Family Albums

Janine Joseph

Oct 18, 2010

Perhaps like many others, I grew up listening to the music of my parents. There were, of course, some minor deviations--I clearly remember listening to a popular song by the Filipino rapper, Andrew E, and dialing (and redialing) the phone number he sung at the chorus [think Tommy Tutone's "8675309 (Jenny)"], hoping it would redirect me to him--but, for the most part, I was a kid who nerded out to her parents' playlist.

In addition to The Carpenters, I listened along with my mother, from start to finish, to the soundtracks of Miss Saigon, Les Misérables, The Phantom of the Opera, and The Sound of Music. She loved musicals so much that when my elementary school hosted a lip sync talent show, my mother refused to let me choose one of the songs available on my personal karaoke machine (I'm sure I begged for Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart"). On the night of the show, the curtains opened up to a third grader wearing an operatic dress, singing "All I Ask of You" with her older brother.

With my father, it was always The Beatles and Pink Floyd albums from start to finish, with a number of individual tracks repeated and repeated along the way. When an album wasn't on the stereo, The Yellow Submarine or The Wall played (from start to finish) on the TV. Because of this education, I often loved to sneer, "How can you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat?" at lunchtime (to few mutual laughs). To this day, with many thanks to my father, I can't help but hear, "Hey! Teacher! Leave them kids alone!" when I squeak my dry erase marker on the whiteboard.

At work on my first manuscript of poems, I can't help but think of these early influences. Don't get me wrong--I've always known music played a large part in my process as a writer. I am, after all, one who will sit at my desk and listen to the same song on repeat, sometimes for eight-hour stretches, as I write. Familiar songs that suddenly come on the radio will jog back memories of a poem's evolution, as much as they will a particular time, place, or person. More than just provide me with a curious playlist to carry into adulthood, however, the soundtrack and album choices my parents made gave me a storytelling foundation. I think in terms of concept albums, musicals, and rock operas, and it's no surprise that I've always been drawn to poem sequences and collections unified by a narrative, theme, or event. I like poems with partners and poems that appear, later in the collection, to tell the other side of the story. I want to see how to solve a problem like Maria. And I love a good arc, a Disc 2.

To get started with the spirit of passing things down, here are some of the albums (and an animated feature film), with no spoilers, that I've bookmarked: Pink Floyd - The Wall Listen to "Another Brick In the Wall (pt. 1)" The Beatles - The Yellow Submarine Listen to "Nowhere Man" Pink Floyd - The Dark Side of the Moon Listen to "The Great Gig in the Sky" Green Day - American Idiot Listen to "Are We The Waiting" Tori Amos - Scarlet's Walk Listen to "A Sorta Fairytale" Arcade Fire - Funeral Listen to "Wake Up" Tori Amos - American Doll Posse Listen to "Bouncing Off Clouds" Nine Inch Nails - The Downward Spiral and The Fragile, together Listen to "The Wretched"