By Randal Doane
August 15th, 2017
“We have jazz hands! And lemonade! Best year ever!” Orientation 2014: Move In and Convocation — Nazareth College, Rochester NY.
In a matter of days, you’re off to college. Congratulations. It’s a big transition — the biggest in your life so far, I’m willing to bet, and will remain so unless you reproduce or adopt. (Odds are you’ll delay marriage into your 30s, so even your wedding — if you go that route — is likely to pale in comparison in terms of overall disruptiveness.)
Seriously: let’s take stock of the fact that you have studied diligently for the past four years, forged an impressive resume of extra-curricular obligations, scored well on standardized tests, and submitted two quirky — but not too quirky — essays to the admissions office of your future alma mater. You effectively impressed the gatekeepers of meritocracy (and the goddesses of fortune) and now you get to pack up your belongings, move 17 to 7000 miles away, negotiate difference with a stranger in an 8×10’ room (as well as a host of strangers down the hall), and are expected to maintain good study habits, sleep hygiene, and personal grooming habits and — above all else — make sure that these are “the happiest years of your life.” It all seems a bit strange, really.
So, to mark the occasion, it’s time for you to make one last pre-college raid on your parents’ music collection to build a multi-purpose playlist. This playlist should:
· remind you of home, but not make you homesick;
· encourage you to be a responsible student-citizen (and to have a good time);
· buoy your spirits — and beget dancing, even if you’re the only one dancing; and
· help you narrate this life transition. Again, it’s a big one.
Chances are, your parents came of age in the eighties, so let’s dust off some college-radio hits from that era for you to listen to with your parents on the long drive, and long after that. (I use “parents” plural below, for brevity’s sake.)
INXS’s “Don’t Change” (full song and video here)
Let’s begin with the most absurd of sentiments. Of course, you’ll change: substantially, incrementally — even for the worse, potentially, momentarily. Failure’s an unflappable mentor. You will exit this experience so much bigger than you entered it. Through it all, though, you’ll remain your parents’ kid.
The Pretenders’ “Kid” (full song and video here)
Your parents say goodbye only once to you as a first-time college student. “Kid” is a great track about our indelible connections — ”Kid, what changed your mood? / You’ve gone all sad, so I feel sad too” — and the adolescent denial of those connections: “How can I explain / When you don’t want me to?” You and your parents are narrating this life transition discretely, together. Try to remember that, above all else, they want you to be happy and safe.
REM’s “(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville” (full song here)
You should go home on occasion, even if you can’t go home again. There’s home, the place where your family resides, and your home as a diaspora, from which so many of your dearest friends have departed. Unless you’re from New York or Chicago, your hometown will be subject to the observer effect. (Ask your friends in intro to psychology.) It’s a good thing.
For you history majors: here’s the story behind the song.
The Clash’s “I’m Not Down” (full song here)
It’s a simple edict, really: “I’ve been shown up, but I’ve grown up / And I’m not down, I’m not down.” Adversity awaits. Your first B-. Your first bout of homesickness. Your first soul-shrinking measure of ice-cold shade.
Neuroscientists claim that smiling begets happiness. Test this proposition. Repeat. Use exercise and sleep hygiene to top up your reserves of patience and perseverance.
Prince’s “Little Red Corvette”
At college, you will have a humanities requirement. You will need to understand how to construct a metaphor. If you construct metaphors akin to the verses here, you are either a musical genius, or you may want to tone it down a bit.
Kate Bush’s “Running Up that Hill (A Deal with God)”
Bush’s deal with God speaks to the potentially reconcilable differences between males and females, but let’s expand it to include social class, racialization, sexuality, and the like. Devotees of Kate Bush, too, include MCs such as Mystical and Big Boi. She represented the closest thing new wavers had to a siren-as-earth-mother figure.
See that hill? Go!
Talk Talk’s “Talk Talk” (full song here)
There’ll be plenty of chatter, gossip, and action-free rhetoric among your new friends and acquaintances. Choose your words wisely, and give people the benefit of the doubt. Snap judgments are so 2015.
Elvis Costello and the Attractions’ “Everyday I Write the Book”
(full song and video here)
Costello once quipped, “The only two things that matter to me, the only motivating points for me writing all these songs, are revenge and guilt.” For this track, Costello broke from these tropes to write about the well-documented life. Take note. Keep track of your joys and good fortune via The Happiness Project. (I have no affinity with the author.)
Also: many albums by The Clash, Prince, Costello, and Kate Bush are worthy of your attention. Dedicate time to listen to an album in one sitting.
Dexys Midnight Runners’ “Come On Eileen”
It’s a song about listening to the radio (how quaint!). It’s a song about a girl. And it’s song about adolescents “young and clever.” That’s all. Life should be like that sometimes.
Artists Against Apartheid’s “Sun City” (song and video here)
College life can take on a rather unseemly myopia. Counter that trend by counting your blessings — e.g., “I do not live in Soweto under apartheid rule,” and “Thank goodness for the waning popularity of 80s drum pads.” Note, too, how the musical credits here include Miles Davis, Kool DJ Herc, Joey Ramone, Ringo Starr, Darlene Love, Bonnie Raitt, Nona Hendryx, and Gil-Scott Heron. Seek out opportunities for unlikely collaborations.
Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” (full song and video here)
Things get better with age — that is, until they don’t. If this track comes on during the drive to campus, just stare out the window silently, and let your mom or dad initiate discussion. Enjoy this discomfiting moment, as this track provides a healthy distraction from the difficult goodbye that awaits.Track for Future Playlists
The Young Fresh Fellows’ “How Much About Last Night Do You Remember?” (full song here)
Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan got a couple things right, including, “A man’s [sic] got to know his limitations.” Try not to discover all of yours in one night.
These are, in fact, likely to be the happiest years of your life, if you can free yourself of the expectation that they are supposed to be the happiest years of your life. Who wants to peak at age 22? Best of luck!
Randal Doane taught courses in sociology for ten years, worked as a dean and academic advisor at Oberlin College for ten more, and wrote the award-winning Stealing All Transmissions: A Secret History of The Clash (PM Press). He runs Cadence Editorial Services in Northeast Ohio.