Another surreal day social distancing with another song, or rather songs. When my sister Kelsey shared her “Isolation 2020” playlist with me it was 39 minutes long. As of writing, it has grown to 4 hours and 23 minutes.
My earliest memories of music all involve my sister. Our first music phase started with our Bubbe and her love of big band. When she stayed with us, she’d blast Glenn Miller out of the large wall speaker while my sister and I laid by her feet on the kool-aid red/brown carpet. Kelsey has always had an ear for music and the ability to distinguish each distinct instrument from the chorus of horns. I never had this ability. Music was the feel and color of the carpet, the look on my Bubbe’s face, the glow on Kelsey’s. It was story and emotion.
Our other formative music played for toddler dance parties in the basement, while deep cleaning the house, and on the long road trips east to visit family, came from our parents. True to form, when it comes to the music our parents’ played, Kelsey can name the artist and song within just a few notes. Her skills unrivaled, at least by me. I am a lifelong lyric-gal. The storytellers in my parents’ music catalog were always my favorite, but for most of my life, I could sing along to all the words before I could tell you who they were or what they were singing. Still, whether we knew the title of the song or not, this music shaped us. John Prine and his stories helped to form our moral philosophies. Of all the musicians to learn some morality from, Prine is definitely a prime choice.
Our boy band phase was kicked off with a love for the Beach Boys. Kelsey is a lifetime fan of the Beach Boys. A delightful home video shows her as a young toddler (anteKylie) dancing to “Barbara Ann” poolside while visiting my Arizona Aunts and family. At four, with her microphone cassette player in hand, Kelsey listened to “Achy Breaky Heart” by Billy Rae Cryus ad nauseam. When asked if she was getting tired of listening to it, she grinned “No, but I bet he’s getting tired of singing it!” Some habits never die, you can count on both of us to play our current favorite on repeat until replaced.
Our cousins in Texas, Adri and Phillip, were the first to show us the Backstreet Boys and shift our music off the beach and into the 90s. Phillip first whispered to me about the Backstreet Boys over a holiday dinner at my Grandma’s home in Nebraska. My family all teased him into singing one of their songs after dinner, then later that summer while exploring Wyoming in the back of our white-covered pickup truck, Phillip and Adri played us the first BSB album. There was no going back, Aguilera’s genie was out of the bottle, so to speak. One boy band gave way to Savage Garden, O-Town, Dream Street, N’Sync, Five, LFO, 98 Degrees, etc. One of my most distinct memories from our childhood visit to Texas, besides the unprecedented snow, is Adri’s beloved Hanson poster. Of course, no round-up of this phase would be complete without the girl groups and singers: B*Witched, the Spice Girls, Destiny’s Child, Christina Aguilera, Brittany Spears, Vitamin C, etc. Discussing this with my sister I discovered that Kelsey and her best friend Sausha lent each other CDS, Kelsey owning B*Witched and Sausha the Spice Girls, hence why I have stronger memories of “C’est La Vie” than “Viva Forever.”
It was a time of band rivalries and picking favorite members. There were movies like Spice World watched on repeat and a compelling theory using music video evidence that the Backstreet Boys were slowly morphing into birds. My first lessons in loyalty came from Kelsey forbidding me to listen to N’Sync. Several years later she changed her mind about fan loyalty and bought N’Sync’s discography– I was, of course, aghast stubbornly for some time before deciding that I had been right to begin with and we should have been listening to them all along. I found myself in another strange sort of stubbornness when it came to my favorite member of the Backstreet Boys. Kelsey and Sausha had decided that I could not share their favorite Backstreet Boy and so sat me down to convince me that Howie Dorough should be mine. They laid out compelling evidence for a preteen involving horoscopes, favorite colors, and pop-personality tests. Once they convinced me, they proceeded to tease me endlessly for liking Howie. Yet, once convinced, I stubbornly defended the choice I was talked into. Just last night, Sausha shared the news that our childhood favorites are throwing a “Living Room Concert.” Music bridging the social and temporal distance to childhood nostalgia.
