Pop Culture Intervention

3 Things I Discovered After Listening To My Mom’s Favorite Music For A Week

A different kind of Mother's Day gift.

At A Plus, we're addicted to pop culture, and Pop Culture Intervention brings that obsession to the soapbox. Through this series, we'll recommend what you should be watching, reading or listening to; explore how arts and entertainment affect us; and interpret the important messages contained within various works.

If you're looking for something special to do for your mom this Mother's Day that's more original than a flower bouquet (not that there's anything wrong with those), I have a suggestion that won't cost you a penny, as long as you have a Spotify account, or — even better — a record player.

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This past week, I gave myself a challenge. I asked my mom to write me a list of her all-time favorite music — the soundtrack of her life. I added them all to a Spotify playlist, and for the next week, this was the only music I listened to — while working on my laptop, taking walks around my neighborhood, and baking cookies in the kitchen. (You can listen to it as well, in the playlist below.)

My mom has never been especially adventurous when it comes to music. She knows what she likes and she sticks to it — and what she likes is mostly the same stuff she listened to growing up in the '60s and '70s. In fact, the newest song on her playlist is from 1977, the year she graduated high school. Selected artists include Elton John, Carly Simon, The Beatles, Linda Ronstadt, and Simon & Garfunkel, not to mention Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins.

While spending time in this musical time capsule, I made a few discoveries — about my mom, about me, and about the bonding power of pop culture.

1. My mom's music taste is (unsurprisingly) similar to my own.

There's a reason I didn't choose to watch my mom's favorite movies or TV shows for this challenge — we love all the same things. When it comes to music, however, there's less overlap. While I had already heard most of the songs my mom chose — and even raided her record collection last year when I got a turntable — they probably wouldn't make it onto my own life-defining playlist.

Still, there are some undeniable connecting threads. Many of the artists I enjoyed growing up, as well as now — Jewel, Lisa Loeb, Jason Mraz, First Aid Kit — were undoubtedly inspired by the musicians my mom listened to. We both love a good singer-songwriter accompanied by a piano or an acoustic guitar.

There were a few songs on the playlist I wasn't as crazy about (if I'm listening to Billy Joel, I prefer "Vienna" to "Just the Way You Are"), but in general, the "If you like this, you'll probably like this" rule definitely applied. I could have predicted this, but nonetheless, it was interesting to spend so much time with music that somehow felt both familiar and unfamiliar to me.

2. Every generation can get down to Disney.

When I was a kid, I used to play cassette tapes of The Lion King, Hercules, and Mulan soundtracks as I fell asleep. When my mom was a kid, she played the "It's a Small World" theme over and over again until it drove my grandmother nuts. She was just as enchanted by Mary Poppins as I was by Beauty and the Beast.

An obsession with Disney (particularly Disney princesses, in all their reimagined forms) has become a cliché of the nostalgia-obsessed millennial, but ask any of those millennials' parents (possibly even grandparents) what movies and music they loved as a child, and there's a good chance they'll name at least one Disney title. 

My mom as Mordred in her high school's production of "Camelot," and as Mary Poppins for Halloween.

3. Music and memory go hand in hand.

I just told you about my mom's childhood obsession with the "It's a Small World" theme. What I didn't tell you is that the obsession started when she first experienced the ride at the 1964 New York World's Fair, when she was 5 years old. I also didn't tell you that her love for Mary Poppins inspired a Halloween costume, complete with an umbrella and a magical carpet bag.

Then there's the overture to Camelot, the musical she starred in her senior year of high school. (She played the male villain Mordred.) When she showed me her playlist, she told me about how nervous she would get when she heard the overture because it meant the show was about to start.

Many of us have certain songs that remind us of specific moments or periods in our lives. By sharing that music with the people we love, the sharing of memories inevitably follows. Stories are told, and we learn things about each other that we may not have known before.

All of this is my way of suggesting that this Mother's Day (or any day, really) you take a little time to appreciate something your mom enjoys. You certainly don't have to ask her to make you an 18-track playlist (thanks, Mom). In fact, you may not even have to ask her anything at all. There's probably a musician, a movie, or a book that you've already heard her talk about. Give it a listen, a watch, or a read, and then call her up to chat about it. Or get together and experience it with her in person if you can. 

Just think about how you feel when someone you care about shows an interest in one of your favorite things. No box of chocolates can compare to that — unless it's really, really good.

Cover image: Dmitry BayerUnsplash

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