I was having a conversation with someone today, and they mentioned a really interesting question – what four albums were your biggest influence in high school?
That’s a neat question for a few reasons. First, four is a more interesting number than five in this context; having to pare the number down is more challenging. But more importantly, the question isn’t what albums you thought were good, or even what albums you like now. It’s about what influenced you.
I have five tattoos (as of this writing; I have plans for more); all of them are book quotes. They’re specifically from books that were hugely influential in my development. They aren’t all from books that I would even recommend to someone today (though one remains my favorite), but all of them had a dramatic impact on me as a young man. Whether because I embraced them or rejected their ideas, whether because I found shared solace in other readers or protection from a callous world in their pages (as so many young men do), these books changed me. The tattoos are a mark of that.
That’s why I’m comfortable with them as tattoos. Even if I eventually grow to hate every single one of those books, they will still always have been the books that helped shape me. Since that will always have been true, a permanent mark is appropriate.
So how about those albums? What would be my four?
Dookie, Green Day. Honestly my first real exposure to modern, popular music. Everything else I liked before that was from my parents’ generation (and their influence); this was the first album I ever bought that was actually targeted at me. I wore out multiple copies of this CD with my friends, and it was the soundtrack to a lot of my best memories of that time.
Bad Hair Day, Weird Al Yankovic. A long-standing nerd icon, Weird Al was a major Darmok for “my people.” This was the album that introduced me (and probably many others) to his genius.
The Wall, Pink Floyd. Still one of my favorite albums of all time, this album was shown to me by the coolest person I’d ever met (besides my dad), and I think I’ll forever associate this music with aspirational coolness.
Jagged Little Pill, Alanis Morissette. It was a tough call between this and Tragic Kingdom by No Doubt (and here we see why it’s tough to pick 4 instead of 5!), but I think this edges slightly out because more people I know listened to this and so it was more of a cultural touchstone. I like Gwen better than Alanis, and I think Tragic Kingdom is a way better album in retrospect, but this question is about what influenced you, not what you like now.
Those albums range from things I think are fantastic even today, to stuff I don’t even listen to any more. But I can see where one thing led to another thing, how each new passion grew from an older one. Whether it’s what entertains us or inspires us, threatens us or propels us forward, it’s worthwhile to do a little personal archaeology and uncover the building blocks we stood on to become who we are.