Sep 23, 2022

Does Your Life Have A Soundtrack? If Not, Why Not?

The background music you choose could say something about you

By Ed Goldman

Does your life have a soundtrack—a musical score that seems to always be playing in the background?

I’m not talking “earworms” here, those songs or jingles you can’t get out of your head. I mean the much more pleasurable experience of sensing there’s a tiny orchestra sitting quietly inside your brain waiting for the maestro to raise his or her baton. 

Edgy Cartoon

The Very Grateful Dead

In this case, the maestro, or conductor, is the personification of an idea or emotion that suddenly takes up temporary residence in your hippocampus. (And what better place to concoct an idea than a campus—even if you have to share it with a bunch of water mammals?)

There are some who believe that composer Johann Strauss’s 1870s waltz, “Wiener Blut” (Viennese blood, mein pussycats ) became the “soundtrack” of World War I—meaning that it was used to goose up the troops or sublimate the masses. A clear case of using a soundtrack for evil, not good.

Some people think that having your own soundtrack is essential to your leading a full professional and even romantic life.

A director I was working with on a video for a mutual client once asked me how I “personally program” a mix-tape for an evening at home. I asked for clarification. He said, “You know, a night with the wife, the kids are at the movies, it’s just the two of you.” I’m sorry to admit I laughed a little. 

I asked him why having that time alone wouldn’t be sufficient without bringing in, say, a jazz combo or full-fledged orchestra. Predictably, he glared at me for my evident unhipness and I tried not to envision one of his and his wife’s at-home romantic trysts—though I confess that vague images of colored light bulbs, floral smoking jackets and gossamer peignoirs, with Michael Bolton crooning “When a Man Loves a Woman” in their media room (in person), did briefly cloud my mind.  

Yet it made me wonder—as I do on an hourly basis about everything I don’t understand, which is about everything—if I was doing something wrong: Shouldn’t everyone have a soundtrack ready at all times? 

This self-doubt resurfaced when my daughter bought me a Sony Walkman for a long-ago birthday, figuring it would keep me contented while jogging (or just keep me jogging, an achievement unto itself). 

The resulting troubles were two-fold. 

First, I already had a song playing in my head whenever I ran, and the Walkman tunes caused me both confusion and anxiety as they competed with my head ditties. Second, I didn’t want someone else’s music to dictate my pace, which had been compared unfavorably with that of a banana slug on tranquilizers. (Think I’m kidding? One morning in McKinley Park, a lovely urban greenbelt not far from my then-home, a group of  peppy 80-year-olds passed me—using walkers.)

I’ll admit to my having done a small measure of personal soundtracking. 

I always found Elmer Bernstein’s rousing score for the 1960 western “The Magnificent Seven” to be an ever-ready spirits-lifter. I put a recording of it in my car’s CD player and would flip it on whenever I needed a boost of self-confidence (like, on the way to what I imagined would be a very difficult magazine or newspaper interview to conduct) or the affirmation of a victory (like, when I was driving away from that same interview, which had gone so well I was musing in the car about which of my suits I’d wear to pick up that shoo-in Pulitzer Prize).

These days, oddly enough, I rarely listen to music while I’m driving. Since I spend so much of the day in my home office, I actually find it entertaining to hear the “live” sounds of traffic, other people’s car stereos and even the occasional case of road rage. Because even with all its excesses, flaws and ugliness, I’ve discovered that real life is still the best soundtrack for a real life.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).