In this era of personalized Spotify accounts, digital streams, and mobile devices, music is everywhere in our lives. But rarely do we have occasion to talk about why we love it.
Dig behind the ear buds, and people have vivid, amazing stories about the specific pieces of music that’s shaped and affected them, and their sense memories of where, when, and why are incredibly strong. (Those studies about music’s ability to trigger emotional memories in the brain’s prefrontal cortex? Yeah, they’re legit.)
We asked five artists to share a song, a location in Portland, and a time that intimately linked the two. Their stories said a lot about their character and their art, and attached meaning to parts of our city we might otherwise pass over …
Vocalist/Co-producer, Altered Gee
Song: “Aries” by Freddie
Location: “The View” on North Street, Munjoy Hill
Freddie Hubbard’s “Aries” reminds me of good times and loved ones, and it bookends a chapter in my life when I was doing a lot of growing.
When I moved to Maine around 2003, I was 13, and had to learn to re-adjust. I didn’t leave my house for most of the summer and was shut in. We moved to Maine after I was having a hard time in sixth grade, feeling socially outcast in Boston, and I wasn’t used to being around so many white people altogether.
The first place I loved was The Hill. It was the setting for a lot of significant events — from my first beer to my first girlfriend. I met a lot of my friends there and learned how to bomb Congress Street on a longboard. I match “Aries” with this place because I was with a woman who was an Aries and we would go for morning walks up here, and I had a cassette with that song on it.
In every chapter of my life so far, I’ve taken time up here at “The View” to watch the sunset or enjoy the Portland “skyline,” either alone or with friends. It refreshes and clears my mind — the river of traffic, the hospital across the city. Sitting up here is like sitting in a captain’s quarters with all your maps, charting and plotting the next course of action, and that’s what makes this a good pairing. Love and turmoil, turbulent times, growth and confidence, and the serenity of seeing it all so small in front of me.
Music producer, mixer, engineer
Song: “Hey Ya!” by OutKast (2003)
Location: Rosie’s dart boards
From 2003–2005, I was hanging out with the As Fast As crew just about all the time. It got to the point where most nights of the week, we would end up at Rosie’s. We didn’t even coordinate, someone just showed up there, and inevitably, someone else was either already there or close behind. Most of the time, we didn’t even have to order our first round, it would just show up at the back table next to the dart boards, where we held court.
One particular night, we were there — Spencer, Haché, Jones, and … I think … my wife, Jessica Anthony — and I forget the song that was on the jukebox, but we were all kind of into it. That is, until it stopped abruptly. Haché, speaking loudly enough for the entire establishment to hear, though not yelling, stated, “My mellow: it’s been harshed.” Immediately, through the jukebox speakers, came the telltale “One, Two, Three, Unnh!” and the entire table erupted in simultaneous cheers before the downbeat.
Singer, solo and with Armies
Song: “You’re All I Need to Get By” by Aretha Franklin (1971)
Location: The Porthole
A song that has a lot of meaning to me personally, emotionally, and musically is Aretha Franklin’s version of “You’re All I Need to Get By” (originally made famous by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell).
Years ago, I was between projects (Gypsy Tailwind to my venture as a solo artist) and had been contacted by a few musician friends to be one of three vocalists for a female-led reggae/soul/summer vibes band that would play every Sunday afternoon at the Porthole. The reason this song is held so dear to my heart is because it signifies the birth of my musical sisterhood with Sara Hallie Richardson and Megan Jo Wilson.
It was shortly after the birth of my first daughter, Haisel, and, well, life felt chaotic and beautiful all at once. It will forever act as a souvenir from that magical summer, the beginning of an inimitable musical bond with Sara and Megan, and the all-relatable notion that music is my true north, and when I feel lost … it’s all I need to get by.
Song: “Step Aside” by
Location: Top of the Ocean Gateway Garage
Near the end of my high school experience, I had effectively checked out. I had been flying under the radar at school, skipping practically all assignments and a fair amount of classes. I had decided to drop out and had been studying to take the GED exam. At that point in time, I couldn’t help feeling that school had been a waste of time. At night, I would ride a bike I had taken from the dump until the early morning.
I was living in South Portland at the time, and had no particular destination or goal in mind other than just to be out of my room. I would ride across the bridge into Portland and continue onto York Street, and then onto Fore Street, occasionally riding as far as the East End Beach, but I had developed a sort of routine riding into the parking garage on the corner of Fore and India. I would ride to the top and look at the ocean for a while and then ride down the parking garage without peddling, and usually continue home.
Efterklang’s album Tripper was in top rotation on my iPod, and the song “Step Aside” was particularly moving to me, especially when I stayed out late enough to see the sunrise.
Song: “Mr. Brownstone” by Guns N’ Roses (1987)
Location: House on Quebec St., Munjoy Hill
My mother, aunts, and uncles would gather most Saturday nights throughout the ’80s and well into the ’90s for a weekly card game, and this meant that each weekend I got to hang out with various cousins in different locations all around Cumberland County (along the edge of Evergreen Cemetery, across from the Cumberland Farms in Westbrook, way out in the woods of Gorham, even farther out into the woods of Pownal, etc.).
One particular weekend, sometime in 1988, the card game was hosted by my aunt and an unenthusiastic uncle, (who apparently had to retire early that evening) at their apartment on Quebec St. on Munjoy Hill.
A cousin and I were sitting in a stairwell outside of the apartment, talking about the meaning of the Guns N’ Roses song “Mr. Brownstone”. I don’t remember what we thought it was about, but I know we were both wrong.
Suddenly, the door swung open and my very large, very angry uncle burst out of the apartment, shouting “YOU LITTLE PRICKS! I CAN HEAR YOU TALKING ABOUT ME THROUGH THE WALL!” His bedroom was just on the other side of the wall, and apparently he thought that whatever we were speculating about the activities of “Mr. Brownstone” was speculation about him. He was a volatile guy, kind the vast majority of the time, but prone to seemingly random outbursts. My uncle was in a periwinkle-blue bathrobe, which, while he was shouting, swung open and gave us a view of, well, everything. He was also wearing an eye mask that was slightly askew, covering one eye. Realizing he’d flashed us, he darted back inside, grumbling, before we could explain we were just talking about the Guns N’ Roses song.