Monday, October 20, 2014

Today, my grandmother passed away. It's surreal.

College Station is a place woven into my story. My grandmother lived there for most of her life and all of mine. Many Christmases were spent in the little yellow house on Pershing. Many games of Clue Master detective, Skipbo, Go Fish were played around her dining room table. Many bedtime stories of the city mouse and country mouse were imagined in that back room. A slew of Santas looked on from the shelves as vats of the best mac&cheese one could know were devoured. And that road was well worn between Grammy's house and Texas A&M University.

Because College Station was my grandmother's town, it was mine. I grew up standing in the heat of Bonfire, seeing the wee hours of the morning after Midnight Yell, falling asleep to the sound of the cannon when I stayed back at the house. Because it was my grandmother's town, College Station and A&M were in me. Even when I wanted to attend a different school, there was a part of me that knew A&M was home. Even for this two-percenter. It home.

And so, because I bleed maroon ever so slightly, because my grandmother lived just down the street from campus, because I knew every yell by the time I was 5, today's song is one of tradition, of valor, of a family of Aggies.

The Spirit of Aggieland

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Everyone has a favorite Disney princess. Everyone. Even if you pretend you don't, when it comes down to it, you love one more than the rest. Don't deny it. Some of you love Cinderella because you are all about the classic, elegant girl trapped in a simple life until true love sweeps her away. Some of you love Pocahontas because she is strong and confident and refuses to settle(never you mind that Disney butchered history). Still others prefer Belle, and I'll admit, she put up a good fight for favorite in my books too. After all, she is unassuming, kind and empathetic, stands up for the misunderstood and has a serious case of stockholm syndrome. But there is one greater than this avid reader. She is agnsty and curious and stubborn...such lovely qualities. Well, relatable ones at least. 

Ariel got me. She understood the plight, y'all. She collected thingamajigs, I had acorns...much more than 20, but who's counting? She saw something she wanted and she went after it. Sure she sold her soul to get it, but it was LOVE. What was she supposed to do? I mean, her dad blew up her statue of her crush with his underwater lightning rod. Clearly, he didn't understand. 

So, I wasn't all that angsty. (Maybe verify that with my family though.)

But I was stubborn and I did feel like there was a different world for me where I just might fit better. This of course is not my parents' fault. I've always felt that way. I haven't grown out of it. It just seems, and this is where Belle and Ariel level out in the battle for top spot, that there is so much adventure waiting. New things to learn. New people to meet. I wanted to be part of this world that I imagined was out there. I want to be part of every world I haven't yet experienced. Could be that all of that is really just my guts yearning for heaven...probably so. But, it makes me angsty. 

My favorite line from all the music in The Little Mermaid was "bet ya on land they understand, bet they don't reprimand their daughters." Without fail, whether watching the movie or singing my little anthem on the swing in the back yard, at that line I would pause and think to myself, "Oh, but reprimand they do, Ariel. Reprimand they do." I would commiserate with my finned friend for a moment before finishing the song with a delicate, wistful "wish I could be *longing sigh* part of that world."

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

There are some great things about having an older brother. Lots of great things. He can pick you up from school before you are old enough to drive. He has cute friends that are always around. He passes down some awesome dinosaur hand-me-down pajamas.

My brother is pretty great. All of those things above were true. He also was the worship leader for our youth group for  few years, tried to be patient enough to teach me guitar as I mentioned before, played guitar for some songs I wrote before I could play too, gave me a much wider appreciation for music that I'd otherwise have, and gave me a black eye....oh, I did that get on this list?

One thing that wasn't so awesome, although I'm almost positive it's worse in my memory bank than in reality, was his reign over after school movie choices. While I would have chosen Disney or Feature Family Films like The Buttercream Gang (anyone? anyone?), my brother was living on a solid diet of The Princess Bride and Star Wars.

Now, don't get me wrong, both the story of Wesley and Buttercup and the saga of Luke and Leia are magnificent, important works of cinematic achievement. And, after several years of detox, I actually have a deep love and appreciation for The Princess Bride. I even own a copy and choose to watch it at least once a year. Star Wars however, though valuable in its own right and worthy of the honor of the historic fame it has garnered, is not on my list of regularly chosen films. I can't remember the last time I watched one of the originals...and I haven't seen episode 3 ever. 1 and 2 were painful enough. And yet, one note of that epic music brings the whole saga flooding back. The yellow text scrolling through space setting the stage for a galaxy far, far away, the awkward, ambiguous brother-sister relationship, that gigantic snotball Jabba The Hut. All of it...rushing over me like a tidal wave. It's hard to deny one's early education.

