My parents brought me into a ‘semi-charmed life’

Listening to ’90s music makes me feel closer to my parents despite the distance between us.

Sanya Verma / Daily Trojan

As my dad and I buckled into his hideous green Kia Soul, he queued a song on Spotify for me. While the opening riff to Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged rendition of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World” washed over me, I knew my journey into the ’90s through music was just beginning. 

It was 2015, and I was at the peak of my preteen emo phase. Wearing Hot Topic band T-shirts with ripped skinny jeans every day was a necessity, as was explaining to all of my friends that my music taste was too esoteric for them to truly understand. With academic and social pressures only mounting as I came of age, I wore my angst on my sleeve through edgy fashion and an individuality complex around the — very popular — alternative rock and grunge music that my dad introduced me to. 

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While I’ve only really spent a little bit of time with my dad throughout my life, every summer in Utah I spent with him in the scorching desert heat broadened my musical horizons to new heights. From Mazzy Star to Weezer to Korn, my dad’s music taste remains the most eclectic out of anyone I’ve ever met. I feel like I know him more through his music than through any sort of father-daughter relationship we’ve built. 

Admittedly, the images I have of my father in my head are pasted together like pages of a scrapbook. They are disjunctive memories that are years apart, with the haze of time casting a cloud over the things I try to remember now. Growing up, it was just me and my mom against the world in a single-parent, only-child household. With only 21 years between us in age, I always felt our relationship was akin to that of Rory and Lorelai in “Gilmore Girls.”

However, my relationship with my mom wasn’t scot-free, either. While we enjoy our long weekly phone calls, I remember growing up feeling like there was always a deeply rooted misunderstanding between us. Now, I’m not sure if the small age difference was the factor that made us constantly bicker like siblings, but we certainly haven’t had a perfect mother-daughter bond. In times when words gave way to silence between us, the only thing that could bridge the gap was music. 

Time with my mom on drives home from ballet classes or school events was usually spent listening to Delilah or DC101 on the radio; occasionally, she would let me into her mysterious world, which I eventually learned consists mainly of The Smashing Pumpkins and The Cranberries — her favorites from them being “Disarm” and “Linger,” respectively. 

My parents being separated since 2005 meant that I grew up knowing these two people as completely separate individuals. While they are similar in age, the only thing that really connects them these days is their shared nostalgia for the ’90s — their glory days.

My mom was a popular girl who wore platform shoes à la Spice Girls and my dad used to eat lunch in the library alone. My mom spent her childhood as a military brat straddling between Seoul and Washington, D.C., and my dad grew up a Latter-day Saint in the boonies of central Utah as the oldest of five kids. The only thing that could possibly have brought these two together was a mutual appreciation for Fiona Apple. 

However, my physical existence that bridges the gap between the quintessential high school geek and the bubbly fashionista comes together not just through my biracial identity, but also through my ridiculous affinity for old music that they’ve both imparted onto me. Some may call it snobby, but I truly do believe that we will never get an album like Jeff Buckley’s “Grace” ever again. 

While my parents didn’t introduce me to all of the pre-Y2K music that I love, they did get the ball rolling on what would become a central part of my identity. Once they formally introduced me to the best of ’90s grunge, pop and rock, it was up to me to branch out into the subgenres of ’90s music and continue my journey through the best decade of music on my own. 

From shoegaze to Britpop to ska, I found myself in a boundless meadow of music to frolic in forever. With the ’90s renaissance underway that has been influencing all aspects of Gen Z style and culture today, I can’t help but think about what my parents were like at 20 — the type of clothes they wore, their favorite movies, their favorite places to go. In a way, familiarizing myself with the ins and outs of ’90s music has made me feel closer to them despite the physical distance I’ve always had from my dad and the ever-complicated nature of my relationship with my mom. 

While I will never get to experience what life was like for my parents in their teens and early 20s, I took it upon myself to bring the music of their youth into my own adolescence. 

“Alright” by Supergrass brings me back to the summer before college when I drove to Assateague Island with my best friends, watching the horses prance on the beach with the windows rolled down. Mazzy Star’s wonderfully sentimental “Fade Into You” transports me back to Bixby Bridge in Big Sur, driving down Highway 1 on a Central California road trip with my partner. Literally anything by Pixies reminds me of hanging out at the local skate shop with my high school friend group, without whom I couldn’t have survived all-girls Catholic high school.

When I come back home to visit, my mom always gives me the aux. I’ll put on some deep cuts from the bands that we love, and I’ll mix in some bands I know she hasn’t heard before. While at times we don’t always see eye to eye, I know we’ll always be able to connect over Billy Corgan’s bops. 

​“Jam Journal” is a rotating column featuring a new Daily Trojan editor in each installment commenting on the music most important to them. Halo Lyman is the chief copy editor at the Daily Trojan.

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