Word Up

If you were making a mixed tape that defined your life, I wonder what you’d have on it. Or would you even call it a mixed tape? A playlist then?

Over Easter, I challenged myself to make a playlist that reflected my teenage years. I’d slip it into the CD stacker in the car and educate the family about what was really going on between 1979–1987.

They could take their Shake a Tail Feathers, Africas and The Power of Loves and render them as poor examples of a majestic musical era. Instead, they could sit back, listen, revel. They could swoon and gasp, whoop with delight. Really appreciate sound and sophisticated music knowledge.

They’re used to the lectures. They’ve perfected the eye-rolling when I rant about this cover and that cover, how a certain rift or grab of music was originally part of an earlier song. Yeah, okay. We get it, but it sounds awesome in Eminem’s new one. Have you heard it?

Sitting down a couple of nights before the road trip, I realised I was putting huge pressure on myself to make this definite playlist. So much so, that I came out of my room, pouting and complaining. ‘I can’t make that CD for the car,’ I said, hands on hips.

Thinking it was because I was too busy rather than in the throes of indecision and overload, family members asked if they could help so I’d have time to do it. ‘No one can help.’ Not even a glass of wine. ‘I have way too many important songs to share. We’d have to be going around Australia for a year to hear them all.’

Diva? Meet thyself. Celine Dion wouldn’t come close.

All I needed was the huge hair, massive diamante earrings and a pink jumpsuit. I could have zoomed into the 1980s and had a teenage tanty back at my parents’ house like the good old days.

‘Just choose a few songs,’ said someone clever, in my present time.

Huh? A few songs? How could THAT be ample? How would this express the bucketloads of memories, the melodies of good times and bad, the tunes that accompanied parties, partings, sweetness, sorrow?

‘It’s only one of a few CDs,’ said someone else, as though they were speaking to a musical deadhead. ‘It’s not like you’ve got to have music for the entire trip. You get that, right?’

I clutched at (what remained of) my chest. Hyperventilation threatened. I knew I didn’t have to provide music for the entire trip, of course I knew this, but I didn’t need it flung into my 80s face. Everyone would be providing music. This was part of the problem. That was the entire problem. I’d have less than an hour to be recognized as head DJ in the house.

Stomping back into my makeshift music studio dining room, I huffed. Gone were the days when I called all the shots about which single to spin, which 12-inch to play. I felt as appreciated as a Midnight Oil track in the Love Songs and Dedications time slot. As important as one of The Nolan Sisters, full stop.

I accessed iTunes, looked down at the playlist I was mixing and disliked everything on it. I’d regressed from pouting diva to impotent, desk-bound mixed-tape mauler. I culled Prince and deleted Simple Minds. Trashed The Smiths, bombed Blancmange and bulldozed Tears for Fears. I smashed songs from INXS and Aussie Crawl, even abandoned The Cure, The Jam, The Other What-nots.

Someone in the immediate family had called me an over-reactor recently. I still think that’s pretty harsh.

Back at the drawing board, I practiced mindfulness, presentness, opened my chakras and chanted. I sipped warm lemon water and slapped apple cider vinegar on my face while oiling my scalp with coconut innards. Control slipped away like Boy George’s makeup on a big night. Calmness decended like Kate Bush’s lower register. I breathed and followed a new program:

Open-> New Playlist. Call it Some Songs I Really Like. Select 50 minutes of music that can be sung in the car. Shed music mania and snobbery mantle. Embrace the lack of control and share music. Appreciate covers, different genres, new and old music, new and old DJs.

And never, ever, try to define you life via a playlist of songs or a mixed-tape of music. Life is of a length and breadth — a capacity — that a list of songs just cannot define. Cannot fathom. Rather, let the soundtrack of your life linger in the background as it changes with the years, moods, ages, stages.

Because music wasn’t ever about being in charge.

Like what you read? Give Rosemary Osborne a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.