Monday, October 13, 2014

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31 Days of The 31 Years Soundtrack: G C D

As I said, I could write for ever about contemporary Christian music and worship songs. I also mentioned The Gathering, the 90's contemporary service at my family's church. This service was added to the schedule about the same time I was old enough to be a part of the youth group which meant 2 things, church was suddenly way more exciting and there was an influx of worship songs backed by a guitar instead of an organ or piano.

My brother had been playing guitar for a while and I really wanted to learn drums. My parents didn't say no to drums, and they gave me a practice drum pad for Christmas. Let me just tell you that a practice drum pad will not fuel anyone's desire to play the drums. I mean, I might as well have been rhythming away at the comforter on my made as much noise. Which was none above a muted thud. Since I apparently wasn't going to be getting a drum set anytime soon, I switched gears and asked to learn guitar. Even a "learner's" guitar actually makes the right sound. It seemed like a safe bet.

My brother taught me a few things and tried to be very patient with me...bless him. But, let's get real. Rarely can a younger sibling be taught by an older one without stirring up strife. So, when I was 13, we asked my brother's guitar teacher, my middle school pastor, The Gathering worship leader, youth worship leader, to give me a few lessons. He gave me 6 lessons. I loved those guitar lessons. Not only was I learning how to play guitar but I was learning from my hero. I still have the yellow legal pad of lesson notes around here somewhere. He taught me approximately 3 songs. I say approximately because I specifically remember 2 of them but I'm sure there was at least three. The one that comes to mode most readily is a song I believe to be the 90's contemporary worship anthem. Everyone was singing this song. It had the fantastic vocal echo, catchy chorus, and was comprised of mainly three chords...G C D. Sing it with me. Light The Fire.

Posted by Erin Posted on 1:33 AM | No comments

31 Days of The 31 Years Soundtrack:Exit Music

Some of my readers will get to experience this little trip back in time with me. And if you are one of them, you are welcome.

For those of us who have grown up in church, it would be difficult to assemble a life soundtrack without at least some worship music and contemporary Christian music. The latter of which was on a constant stream in our household. I could blog about the likes of Cynthia Clawson, Twila Paris and Michael W Smith for months without running out of material.

And being that we were a family that was in church every Sunday, mom singing in the choir, Dad taking the headcount from the median, there is also no shortage of worship music in the jukebox that is my brain.

When I was a 6th grader, my church added a contemporary service called "The Gathering". It was very hip. We sang songs like "We Will Worship" and "Holiness is What I Long For" and "As The Deer Panteth For the Water...". I loved it. And somehow, I convinced my parents to let me go by myself to this service. Youth group met during the service we would have been attending as a family. Maybe I didn't really convince them so much as they thought it important for me and my brother to be a part of the youth ministry, but my memory keepers have decided that, being mature beyond my years, I won the respect and trust of my parents at the tender age of 11 and they allowed me and my brother to switch to The Gathering.

I loved everything about it. I connected with worship through this style more than I had in the traditional service. I even think I felt a sense of freedom and ownership in my worship because my parents were sitting next to me (or in the choir loft) watching me. Before this, I would fight off falling asleep in church (Sorry Brother John), and I would get pinched if I nodded off too long. But now I was engaged with what I was learning.

Still, there was one thing I missed about the traditional service. The "sending you on your way" song. You know, that song that the choir sings after the last prayer as everyone gathers their things and decides where to go to lunch? Every week, for years, it was the same. The most peppy choir song ever there was. And a very confusing one for a child with a mind that creates pictures from words. Our send you on your way song was "The Trees of The Field".  It still will pop up in the jukebox rotation occasionally and every time I laugh a little. You know, even after switching to The Gathering, I would sometimes sneak in at the end of the traditional service just to hear that song.

