5 Songs that influenced me
I present five tracks that heavily influenced my taste in music and – maybe – also my personality.
I’m always fascinated by the fact that music has this profound effect of instantly bringing back memories. I like to compare music to smells. They, too, can send you back in time, to moments of joy, but also moments of pain and struggle. There are songs that I cannot hear anymore since they are so heavily tied to sorrow.
And despite music has the ability to bring people together, it’s also a deeply personal experience. Certain songs may trigger something in you that I will never be able to comprehend – and vice versa.
I also wonder how our first experiences with music influence our taste in music in the future. Today, I’ll present five songs that probably impacted my musical preferences and maybe even my personality.
Eric Clapton – Layla (Live at MTV Unplugged)
My father was the one who often listened to music. Although his spectrum wasn’t that broad, I can consider myself lucky to have a reasonably sophisticated musical upbringing.
There were only a handful of albums on the shelf. The works of Mozart, for example. But mostly, he listened to Tanita Tikaram’s albums Ancient Heart and The Sweet Keeper. Or the absolutely stunning Graceland by Paul Simon. More questionable probably was Liebe, Tod und Teufel by Erste Allgemeine Verunsicherung.
I could have picked any of the songs on these albums. When I listen to these records, it brings back not a specific memory but a feeling—the warmth of childhood and home.
However, there’s one more record that accompanied my childhood: Unplugged by Eric Clapton. There’s even a video of me listening to the album at the age of two.
Revisiting Unplugged today, there’s no way around it: It’s one of the most brilliant live recordings. The intensity, the atmosphere, the emotions are incredible. For me, it’s almost impossible to choose a favorite song as any one of them is somehow deeply ingrained in my memory. So I just picked Layla as a representative for the album.
The enthusiastic “Woo!” at 0.55 is still my reference for ecstasy.
Rammstein – Sonne
Do you remember the times when there was actual music playing on MTV? While radio was the place to discover new music for many people, it’s always been the television network for me.
In 2001, the music taste in school was dominated entirely by the charts: The girls listened to Destiny’s Child, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears. And the boys to Eminem, D12, and Snoop Dogg.
And I vividly remember the first time I saw Rammstein’s video to their song Sonne on MTV. The brutality and the consequence of Rammstein’s sound were unlike anything I’ve ever heard. Rock music was not fashionable, not to speak of this very aggressive sound. It was something out of this world. And I was thrilled by the experience, the video’s storytelling.
However, when I showed Rammstein to my friends, I was ridiculed. They disliked it and thought the music was shit. It was the first time I felt excluded, not part of the group. So I stopped listening to Rammstein.
Years later, I would rediscover metal, and it would became a genre that fascinates me until today.
My initial experience with Rammstein was an important lesson: I shouldn’t judge others preferences in music. Maybe the music someone’s listening to isn’t my cup of tea but on the other hand: Who am I to decide whether the music is valuable emotionally?
As a critic, it’s a thin line to walk. There’s a subtle differentiation between critiquing music in the broader context of arts and society and the countless individual experiences. Music journalism is inherently subjective; reviews always are biased by the critic. There’s just no way around it. However, I remind myself regularly of this constraint.
Bob Dylan – Hurricane
I was glad to join the high school in a different city. New people, a new environment, a new open-mindedness. This also was true for my personal music discovery. We listened to many different styles. Yes, hip-hop was still highly appreciated, but this time it was Swiss artists that dominated: Breitbild, Sektion Chuchichästli, Gimma, Bligg, Stress.
On the other hand, I explored the new worlds of guitar music. In 2005, I got my first iPod and discovered my uncle’s vast collection of vinyl and CDs. I then got to know classics like The Who, Bruce Springsteen, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Bob Marley.
Bob Dylan was amongst those artists, too. Obviously, Blowing In The Wind was a known song, but I never dove deeper into his universe. And there was one track that captivated me instantly: Hurricane. It’s a protest song written by Dylan and Jacques Levy about the imprisonment of boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. The song that describes the false imprisonment of a black man still is relevant today.