When we started junior high, Kelsey and I started to develop our distinct music tastes. With John Mayer, Kelsey’s singer-songwriter phase kicked into full gear. While I started to develop my taste for the weird, listening to Ok Go’s first album on repeat and buying Abby Road as my first CD. Listening to the reprise of “You Never Give Me Your Money,” I finally felt like I had that glow Kelsey emanated on our living room floor listening to big band. Junior high also brought on an expansion of taste with Nelly, 50 Cent, and Outkast. My first kiss, a boy visiting his WY cousin from Ireland, danced to “Hey Ya” like he had no bones in his body.
Kelsey and I came back together when she turned 16 and she got her driver’s license. Those car rides are still some of my favorites. Sitting passenger seat with two hefty alphabetized CD organizers on my lap, I became Kelsey’s first-generation ipod shuffle. Driving around town, she bounced between the songs she wanted to listen to and we sang-screamed along. My go-to was The Starting Line when I was put on the spot to choose something. Usually, we’d start our ride with some choice Blink-182 to have the thrill of cursing loudly along to a crass song. I created choreographed car dances to Say Anything and we always tapped the ceiling during a certain Rock N Roll Soldiers song. We’d take the long loops around town, pausing the music to rant and turning it up loud to dance and sing along with, stopping at a gas station to buy a couple of Jones Sodas and get our bottle cap fortunes. The local music shop, Sonic Rainbow, became a favored hangout. I spent all of my saved babysitting money there discovering new music. Here I nurtured my love of the weird, impulse buying whatever CD was playing in the store that day like Apples in Stereo. The owner, Jude, liked to share his stories and chat about new tunes. Kelsey and I grew our collection and diversified our tastes, while growing a tad pretentious. There was certainly a disdain for the radio in those days.
At a Lady Gaga concert my first year of college with my dear friend Randi, I officially gave up being pretentious about the music on the radio. Kelsey had a similar collegiate experience. In college, Kelsey met and fell in love with her now-husband Lev. His favorite artist is Ludacris and his karaoke game is surprisingly fun. She came out of college with great party music: Kesha, LMFAO, and the best mash-ups. We both took a class on the history of music in the US, walking away with very different opinions on The Talking Heads. Bridging a physical distance became the regular for us while in college. My first year, every morning, I’d text Kelsey the song of the day. Usually, it was whatever I listened to on my way to work in the basement of the admissions office on those early Virginian mornings. An early Virginian morning feels even earlier in Nebraska where Kelsey was usually trying to sleep when my song of the day text pinged in. This is how my Twitter account started. Kelsey set it up and gave me the number to send my song of the day texts (ante-app!), setting her notifications from Twitter’s number to silent. I only had some vague idea of Twitter as mostly Kelsey’s description hinged on her sleep. Eventually, I discovered all my silent morning texts to my sister were public.
Since college, Kelsey and I have bridged our distance by swapping Spotify playlists and sending the occasional new find. My tastes continue to diverge into the weird, while Kelsey can always find the best new folk band. Collaborating on “Isolation 2020” made me feel like we were taking those long car rides again or perhaps re-alphabetizing our extensive music collection. Really, up to this point, our music has been much like Kelsey’s playlist–an eclectic collaboration of family, friends, and mentors. Music brings people together and builds relationships. As we find new creative ways to connect with each other in these pandemic days, we can count on music as just one more way to feel closer.
 Kelsey spilled kool-aid on this carpet. Instead of replacing the carpet or struggling with the stain, my mom fixed up an unsugared batch and dyed the room.↩
 This is what academia has done to my humor. Ante is a Latin word that means before. It is used in poker to signify the buy-in bet to play. I should have taken Latin and learned about this there, but instead, I learned about it by becoming a historian of the antebellum period– ante being before, and bellum being war– which signifies the period in American history before the Civil War. Unfortunately, I did not learn this etymology when I decided to focus on this period but instead when a professor attempted to make a joke, “which war?” during an elevator ride. It went about as well as my current humor attempt. Let’s just call it a learning experience.↩