So without further adieu, let me properly send you on your way...
(also, take a moment to say a prayer of thanks that 90's fashion has passed and pray for those who would want to bring it back)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

I listened to little kid music for longer than many of my peers. I enjoyed it. It was fun, creative, and catchy. I didn't have a reason to move on for quite awhile, but eventually the day came when Joe Skruggs found his way to the back of the drawer and the likes of Randi Travis and Terri Clark climbed the ranks. 

Kids had been listening to country music for a couple of years at my school and to be honest, I was a little excited about catching up and being part of this trend. But, before I could hit record on the cassette radio, my peers had moved on. 

Country, it seemed, was no longer cool. Everyone had moved on to rap. Never mind that our school was about as caucasian as a school could get. 95.7 KILT was out and 97.9 "The Box" was in. Determined to keep up with the trends, I made the switch too. My parents actually did allow me to turn the station to rap in the car which, honestly, shocks me to this day. It's not really their thing and I'm sure the lyrics were atrocious. But, they allowed it. 

Of course, they didn't have to deal with it too long. I think it lasted all of 3 days. I couldn't do it. I didn't like it. I preferred the simple melodies of Bryan White and Martina McBride. So, I returned to KILT and KIKK and 93Q. And yes, I would sit and wait for the good songs to come on so I could hit record. One in particular I recall waiting on is "Texas Tornado". It will blow you away.

Dear kids,

Take a journey with me back through time.

Once upon a time, long long ago, before music streaming, before mp3s, before iPhones, even before iPods, there was something called the Compact Disc, better known to the natives as a CD. Before that was the cassette tape.

I had drawers full of cassette tapes, but as the years were added to me and I hit double digits, I desperately wanted a CD player. I believe it was my 12th birthday when I received a 3 disc changer. Yes, you read that right. Not just a cd player but 3 players in one. It also had 2 cassette tape decks.

Cutting. Edge.

But, what good is a 3-disc changer with no discs. So, along with this magnificent piece of equipment, came my very first CD.  I could not have asked for a better album to begin my Compact Disced musical education. The graduation from Raffi, Joe Skruggs, and Sandi Patti's Friendship Company(more on that later). What was it, you ask?

Here it is, Alison Krauss.

Monday, October 6, 2014

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31 Days of the 31 Years Soundtrack: Mix Master

When my friend, Amanda, suggested I write about my music, she offered up the idea of a favorite song for the last 31 years. Unfortunately, I cannot remember my favorite song from the first year of my life, or many of those early years. But I did enlist some help.

My mom journaled often about the happenings of her children. This was back before blogs and Facebook mind you. She actually journaled. Pen and paper. I asked her if she could recall and favorites and of course, she came through. She emailed me about a song from my 2nd year of life and threw is some prayers too.

Here is what she had to say...

"On 10-27-87 I wrote in my journal: Today Erin has said a couple of the open, sweet prayers that I love so much to hear. She just talks to Jesus. She said, 'Jesus, I'm going as a bunny to the fall festival. I hope everyone says, 'there's a bunny and it's so cute, I wish it lived here.' Then tonight she prayed, 'Jesus, thank your for the turtle book. I really liked it. We found a turtle one time in our yard and we didn't know where it came from. We found a home for it. Amen.' On 11-11-87 I wrote: One day Erin said, 'I really love God! When I grow up, I'm going to marry God. I'll be Mrs. God and He'll be Mr. God.'

I'm not going to lie. If my 4 year-old self had anything to do with the fact that I am 31 and single...

Just kidding. 

Apparently, I was also practicing the art of the mash-up at an early age. According to my mom's memories, I was singing Jesus Loves Me often before my 2nd birthday. At the age of four, my very cool, in school, older brother had taught me a song about Thanksgiving that he had learned in class. It had something to do with pumpkin pies and turkey. I took over from there. I would start "Jesus Loves Me" and then mix it up with a little "Jesus Loves Pumpkin Pie". 

I mean, I don't like to throw around the word "prodigy", but...

It is a sad reality that I have no video or audio of this chart topper for you. I guess we will just have to imagine. Start with awesome and go from there. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

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31 Days of The 31 Years Soundtrack: Sick Days

Being sick is never fun. But, missing school and watching movies all day? I was ok with that. My sick day entertainment was on a pretty regular rotation. Price is right. Some talk show that was showcasing talented kids. Shirley Temple Movies. Singing in The Rain. Meet Me In St. Louis. 

