If you ever see me around campus, it’s more than likely I’ll be wearing headphones. Whether I’m studying, making my way to classes or working in my lab, I promise you that I will have two, worn buds jammed into my ears at all times.
However, people—friends, if you will—have pointed out to me that because I wear headphones like I wear my glasses, I’m more unaware of the world around me. They’ve graciously notified me that they can never get my attention in passing, no matter what they do or say. It’s gotten so bad that my fellow lab mates have imposed a rule where I am only allowed to have one earbud in whenever I’m in the lab. Apparently, if you pour a large quantity of a valuable chemical down the drain after a graduate student tries to warns you with a dramatic “NOOO!” to keep the chemical for future experiments, the lab starts enforcing such a policy to prevent you from being what they call a “toxic liability.” It’s gotten so bad that when the cashiers at ABP see me next in line, they don’t even yell, “Next guest,” but instead frustratingly wave their hands at me to come to their checkout counter.
Despite the laundry list of awkward situations involving me and headphones, I’m not all that sorry. For me, listening to music through the sanctity of my headphones is more of a way to deal with the world around me, rather than offending it overtly.
While most people’s playlists are mix-tape-esque amalgams of their favorite songs, my playlists read much like my personal diary. Each song on my Spotify playlist chronologically encapsulates a memory, a event or a feeling at a certain moment in my life. The result is a series of songs that tell the story of my life and reveal visceral connections to a past reality from the perspective of my younger self.
Selecting the songs that end up on my playlist is truly cathartic. When I wade through various genres and artists, I use my intuition to decide—a minute into the song—whether the song fits the moment. Not every song that I enjoy, however, makes the cut. As much as I love LMFAO’s self-obsessed “Sexy and I Know It,” there has never been a moment when I’ve thought, “You know what, I’ve definitely got passion in my pants and I ain’t afraid to show it.”
It didn’t make the playlist.
Instead, something in the whispery rasp in an artist’s voice, a pounding back beat in an EDM track or the sheer lettering of a chorus attracts me and my baggage to the song in a way that transcends the typical appeal of a song simply sounding good.
Name for me a popular song and there’s a good chance that I can recall the exact memory associated with that song. Rihanna’s “We Found Love” was the bumping anthem of my high school sophomore semi-formal, when I finally decided that I didn’t care what anybody thought, I was going to dance badly in the middle of the room like Taylor Swift at an award show. “Rotten Apples” by Voxhaul Broadcast resonated a certain rock twang that gave that quirky inspiration for the character I assumed during my first high school theater production. The sheer prevalence of “Maps” by Maroon 5 was the song that floated in my head when I was in Spain the summer before my first year at Duke and housing assignments came out. My first-year roommate let me know via email that he just wanted to have “fun” his first semester—a nightmare for my nerdy, introverted self at the time.
When I look back at my former self through the many songs on my playlist, it’s sort of cheesy, but I really have grown and become a stronger person than from “We Found Love.” Today, I find myself picking songs that are less obsessed with vanity and more in love with appreciating the beauty of individuals and of nature. I find that my songs shifted from the edge of self-destruction at the age of seventeen to a more calm and collected but altogether more heartbroken and distraught sense of self. I’ve found songs that channel an inner sense of curiosity and a deep appreciation for those I do care about in my life.
The reason I listen to music, to my autobiographical playlist, is that in my busy life as a Duke student, there is rarely time for self-reflection. Pulling together even a single minute for introspection can be difficult to find. In fact, I’m writing this article at 2:37 a.m. on a Monday night because it fits perfectly between when I’d finish my research paper and when I have to start studying for my next midterm. Listening to music evokes an emotion and a self-awareness that is unfound for me because it appears that at Duke there never is true silence. But for me, the true serenity can be found in a pair of headphones.
Dillon Fernando is a Trinity junior and Playground editor.
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