker now, but those things strike me as grown-up necessities. I could, in theory, go and electronically purchase and download (or, if I was feeling ambitious, physically locate and obtain) as many of the classic mainstays of the old college soundtrack as I care to, but that on the other hand strikes me as an indulgence too far. Ah well. The memories will have to suffice, which is fine, since I know all the words to all the songs by heart.

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