Judy garland, a fair, Tootie, beautiful costumes, and snow? I love this musical and couldn’t get enough of it as a kid. I wanted a sister and this movie was a family of girls. Judy and the boy next door can’t get on the same page about liking or despising each other. The youngest sister is a ham. The music is so fun! Zing went my Heart Strings, Under The Bamboo Tree, Meet Me in St Louis. 

However, as in every story, it isn’t all fun and lighthearted. It’s nearing Christmas and the family is preparing to move. But none of the girls want to move. Judy comes home from an elegant evening and finds Tootie gazing out the window. The littlest sister starts telling all about how Santa is going to bring her toys and she is taking them all with her to New York. This leads to the sad acknowledgement that they won't be able to take the snowmen they built. Trying to comfort herself and her baby sister, Judy sings this haunting Christmas tune. Tootie lets out little sobs as Judy comforts her with the most depressing and haunting Christmas song ever. This song apparently does little to comfort since as the song comes to a close, Tootie races down the stairs and out the door and goes savage on the poor snowmen. 

Did you know that “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” was written for this movie? My deep appreciation for(*ahem* obsession with) this film helped my Christmas in July team in youth ministry win some major points in trivia. 

I have two favorite Christmas songs, O Holy Night and this one. 

I think I like them becuase the both aknowlege the ache in Christmas. On one hand there was a weary world that was invaded by hope and yet there are still people in bondage.

On the other hand, there is an heartache of not being with all the ones you love at Christmas. That the chance of being with them again, of things being what they were, what they should be, not being something we control. And yet, we should go on celebrating. In one breath, Judy tells little Tootie to stop worrying because it’s Christmas and yet acknowledges that there is a sadness. It’s tragic. Go watch the movie so you can see how it ends. 

For now, here’s the heartbreaking scene for your holiday enjoyment...

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Since stores have had Christmas items on the shelves for 5 weeks, I figured it couldn’t hurt to do a special Christmas edition of 31 of 31.So, today and tomorrow, as you read this, I expect you to get in the spirit. Sip on your favorite Christmas drink, break out the pine scented candle, turn the a/c down to 55 (be dedicated to the illusion folks) and curl up under a blanket. 

In our house, Christmas, even with it’s many celebratory options, brought many easy and agreeable decisions. Tree? Real. Christmas morning breakfast? Mom’s cinnamon rolls. Open one present on Christmas eve? Absolutely! It also brought it’s fair share of arguments. Whose year was it to put the star on the tree? Who had the Santa door decoration last year? Should the tinsel be placed in OCD fashion with care and stress-inducing particularity or be tossed on the tree is a carefree, childlike, lavish manner throwing caution to the wind and adding sparkle to the tree wher’er it may fall? I may have strong opinions about tinsel. 

We would always attempt to decorate the tree together. It usually started out well, but rarely was completed in peace. In our family, we have a tradition where our parents would buy us a new ornament every year. We aren’t the kind of people with an elegant tree that is adorned with a carefully selected color scheme. No, we more of a “this tree tells a story” kind of people. Unpacking ornaments was always one of my favorite moments. Recalling the when and why of the gifted ornaments, looking at the little clay handprint that was made in preschool, sorting through boxes on a search for that one special ornament.

I don’t know when this particular piece of pine-adornment became my favorite...or really why, but now it’s the only favorite I can recall. It was a ball ornament white, with a little snowy scene wrapped around. And it played music. Push the button once and it would light up and play loudly, Sleigh Ride. Push it a second time and the light would pulse with the music. A third would cut off the light and lower the music to the faint melody of a day dream. I doubt the rest of my family found it so enchanting. I would go in a turn it on several times a day. The loudest setting was the most annoying to my brother so I enjoyed that one. But my favorite was the pulsing light. One year I think I even took it off the tree and carried it around the house. When my mom passed on all my ornaments to me a few years ago, she included that one. I love it. Honestly, it may have become my favorite because I loved that it annoyed everyone else. But regardless, even without anyone around to annoy, it’s my favorite. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Let's skip ahead a bit to just after college. I had graduated, finished up an internship, and upon not finding a job completed another internship over summer and had moved home while I searched for a job. It was a frustrating time in my young adult life. I hadn't planned to move back to Houston, and certain hadn't planned to live with my parents after college. And yet, that's where I found myself. It was hard, but looking back, I can say it was the best thing for us all.

