8 Musicians & The Song That Changed Their Lives
In another life, a curly-haired and very floral version of myself completed ⅓ of a songwriting degree, organised backyard gigs and played her originals at Empire Tavern. Now I write press releases instead of verses and can’t strum a guitar without hurting my soft, non-calloused fingertips. However, earlier this year I started a job in the music industry - and it has revived my passion in a big way.
In the same way the smell of stale Budweiser triggers mild-panic in me, thanks to a truly awful event I threw, specific songs are tied up in pivotal moments from my life. I have entire Spotify playlists dedicated to nostalgic periods (apologies to my flatmates forced to repeatedly listen to ‘Daily Mix 2.0’) and over the past year alone I’ve accumulated numerous tracks including: Imagining My Man, which takes me straight to eating pasta on K’road, Lost in the Light and I’m drinking red wine on my lounge carpet, Cranes in the Sky has me blowing up 80 air mattresses for an air bed cinema, and anything by HAIM I’m driving down hydrangea-filled roads in Omaha.
But songs can not only hold memories, they can affect you to the core and occasionally, one comes along that transforms your life. For me, it’s River, by Leon Bridges. I’ve written a bit before about a period where I experienced some intense anxiety, and near the tail-end of it I was shown this song. I listened to it on repeat on the drive home and that night, for the first time in over a month, I managed to sleep. And I pretty much haven't stopped listening to it since. Where some songs become limited to one particular experience, this one manages to transcend all of that and encompasses a myriad of intense feelings and phases from my life that in some weird way grounds me. I’ve cried to it more times than I can count, it reminds me of things I’ve overcome, it bears a bunch of grief, it’s tied up in happy memories (I sung it at Kim & Matt’s wedding) and if nothing else it’s earthiness is incredibly soothing.
Maybe I’m interested in exploring the role music can play in our lives, maybe my playlist just needs updating; either way I sought out a bunch of musicians and their life-changing tracks, so get clicking.
1. Wonderwall, by Ryan Adams
As a Teenager I saw an article about Ryan Adams in the weekend newspaper. His Love is Hell EP’s had just been released and I was intrigued by this scruffy 20 -something man. The first song I remember hearing was his cover of Wonderwall. My boyfriend at the time and I fell head-first into these sad songs and maybe, strangely, they held us together for too long. Now if I listen to Love is Hell it all rushes back to me. The endless school terms, the carpet of my old bedroom where I often lay, the winter sun hitting the top corner of the ceiling, the heaviness. The desperate, spiralling conversations. At the same time, the vulnerability of Ryan’s music captured me and for years quietly encouraged me to put my overflowing emotion into song.
2. Song for Zula by Phosphorescent
I was listening to this song through one of the biggest growth spurts of my life. I was falling in love at the time and had recently moved cities. It may have been winter, too, when I first heard it. It was passed onto me on a playlist that was made for me titled ‘Songs for NR’. I think this song speaks on the fragility of love but there is also this elegant uplift in it too. It’s dramatic. Poetic. Tender. I feel hugely nostalgic when listening to it now. I think that’s the most beautiful thing about music. That intense nostalgia. I’ve had that all my life. I love it.
3. Game of Life, by Maisey Rika
I was in high school when I first discovered her music, and this song in particular I connected with on a deep level. It’s still one of my favourite songs. I used to come home after school and blast it on the stereo and pretend I was singing it with her as a duet lol. I think for me, being this Māori kid and hearing this Māori artist sing her truth, sing about these issues that affect our people. I understood everything she was saying. And although the subject matter is a reflection of statistics that aren’t so positive, they don’t represent who we are. We’re capable of so much, and I felt like this song was a reassurance of that. Like I could do anything, and I felt so proud to be Māori.
4. Brand New Me, by Alicia Keys.
Her album had come out when I was entering my second year of uni, I was changing a lot and wanting to try new things - like cutting my hair short and exploring different ways of making music. I was wanting to really assert myself, but also feeling insecure and afraid of leaving behind old ideas and stepping on people’s toes. But this song, damn. It bolstered my courage to face the change with confidence and it became a stronghold for that year of evolving. I’m actually facing a very similar time now and have gone back to this song to remind myself to be brave!
5. Superstar by Sonic Youth
This song will always hold a special significance to me. Stumbling upon the track was a bit of a “buy-1-get-1-free” scenario because it was originally performed by The Carpenters, and so I was introduced to two amazing artists at once. At the time I was deep in that notorious stage of adolescence where you renounce the Top 40 and search for something edgier or vintage to try and make yourself more interesting. I remember watching that movie ‘Juno’ with my girlfriend at the time and (low key) beaming with pride when it came on because I could be like, “oh I love this song”. The melodrama of the lyrics and melody, the gut wrenching low piano notes, and Thurston’s eerie vocal performance somehow perfectly translate the song from it’s 70s pop origins to a swirly indie anthem. Takes me back every time.
6. Purple Rain, by Prince
The first time I heard this song, I was 6 years old and a miniature, amateur DJ with a 90s kid bowl cut. It was my business going through my parents' record collection on the weekends. When this song took shape out of the speakers, my world as I knew it changed. It was my first introduction to the great spirit of music. This one is my healing song - it has a cathartic, cleansing power to it. From that moment on, this song has shaped my musical taste, as well as the way I live my life - doing all I can to give music life.
7. Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes
Two years ago I was living in Southern Sudan, a third world country, and I had come face to face with the harsh reality of this world. I stood as spectator, surrounded by war, poverty and famine and I saw life which was far more frail but equally as valuable - and something inside of me changed. I began to see that there is something immensely good about just being alive. As I sung my guts out to this song, morning after morning, I began to see that I am not so unique, and it was liberating. I began to appreciate and desire the simple things in life; family, a productive job, my own home, a garden.
- Ants MacLeod
8. A New Day Has Come by Celine Dion
I’m laughing as I’m writing this, but I used to listen to this almost every day on the way back home from school. I was 8 years old, and an emotional kid because my first dog, Schutz, had just been put down. Celine Dion was on in the car and that song really resonated with the emotional wreck I was, haha. I’d keep listening to this song wanting to pretend that he hadn’t been put down, and I guess it helped me get through each day. I don’t recall exactly why that song affected me so much, but wow Celine’s voice can get anyone through a rough time.
- Nick Dow