Mariah Carey was proving to be a bigger problem than I had anticipated.
It was three days before my 40th birthday party and there I sat, vision blurry, mind numb, scrolling through Mariah’s Carey’s entire discography on Spotify with the sinking feeling I was in over my head.
Earlier that week I had come up with a brilliant plan. I was turning 40, there was a party planned, and we needed some music.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past couple of decades its that most of my friends don’t really care what music is playing at get-togethers, if any is playing at all. But I care. I always care.
So, who better to make the playlist for this party than myself? And it couldn’t be just any playlist. No, no, no. I didn’t want Spotify to spit out a generic “All Out 80s” playlist or “I Love My 90s Hip-Hop.” It had to be epic. I wanted a playlist that would make all other playlists tremble in shame – the golden offspring of all the mixtapes and playlists I had created before it.
I wanted Jermaine Stewart mixed with The Cure mixed with The Beastie Boys mixed with Amy Grant mixed with Fiona Apple mixed with the Talking Heads. All. Night. Long.
The task seemed easy, the requirements few – the songs had to be released between the years 1975 and 2015, there had to be at least one song from every year, and they could only be songs I truly loved.
I got out a notebook and started jotting down songs, figuring it would be a few hours of music tops.
That was the Monday before the party. By Tuesday afternoon, the process took on a life of its own, moving away from a simple playlist to something akin to compiling a Time Life Classics box set…the worst Time Life Classics box set that ever existed.
“Air Supply! Kenny Loggins! The Spice Girls! All the songs that have been played relentlessly on pop radio for the last 40 years gathered for the first time in one amazing collection! Call now to get over 22 hours of music specifically tailored for one generic middle-aged woman with the most questionable taste in music out there! Here’s how to order….”
The list got so long, I had to break it into multiple playlists. I was only up to 1985 and already had more than 6 hours of music. At that point in music history, I was only 10. I had 30 more years of music to go.
I had visions of my friends -hours into the party – on the floor, glassy-eyed and drooling, uttering things like, “Skyrockets in fight…bewww…afternoon delight” and “You can do me in the morning, you can do me in the night, you can do me when you want to do me.”
“Just pick one song from each decade,” my friend, Hillory, suggested.
I looked at her as if she suggested I perform each of these songs in front of everyone on a jawharp.
“There’s no way I can do that. I have, like, 10 songs from 1984 alone that I want to play! Do you know how magical 1984 was? That was the year both Purple Rain and Footloose came out!”
On Wednesday, I hit the 90s and that’s when the musical shit hit the fan. That shit’s name? Ms. Mariah Carey.
Did you know that Mariah Carey had six albums between 1990 and 1997? And that those six albums produced 12 number one singles? Twelve singles that all seemed essential to my life in some way? How was I supposed to choose between “Always Be My Baby” and “Fantasy?”
And what about Alanis Morrissette? Jagged Little Pill was my own personal soundtrack for three whole years. To this day I can’t listen to it without thinking of sitting on the floor with my best friends Amy and Chassidy painting my fingernails blue while drinking a god-awful mixture of Kool-Aid and vodka. I couldn’t just put “You Oughtta Know” on the list and be done with it.
I knew I had to be ruthless, but taking songs off the list was painful. Every single song on my playlist meant something to me, and not just because they reminded me of the big moments in my life. Most of them represented the smaller moments.
Like when I was little and my older brother Tony would babysit so my parents could go bowling. We would watch The Dukes of Hazaard and as soon as it was over, he would turn off the TV, put on The Cars and let us dance around to “My Best Friend’s Girl” before making us go to bed.
Or how my sister Christi would listen to Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam on the nights she let us sneak out of the house with her so she could drive around and smoke cigarettes.
They were the songs I stole lyrics from when writing love notes to my elementary school crushes and songs that pumped through the speakers at the pool all summer long. They were songs from tapes I wore out in high school and CDs that got me through college.
My parents, siblings, best friends, ex-boyfriends; my husband, my daughters – they were all represented on that list in some way.
Back when my husband and I were in college and still just friends, we used to play this game we creatively called “Playing DJ.”
This game essentially consisted of the two of us lying on his living room floor, drinking Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill and smoking cigarettes while looking through his CD collection.
“Oh, man, I know what I’m going to play next,” one of us would say, making a big show of hiding the CD from the other and then laughing uncontrollably when the first couple bars of “Jessie’s Girl” would play.
I don’t think we knew it at the time, but “Playing DJ” was actually us dating. It was how we got to know one another, how we heard each other’s stories.
I wanted something like that again. I wanted my friends to get a sense of who I was – how all the different people I used to be helped form the person I am now.
All of these songs pinned me to a certain point in my life. They were carefully curated, not just some random selection of songs from the last four decades.
How could I cut any of it out?
Eventually I decided to stop worrying about it and just make the playlist. The last decade or so was a lot easier – either because the music just didn’t seem as good or because music doesn’t carry the same weight any more.
The night of the party we made it through the early 90s, mostly because my friends are nice people who wanted to indulge me at a time when I was a little freaked out over turning 40. They only groaned a few times. They don’t appreciate Sheila E. as much as I do.
In the end, it wouldn’t have mattered if we’d only made it through two hours of my list. I realize now the fun part was not only making it, but living it.