However, at the time, I needed some space and I needed to do something. Nashville Star, a reality show that was for all intents and purposes American Idol with a twang, was holding auditions in Austin. I booked a hotel, drove myself up to the capitol, checked in the night before auditions, slept for a fistful of hours, woke up and 3am and walked myself down to auditions through downtown Austin. I met a couple of guys on the way who clearly had been lubricating their vocal chords with some liquid courage in preparation for the audition. I waited in line for hours. I met Katie and we became great friends for those few moments. We even past the time by taking selfies. This is all pre-iphone, mind you.

There was a tornado warning for the area which made things interesting, but eventually we made it inside. From there we were put in groups of 5 or 6 and eventually ushered into a small room with a panel of what I assume were interns or some lower level don't start out in front of the actual judges. You have to work your way to that. One at a time we were to step forward, tell them our name and what song we were singing. We then had 30 seconds to sing. We were allowed to play guitar as well.

I spent weeks deciding what song to sing. The first couple of crooners sang and then it was my turn. I stepped forward and played and sang. The "judges" then asked me to sing it again without the guitar. I paused, maybe too long. I was honestly processing the fact that it had to be a good sign if they wanted to hear it twice. But there was one more girl after me and they kept her. They were only keeping one from each group, if any. A couple of the others from the room encouraged me as we left, assuring me that they should have kept me. I was flattered and wished they had, but the girl they kept was good.

On my way back to the hotel to get my car and head home, one of my new friends from the line journey offered to give me a ride back to my car. Y'all, I don't know what possessed me to get in the car with this guy I'd only known for a few hours and whom was tipsy at 5am, but I did. He told me about his night, which was not like any night I've ever had or want to have, he told me he thought the judges were idiots because clearly he and I both should be on the show, and he dropped me off at my hotel and I haven't seen him, or Katie, since. But for a day, we were buds.

I think about that day often. It was the first risk I think I'd ever taken. It was my first adventure on my own. I was nervous but I loved it. I loved knowing I could go somewhere, I could arrange the details of something like that without my parents. It was small, easy, but it was new to me. I loved spending an entire day with like-minded people, singing, dreaming, sharing stories. I did it all again a couple of years later when I auditioned for The Voice. Both experiences were great but Nashville Star was one of those moments, where you suddenly realize you can do more than you give yourself credit for. The world, as scary as it can be, really isn't that vast.

I don't listen to country much anymore, mostly because country doesn't exist these days (it's all pop). Still, country music provided the soundtrack for so much of my life and this particular memory is accompanied by "Suds in The Bucket" by Sara Evans.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

While we are talking about high school, I felt we should address choir. I was a choir kid from early on and there are a few songs I thought about sharing with you. Second runner up was from elementary school. We sang a song called "Show Me How" and learned the sign language. I still have bits of that song the run through my mind at times. But there was one song that plays a little louder and  little longer in the choral section of my mental music library.

Our high school choir was made up of misfits. We weren't necessarily disliked but we just didn't fit in the big scheme of things. Actually, the first day of high school, I went to study hall with all the choir kids and I was a little concerned. I mean, it was almost straight from The Breakfast Club minus the jock. We had all the other roles covered and then some. The funny thing is, we weren't really friends outside of that choir room. A few were. But once we stepped into that room, once we opened our mouths to make music together, something happened. We loved each other well inside the walls of our little corner classroom. We encouraged and challenged and laughed together. And we made memories. And we marked those memories with a song. It was tradition. Actually, I'm not sure we even sung it even for the four years I was there, but somehow, it is still ingrained as tradition. It holds the weight of being that one constant that helped us remember that even if we played the game of high school the rest of the time, when we stood side by side and sang, we were together. We were a family.  A family of oddballs and misfits, but a family nonetheless.

It was hard to find any recording of this song, but eventually I did. Here it is, our concert closer, sung here by "Things with Strings".

