I’m not sure exactly how it started or when it started, but if I had to guess, it would be sometime around the Autumn of 2001. I had just started a new major at a new school. Originally, I had started off studying architecture for some odd reason, but after a year having fun, classes and projects started getting all technical and more realistic (where would the bed go, could you fit an outlet there, that doesn’t seem structurally sound), the fun went away and the idea and pressure of designing buildings that looked great and didn’t collapse and kill people no longer appealed to me. This was when I switched to Graphic Design. That seemed more creative. Of course, the school I was at for Architecture didn’t have the best Graphic Design program. So that’s why the switch happened. This Connecticut Yankee ended up in Savannah, Georgia…for three years.
If you’ll recall, the fall of 2001 was also the time of September 11. I’m not sure if that had anything to do with it. It’s highly possible, on some small, hidden level of my psyche that I have yet to discover. But something else happened. For 20 years, I had been in Southern New England. I was used to seasons. Winter would end, the trees would bud and we’d have a few weeks of pleasant weather, followed by a hellacious period of doom followed by the most magical time of the year. But in Savannah, Fall never truly happened, at least, not the Autumn I was used to. The trees didn’t change color. The air didn’t get crisp. I couldn’t see my breath. Yes, the humidity went away and it would drop down to the 70s. You could tell who the locals were because they would be wearing furs and down jackets when it got to the mid 60s while I was still walking around in my shorts.
This was the first time in my entire life where Fall didn’t exist. I don’t think I handled it very well. I was a bit sad about it all. It was fun exploring a new city, making new friends, learning new things, but October was strange with green leaves still on the trees. It was odd seeing pumpkins sitting next to flower planters, still blooming. It didn’t feel right to have hot coffee.
So I went and I dug into my past to seek out comfort. I gravitated towards something that I knew made me happy: music. Memories play such an important part in my life. When I’m designing a dish, I think back to what I like, what I’ve eaten that I admired, what I think tastes good. Memories create a familiarity and make something odd seem a bit more accessible. So I traveled back into my memories and found myself heading towards certain albums. I didn’t yet have iTunes and the ability to make playlists at this point. I was still selecting songs to burn onto a CD and pop into my walkman for venturing around the city.
Mariah Carey’s Daydream album. It came out in the Fall (I think). I would listen to it on repeat. So I went to that album. I never left home without my giant binder full of music. I picked other albums that I originally got and wore out in the Fall. This was the start. Something was happening, only I didn’t know it.
The next year, when Fall started but nothing changed in Savannah, I whipped out those familiar CDs. And then I added in some new music. A Dolly Parton tribute album (Just Because I’m a Woman) that I watched someone talk about on TV. A Diana Krall album because everyone always talked about her and I thought I’d give it a listen (back during a time when you couldn’t hear snippets of a song and you had to buy an entire album). It was building. The sounds of the season were being created.
When I hear certain classical songs, I think to being a wee youngin’. My mom would have some classical playing on Sunday. I’d be outside, maybe helping to rake leaves (more likely destroying the piles of leaves my dad had made) and I’d come in from the cool air and hear the music. Now, when those concertos and sonatas come on, I’m instantly transported back to being a kid during the cool Autumn weather in Connecticut. I think about leaves, about spaghetti, about firewood, about scarecrows, about crisp air, about cranberry sauce.
These memories would attract me to new music. I would seek out what sounded like it. Because of that Dolly Parton tribute album, I would seek out bluegrass music because a lot of the song interpretations on there had that influence. Mariah Carey always seemed to release new albums in the fall. As did Fiona Apple.
I remember my first year of architecture school. Staying up in the studio all night working. I’d have my headphones in blasting Janet Jackson’s Velvet Rope album or Fiona Apple’s When the Pawn… or a Donna Summer live album. I remember heading back to the dorms after working and knowing that it would take the length of Enough is Enough (No More Tears) to get back. So when I was in Savannah, I would have the albums at the top of my stack, ready to go.
Years later, when I finally got an iPod and discovered iTunes and how I could make an endless supply of playlists, my life changed. I could keep all my CDs on my computer and have most of it with me all the time (back before you could stream everything and the amount of memory on an iPod was a joke). I created playlists for fall. Albums from when I was at Roger Williams University in one. A collection of music I got in Savannah. Albums by Fiona Apple. Albums by Mariah Carey.
Every year I would get excited as Summer would draw to a close, because I knew that Fall was coming and that meant I could dive into my Fall music. It was exciting. It was like Christmas music. Suddenly it started growing. My musical tastes varied, I expanded on more categories because iTunes made it easy. I realized there was music for Spring. Music for Summer and music for Winter. All having their roots based in some original memory. Some “first” that happened that made me remember that moment and the music that created a soundtrack for it.
I like jazz because of Starbucks. I remember going there in Savannah after class with my friend Diane and we would go over notes or just get a drink. One day, as we studied, the store went from Fall to Christmas. But the whole time Ella Fitzgerald was playing. So then I got an Ella Fitzgerald album. And it expanded from there. I fell in love with a voice. With an instrument. With a sound. Mariah Carey had an album come out in the Spring and I waited to get it until the Fall. I’ve purchased albums and after a listen, it didn’t feel right during the Summer, but during the Fall, it was perfect.
So this is me now. I categorize my music by season and moods. I listen to a mix of everything. Every season has it’s selection. Music based on memory that now inspires me. Knowing that I have a whole crapload of music that will transport me to a time and a place I feel most happy is a comforting feeling.
So when I talk about Fall music, I don’t mean songs about Fall. It’s a feeling. It’s a memory. These things I use in my creative process. I listen to music constantly, while I work, while I read, while I bake, when I’m feeling down, when I’m feeling happy, when I don’t know what to do. I’m glad I have my music because it makes me a better chef.
And now a sampling of some of my favorite Fall music (or what I refer to as the “essence”)
Sheryl Crow – My Favorite Mistake
Mariah Carey – Fantasy
Mariah Carey – Mine Again
Mindy Smith – Jolene
Old Crow Medicine Show – Down Home Girl
King Wilkie – Wrecking Ball
Caro Emerald – Excuse My French
Mabel King – Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News
Fiona Apple – Limp
Jill Scott – Golden
Diana Krall – Isn’t This A Lovely Day?