Aug 3

playlist: summer in los angeles, 2002.

Today, I stepped out of that new Starbucks on Sunset and Vine and had this really bizarre moment of déjà vu. Or maybe that’s not the term — maybe it was just nostalgia. Either way, some inexplicable thing about the exact combination of sounds and smells — music from someone’s car or the coffee in my hand or the muggy, cloudy heat — at that particular moment transported me, whiplash-fast, back twelve years to the first time I was in LA.

I was fifteen, my parents were at the messiest point in a very messy divorce, I’d left Connecticut in the awkward middle of a weird first-love adventure, and I was in a new city. I was at UCLA for an eight-week college program — we lived in the dorms and took a couple college courses and did lame touristy things like window-shop Rodeo Drive and take the Universal backlot tour. My sister joined me a few weeks later, but for the first few weeks, I was truly alone — there wasn’t a single person there who I knew from back home. It was the very first time in my life that I was in that position. 

I think I’d kind of expected it to be easy to make friends — like summer camp, where you fall so in love with everyone you meet and swear you’ll be best friends forever — but it wasn’t. There’s a big difference between the hopeful adolescent idealism of a sleepaway camp cabin in Vermont and the high-pressure competitive fervor of a dorm full of fifteen- to eighteen-year-olds trying to get good grades and look hot and hook up with college guys in Los Angeles.   It wasn’t easy to make friends, but I wanted, badly, for that summer to be an adventure. It was my first time away from my parents, other than the aforementioned sleepaway camp, and I wanted to feel independent and wild and free. I remember things in fits and starts. I dyed my hair red from a box I’d bought at Rite-Aid (it didn’t go well, as you can see from the picture). I took diet pills — and ephedra was still legal then, so I dropped weight quickly, but I’d gained it all back by the end of the summer. I drank three sips of vodka at Disneyland and cried during the parade. I let a really pretty girl from Long Island named Alanna copy all my Psych 101 assignments because she seemed like the kind of person it’d be good to be friends with.

I took a yoga class and wore the same pair of UCLA sweatpants like, every single day. I illegally downloaded “Life as a House” from Limewire or something and watched it a zillion times on my laptop with my roommate. I saw a bunch of kids put on a production of “Chicago” and one of the guys in it was named Nathaniel, and everyone was in love with him.   Mostly, for the first time, I just let myself be alone. Honestly, I was really sad about what was going on at home, and the sadness made me quiet, so I wasn’t much company for the people I did manage to connect with. It’s the only time in my life I’ve ever felt like a true introvert, and I think that was just what I needed that summer.

Last year, I saw one of the girls from my floor in the dorm at the airport, and I started to wave hello — and then I realized she wouldn’t remember me, because I’d barely talked to her, because I’d barely talked to anyone. This was pre-Facebook. Generally you have to actually have made an impression, to be memorable to people who only knew you pre-Facebook.

I spent a lot of time that summer wandering the campus, writing in a journal, listening to music. I had a shitty MP3 player that had come with my lime green Dell laptop. It held 15 MP3s at a time. In addition to Psych 101, I was taking a History of Rock and Roll class, which was introducing me to a lot of new stuff. New to me, extremely old to the rest of the world. I wrote my final paper about “Gimme Shelter,” and I made my AIM away message lyrics from Led Zeppelin’s “Fool In The Rain.” (another ten minutes/no longer/and then i’m turning around) but that was also the summer that I fell in love with Something Corporate — “Konstantine,” obviously — and Jack Johnson. I think I listened to John Mayer’s “Love Soon” about 47 million times because a guy I liked from home had emailed me the lyrics.

I was into a lot of emo bands, too, though I don’t think I knew at the time that they were emo, and I definitely wasn’t tapped into the subculture — or even aware that it existed, as far as I recall.   Anyway — the music is the point of this entire post. After I had that weird time-travel/déjà vu moment today, I went back to my office (I was working on a Saturday, because I’m annoying) and started digging through Spotify trying to assemble that 15-song playlist that I listened to so obsessively that summer.

It’s a weird mix — and some of it is really lame — but it brings back such a vivid time for me, such a specific kind of healthy, introspective, peaceful aloneness.

1. Jack Johnson – Mudfootball

2. John Mayer – Love Soon

3. The Rolling Stones – Gimme Shelter

4. The Juliana Theory – If I Told You This Was Killing Me Would You Stop

5. The Animals – House of the Rising Sun

6. Something Corporate – Konstantine

7. New Found Glory – The Glory Of Love

8. The Spill Canvas – Sunsets and Car Crashes

9. The Beatles – Revolution

10. Guster – Rainy Day

11. The Weakerthans – Left and Leaving

12. Jefferson Airplane – White Rabbit

13. Switchfoot – Let That Be Enough

14. Counting Crows – Hard Candy

15. Led Zeppelin – Fool in the Rain

Talk to me! What songs bring back specific moments for you? Have you ever had a weird time-travel moment for no particular reason? How blatantly terrible is that New Found Glory cover of “Glory of Love” and why did I listen to it three times today?