May The Road Rise Up To Meet You

May the road rise up to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face
And the rains fall soft upon your fields

Until we meet again my friend
Until we meet again
May God hold you in the palm of his hand

Posted by Erin Posted on 12:31 AM | No comments

31 Days of The 31 Years Soundtrack: Slow Jams

There are many methods to storytelling. You can start in the logical place, the beginning and walk straight down the plot line...not really my style. You can start at the end and unravel it back to where it all began. Or, you can create an intricate web of a story with flashbacks and flash forwards, reminiscent of poor Jack's life on the Island(Lost). Keep the audience on their toes. Since we are taking a journey through the soundtrack, it may not be quite as suspenseful, but that is our flight other words, we are going to be jumping around. 

I've decided to start at the part of the story where music suddenly becomes the fodder for awkward social interaction. Go with me now to the school gym. White tile floor, white concrete walls, scowling viking overlooking the hormonal charades beneath him. Yes my friends, we are at a middle school dance. Girls on one side of the room, boys on the other. Boys, having yet to hit that growth spurt, at the perfect hight to make eye contact with your chest. Girls, trying to balance in their heels along the thin wire between impressing the crush or the popular girls.  Sweat drenching the poor silk shirts that seemed like a great wardrobe choice before the first song. Cologne drenching...well, everything else. 

It's easy to survive the Macarena and YMCA. Those songs come with instructions of what to do with your hands. But, inevitably, the tables turn to the slow jams. Suddenly, there is a sandstorm of shuffling feet. Some trying to find their way off the dance floor as quickly as possible. Others shuffling along the sidelines waiting, hoping to be asked to dance. And others, having gained courage, shuffling to-and-fro, to-and-fro beneath locked knees. 

There are a few specific moments I can recall of from school dances. 

In middle school: The mean girl making it a point to let me know the boys in her grade would not be dancing with me. Learning that the boy who had just asked me to be his girlfriend the day before, and whom I had refused, had started "dating" another girl. I asked him why he was dating her(she was kind of mean) and his response was "because you said no." This logic baffled me. I remember the dress I wore to my very first dance. It was black and white and I had braided my hair. An older girl, making fun of me, called me Dorothy. I did not see the insult in that... *shrug*. I remember a girl lying to me about crying in the bathroom..."allergies" apparently. 

And in high school: I remember taking Dan Savage to homecoming and feeling really special even though we were only friends and he was really more my brother's friend. I remember standing by myself at a dance my junior year and feeling awkward and alone until my middle school crush, then good friend, came and asked me to dance. He told me I looked like Cinderella. He even twirled me, y'all. I remember terrible dresses that I thought were gorgeous and glamorous at the time. I remember wishing guys would be braver and kinder and ask girls to dance without wondering if it would cause us to fall in love with them. I remember being determined to have fun with or without a date. 

And I remember one song in particular. I think it was actually played at every single school dance I ever attended. It was recorded by two artist so I'm sure that helped it stay in the DJ arsenal for awhile. It was the ultimate ballad. A declaration of love that every girl would dream of hearing from the boy that sat three desks away in Chemistry. Country music or r&b, this was the jam. So, let me not keep you waiting any longer. Grab that special someone and dance like you have no idea what to do with your hands. 

For the country fans:

For the R&B fans:

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Posted by Erin Posted on 11:40 PM | No comments

31 days of The 31 Years Soundtrack

It's October! That means a lot around here. First of all, it means that it's only two more months until Fall arrives in Houston. It's still Summer here with the heat and humidity. October means life is in full swing again. At least, that is something we like to say. I'm yet to know a season that didn't feel full swing. It means, this month, that I used to dread with every fiber of my being, has yet another chance to redeem herself. And, it means, the 31 days blog challenge is back. Last year I wrote letters...but didn't nearly reach 31. I even wrote a letter to October.

This year, I bring you 31 Days of The 31 Years Soundtrack...

I will be sharing the soundtrack of my life with you. It won't be a favorite song from every year of my life because, let's be honest, my memories just aren't that specific, and some years had a different song every week. So, instead, it will be songs that bring specific memories to the surface, songs that have stuck with me.

Go ahead. Grab your boom box and a blank cassette and get ready to hit record when you hear a tune you like...

Think of it as my mixed tape to the world.