Until I listened to Hurricane, Bob Dylan has always been the guy with a guitar and a harmonica. Suddenly, there was this track with its prominent violin, played by Scarlet Rivera. Although the song features an extensive arrangement, Hurricane sounds rough and scruffy. The song begins entirely innocent. However, the longer this 8.32 minute-long epic lives, the angrier it gets. It’s a slow but steady escalation, only recognizable to the attentive listeners. After five minutes, Dylan and his co-musicians seem to furiously batter their instruments.
Hurricane and probably The Who’s Baba O’Riley marked the beginning of my love affair with the 60s and 70s rock music. In 2005, I also saw Bob Dylan live on stage for the first time (it was disappointing), but it didn’t phase the fascination with these eras.
The Beauty of Gemina – Kingdoms of Cancer
Early 2009, I dropped out of high school due to bad marks. I was 18 and without perspective. In hindsight, puberty hit hard. I wasn’t a rebellious teenager but a melancholic one. I sank into The Cure, Joy Division, Sisters of Mercy. Dressed in black, fed up with society’s conformity. I had to seek an apprenticeship but wasn’t putting enough effort into it. At least, that’s what my parents thought. They kicked me out, sent me to a farm to work.
Back then, I wrote for a Swiss concert photographer and wrote short biographies of the bands he shot. While being on the farm, he asked me whether I want to interview The Beauty of Gemina for an online magazine.
I knew the band because their track Shadowdancer was featured on a goth magazine’s sampler. I instantly fell in love with these incredibly thick layers of sound. Later, I bought their second album, A Stranger to Tears, in Zurich. But I never heard the entire debut album Diary of a Lost.
I agreed to conduct the interview. It was my first interview and, therefore, quite shitty. But it was exciting being backstage, eating with the band, experiencing the preparations of a band I admire.
During the concert, I heard Kingdoms of Cancer and became a different person. The song pulled me out of a quagmire of fear, despair and ignorance. It bit into my heart and eradicated fear like a benign virus. The song gave me confidence.
And we leave all these fathers
They can't hear us crying
And we leave all these soldiers
They've forgotten good prayers
And we leave all these prophets
And their wishful unsaying
With stern determination, singer Michael Sele hurls the lines down on me like a preacher from the pulpit. It is challenging to cope with this force. The heavy and multi-layered arrangement, from which the melody can only peel itself with difficulty, only dissolves towards the end to pour out into an overwhelming guitar solo – full of rage and despair.
Martin Kohlstedt – KSY
The most influential time for one's taste in music is the age between 13 and 14, whereas "childhood influences are stronger for women than for men." At least, this was a finding of Seth Stephens-Davidowitz when he analyzed Spotify data.
I've long passed these influential years. I'm not afraid of aging but of being stuck with the same music for the rest of my life. That's one of the reasons why I picked up music curation again in 2021.
Nevertheless, I didn't suspect discovering a new love when I attended the Kaltern Pop Festival in 2017. Classical music was something my parents listened to. It was uncool. So far, the only emotional touchpoint had been the scores by composers like Howard Shore, John Williams, and Hans Zimmer. But honestly, that's not really comparable.
Then I saw Martin Kohlstedt in Kaltern. Back then, I wrote:
The equipment set up in front of the altar of the parish church is reminiscent of a spaceship. Martin Kohlstedt bends over his instruments like a mad scientist. With his back turned to the audience, he starts a journey into strange galaxies.
The pianist Kohlstedt transports the piano sounds into undiscovered dimensions employing loops and synthesizers. Imposing like a supernova, lovely like a starry sky and dangerous like an asteroid belt are his pieces. Like outer space, his compositions never lose their fascination despite their vastness.
"That's the thing about churches; you want to push it as far as possible," said Kohlstedt after he had let it rip to such an extent that the sound was already scraping the edge of demonic noise.
I was blown away. Kohlstedt made me aware of classical music's beauty – not just the contemporary works but also the early masters. And although I'm pretty incompetent to write about this art, it still awakes something deep within me.
This is it: Five songs that influenced me in one way or another. While compiling the list, I realized that there would have been many other songs.
But I guess these five tracks are an appropriate selection and will give you some context on the guy who sends you his recommendations each week.
Now, I wish you a beautiful Sunday,
P.S. If you enjoyed this edition, please give it a like or post a comment and let me know which song you liked.