Tunes for Tuning In: Songs That Give You Permission To Feel

My musical journey of songs that give me permission to feel…

My purple Magnavox CD radio player lived for much of my youth next to my pillow on my bed. Not on a bedside table or floor, literally on my bed so that my face could be inches away from the speakers. I had a rotation of CDs that I would cycle through depending on my mood, most notably Joshua Tree by U2, A Day Without Rain by Enya, and Sailing to Philadelphia by Mark Knopfler. Navigating the Magnavox CD player on a daily basis, I learned the precise amount of time to wait between pressing the back button the first and second time to move to the previous song and the volume at which I needed to adjust certain songs to experience the depth of sound. I also learned that alone in my room, I could turn on certain songs and cry. Before I necessarily had an emotional vocabulary to describe my internal world, I was creating space that felt contained and safe enough to feel deeply.

This ritual for me became predictable, navigating repeatedly to track 3, “With or Without You,” on Joshua Tree and instantly feeling tears well up in my eyes. Over and over, I pressed the back button twice as the song ended. Occasionally, I pressed the back button four times to get back to track 2, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Coincidentally, I developed a similar relationship with tracks 2 and 3 on A Day Without Rain – “Wild Child” and “Only Time.” Neither of these songs made me cry as reliably as “With or Without You,” but I remember being struck simply by the feeling of being in my body while listening to Enya.

Over time, different albums came to embody a similar relationship between listening and feeling, even as my listening shifted from the Magnavox CD player to what would now feel like an enormous iPod. I hold tenderly these albums that have given me permission to feel – albums like A Rush of Blood to the Head by Coldplay, The Milk- Eyed Mender by Joanna Newsom, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel, and The Midnight Organ Fight by Frightened Rabbit, and so many more.

I find myself pulled back towards this practice of creating space for myself to feel things, even if I am not certain of the words to pair with the feelings. Perhaps it is the grief of approaching another changing of seasons where there inevitably will be so much more loss that is telling me to find time and space to tend or longing for connection with friends, I haven’t been able to see recently.

I invite you to create your own playlist of songs that give you permission to feel. Maybe while reading this, you thought of the songs that you first remember evoking feelings, or the songs that got you through college, or that one pop song you can’t get out of your head. If that doesn’t suit you, I invite you to put in some headphones and go for a walk, a drive, or a stare at the ceiling and join me on my musical journey of songs that give me permission to feel.

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