I was about sixteen, headed to my high school crush’s house with a bunch of other people. I knew I’d never be his girlfriend no matter how badly I ached to be. (This is not exaggeration; you remember being sixteen, right?) We were too different in personality for a relationship between us ever to work, though we liked each other. I tortured myself by staying close to him, dreaming that somehow infatuation could grow into mature love. That night, on the way to his house, I heard Phil Collins’ “Can’t Stop Loving You” on the radio. I’d never heard it before. It was one of those pre-iPod-era moments when I felt drowned in serendipity. How could someone else be so keenly aware of what I was feeling right then?
Is that silly? Of course it’s silly, but part of my youthful experience included songs that would come, unbidden, to incorporate themselves into my memories just as the memories were being made. Would that night at his house have been as bittersweet without the echo of “Can’t Stop Loving You” in my mind? Maybe it would have; first love can be a mess.
The point is that today I’m never at the mercy of a radio station DJ, even in the car. I can choose what I listen to, whether that’s an iPod playlist or streaming radio that plays all my favorites all the time. There are no surprises, not even on “random,” because I know what’s on the list. That’s not necessarily good or bad, but it’s different from the way things used to be.
I liked the surprise of songs that fit my emotions. They were like strangers met serendipitously on the sidewalk, offering nods of recognition, reassurances that I couldn’t be too out of place if someone else had already been here, already felt this, and somehow recognized that I needed to know I wasn’t alone.
What are your thoughts on the bygone era of “by request” compared to the modern day paradigm of “on demand?” Any music serendipities among your memories?
*Editing to add: I just noticed that several devices appear in the “Can’t Stop Loving You” music video, from small radio to boombox to iPod. The song came out in 2002, a year after the iPod became widely available. Kind of funny….