This Song Smells Like the Color Yellow

I don’t have to tell you that music can be extraordinarily powerful, so I’ll just whisper it quietly. I haven’t met someone who hasn’t connected at least once in their life to some song, somewhere – although if you are such a person, we should chat about how to fix it.

We know that music hits us in ways that nothing else can, but I don’t know how often we recognize the true, gut-wrenching, perspective-changing power. I was thinking about it the other day, when I realized the song that was playing had sent me straight back to the emotional and life place I was in two and a half years ago. It got me thinking,so I’m going to be as honest as I can and take you into some of those memories with me.

1) “Generations” – Sara Groves

When I listen to this song I’m immediately thirteen or fourteen again, laying on the off-white carpet in my top-floor bedroom on a chilly winter evening, watching the sun go down and listening to the cacophony of piano practice, spelling words, and supper cooking below. I can feel that angst again, that classic teenage sense that you are all alone somehow, that nobody can fully understand who you are, the depth of your emotions, and how mixed up you are at the same time as you know everything completely. This was some of my first “adult” music, meaning music that my younger sisters didn’t like, and this song in particular fit well into the solemnity with which I pictured every single thing about life.

2) “Waterfall” – Jon Schmidt

When I listen to this song I think about a small office squeezed as an afterthought onto the second floor of an assisted living building. I started with their life enrichment department as a volunteer, coming in on icy Sunday evenings to play the upright piano while a group of maybe twelve seniors had their weekly hymn sings. After that I was offered a job in the same department, and passed many wonderful hours taking seniors on outings, calling bingo, hosting birthday parties and guitar players, reading crossword puzzles, organizing the library, and much more. I think of their – sometimes brutal – honesty, and the day I showed up with my nose pierced and none of them could figure out what it was or why I had it. I remember a particularly lovely spring afternoon on a paddleboat, traveling all around the lake looking at the impossibly large houses on the shore and discussing the late great entertainers.

3) “Life in Technicolor” – Coldplay

With the first notes of this song, I’m sitting in a strange half-rocking chair in a cinder-blocked dorm room, surrounded by massive books, scattered papers, and notecards with cryptic shorthand scribbled on them. I’m studying by lamplight, sometime around 9:30 or 10 at night, wearing my glasses and sweatpants and sucking coffee to stay awake. The background on my computer is blue and the word document containing my junior thesis is staring tauntingly at me, ordering me to continue with my literature review. If the memory ended there it would be a relatively pleasant recollection of hard work done and honors achieved. Instead, I also remember this song sliding through my headphones, drowning the betrayal I felt as my roommate and one-time best friend and I drifted away from each other as the months went on. I remember distinctly the nights I had to stay in, working on exhaustive papers for my eighteen-credit load while my friends told me I was lame and boring and went out doing things. I remember feeling somehow ashamed.

4) “His Favorite Christmas Story” – Capitol Lights

I’m driving to work at 10:30 pm for an overnight shift I picked up for a coworker. My scrubs are pink, a set my dad bought for me. My sister introduced me to this song, one of the many nights we stayed up until the wee hours of the morning talking about anything and everything we could think of. Her bedroom is so cold at night you can almost see your breath, so she’d been in her bed and me on her trundle bed, both in long sleeves and pants and buried under at least six blankets. My other sister had come in halfway through our conversation and growled at us for all the giggling. There’s a boy….

I’m never out this late and the highway is eerily empty. When I get to work and buzz into the building, it’s very strange not to see people gather in groups to chat, no workers roaming the halls, no food smells coming from the kitchen. The snow is glaringly white under the streetlights outside. When I get to my wing, the evening person looks at me. “It’s too bad you’ve never done a NOC shift before, because four out of the seven residents have the flu…”

5) “God Be Merciful to Me” – Jars of Clay

This song sounds like dark mornings in early summer, so early the stoplights were only blinking. It smells like wet paper and hot machinery, it feels like worn out jeans and aching feet in converse tennis shoes. It’s day after day of ten hours shifts in a factory, time spent with someone who was once a friend and then found better friends and men to flirt with, outdoor lunches and scoping out handsome office workers, and wondering why I was on a factory floor doing backbreaking line work when only three weeks before I’d walked across the stage with a bachelor’s degree in hand. In every note is wondering, now that school is done and I have no “real” job lined up yet, who I am and where I’m going in life.

6) “All In the Serve” – Michael W. Smith

This song is mornings in my first solo apartment, sipping strawberry coffee and watching mist dispel off the marsh out back. It’s the incessant whirring of the elevator beyond my bathroom wall, too-long dress pants, and the adventure of completely new things.

7) “I Gotta Feeling”

This is one of the happiest songs I know. It sounds like the first community theatre performance. It sounds like working on set, losing weight quite possibly out of sheer happiness, flirtatious Menards workers and teasing cast mates, it sounds like being told by someone who’s acting I greatly respected that it was an honor to be on stage together. It’s the swelling in my heart at the end, it’s getting to be the one to take the final bow, it’s my entire office coming to see me, bringing flowers and food I’d been too nervous to eat before, and February wind on flaming cheeks. It’s complete delight – one perfect night.


We all have these kinds of memories and experiences. What’s true about them? How do they contribute to who you are? What sights, sounds, and emotions did you experience? This is the power that true art harnesses and uses to reach deep into the readers or viewers. Use my memories as a springboard into your own, and see where that power takes you today.

If you have a song that represents something from your life, share it below in the comments!


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