At thirteen I made my first jam. Burning songs by Bryan Adams, Bon Jovi, Eagles and Savage Garden using a CD burning software, named after a roman emperor, that would put my favourite songs in a portable piece of shiny plastic my friends would kill for made me quite popular in school; I felt like I had arrived. It is no discovery that putting songs you like in a sequence that makes you feel something more than the same songs individually, it’s an experience. Its a diary entry for your emotions that you can revisit every time you listen to it.
I soon discovered that curating music was a false start for a school going kid like me. People just weren’t going to listen to your jam and like you. They would only listen to someone’s jam if they liked them. The classic art versus the artist debate I would say to myself. As the popularity of my jams in school declined, I found my jams becoming increasingly insular. They were now becoming more about me and what I wanted to feel or connected with. It was around that time I made my freedom jam. A collection of music that made me feel free from my parent’s expectations, siblings , relatives , friends, my own insecurities about my colour, weight, inability to excel in repartee as the best words would only reach my tongue once I turned my back in humiliation.
Miraculous as it is. I’m 24 now and I’ve kept it alive all this time. My freedom jam is like my own billboard 100. Songs come and go and sometimes come back. Not one song has stayed in it through its entire time.There is no exact history log, but I know. My Jam has changed as many forms through the years as I have. From CDs to mp3 players to the many phones to the many laptops to being on the cloud which is for now its home address.
The point of this was no longer to make other people listen to music i liked.It was the idea that keeping track of your music can be a time capsule , a soul shard, a horcrux. I’ve had three major updates to my freedom jam, coinciding in hindsight with important phases in life.
The first major overhaul of my jam happened with punk and alternative rock. I was about to reach high school. I heard a school band play a ridiculous but passionate cover of boulevard of broken dreams. The effect it had on everyone there, specially the girls, really picketed me to give it a ear. So with pimples ,a breaking voice and general puberty impediments I found myself between genres. Falling in love with songs like Basketcase and at the same time rapping to the collision course tapes that had Jay-Z ripping it up with Linkin Park airing on vh1,. Just plain rock wasn’t snazzy enough for my transitioning puberty earbud slut pair of ears. This dose of rebellion in my music preferences began to show in parties and I found I was getting some attention from girls. Somewhere in the list one could see a couple songs by Avril Lavigne and evanescence that i would fight for. Life was simple, I had things I desired, I had plans to get them. There was innocent hope in the air. I was aware of failure and anguish, Linkin Park had made sure of that, But also taught me to keep fighting and break habits that threatened to consume me. It was emotionally fierce and loud and erudite.
The second time I noticed a visible shift in my jam in music was in college. I was in my third year, doing poorly academic wise, drinking heavily and generally numb to loved ones around me and to the world at large. I found just-in-time interventions stumbling across gems like sleeping through the static by Jack Johnson, the plain piercing words of Jagjit Singh , frustrated rants of Nirvana and the calming soft swashes of Bismillah Khan. I let go of most light stuff, embracing the darkness , walking through the pain that i felt nobody understood or even wanted to. I worshiped Eric Clapton and blues flowed through my ear canal like heroin. I lay on my bed for hours at night and often during classes i should’ve instead me attending. I learned one important lesson from this time. Music like any other thing that we do in the world is an escape from the darkness of not really understanding where why what and how we are. And that it can recharge us to face life firmly grounded mentally or push us off the cliff into valleys it can be every difficult to get out from. Its a drug. Everything is a drug. You have to be responsible with it. This was the first time I took music seriously.
The most recent time my jam changed was around the time I started noticing symptoms of depression in me. I was working as a software developer for a tech start up in Bangalore, I had friends to hang with after work, I played my guitar ever night, was close with my sister. Life should’ve been good. However over a period of months, I found myself struggling to get up every morning, not wanting to look at my code, not wanting to talk to my friends or play guitar or even move sometimes. I would wake up nights convinced I was gonna die right then, like my heart would explode and i would shit in my bed and no one would find me for days because I wasn’t keep in touch anyways.
I was on medication and generally out of focus from this world, in my blankets for the most part. The one thing I managed to do was plug earphones in my ears and stay in bed listening to my jam. To my horror, it was now unrecognizable to me. On a Wednesday afternoon, after I’d had called in sick to work; I found myself aggressively swiping out songs I had long cherished because I couldn’t bear to listen to them. I got so angry with my own taste in music that I started actively listening to songs I’d never heard before. really old Muddy Waters tracks that I’d seen in suggestions for years but gone with a known BB King instead. I found that I loved Chuck Berry. I was able to appreciate him so much more from my new position of sad vulnerability than ever before. I started loving songs that made me laugh. ‘I Don’t Feel Like Dancing’ by the Scissor Sisters became a song I would put in my car and start my day with.
Almost as a reflex I began to mix it up and regulate my mood with music, soon my therapist reduced my medication and that was the biggest validation I needed. I actively started rummaging through everything I had heard in the past, and going through lists of influences trying to find what my music heroes liked and going through song after song, listening and figuring what it made me feel and think. Making notes sometimes mental but mostly in my thought diary that I was still using even after my CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) was over for the time being. Within weeks I had working playlists of songs that would make me smile when sad, pump me up before a party and a different one to pump me up before work, A jam to sober me down, and a jam to keep me from losing my mind. This sadly was the end of my freedom jam. At 24. A relationship longer than most my current friendships at the time.
I don’t have my original freedom jam anymore. I cannot. Just like I can’t have just one type of food, or books or tv shows , movies, work, people, places, feelings, relationships. Although I feel sad that my jam lies there on a service I don’t use anymore. I smile every time a song from one of my many new jams comes on and it had once been on my freedom jam.
I’ve moved on from being rigid to a form I created when I was thirteen . Entropy had its way in the end like it always does, but that’s no reason to not do anything in the first place. We are alive because we can do things non living things can’t. The point of it all is the same for both , the living and the non living. We just have an extra option at our disposal. Why not use it and find comfort in this pain that we all share. I know my jam will live on like a horcrux , because I’ve shared pieces of it with people I’ve loved and cared about. It’ll come alive every time someone listening to it shares the same emotion that I had. Things aren’t dead just because you don’t have access to them, don’t be stupid.
‘100 Years’ by Five for Fighting is playing as I write these last lines. Maybe listen to it after you’re done. close your eyes, live someone else’s life for a couple minutes.