Thinking back on my life, some of the happiest moments happened in the Spring. I was, after all, born in the Spring, though to be specific, late Spring. Graduations, birthdays, new jobs, vacations, many of them happened between March and June. Attached to those happy memories are songs that spark those nostalgic feelings and emotions whenever I hear them.
Here are the top 10 songs that bring back happy Spring memories for me.
10.) Turn Me On – Davie Guetta featuring Nicki Minaj
Hey, did you know I knew Nicki Minaj in Junior High School? She hung out with some of the same friends I did in Ozone Park, Queens. In the April 2012, I gave a speech at career day at JHS 232, Elizabeth Blackwell Junior High School where this was the most interesting tidbit to the students there. Turns out Minaj is the school’s most beloved alumnus. One of the students turned me on to her collaboration with David Guetta that year, part of his hit album of collaborations that include “Titanium” with Sia, “Without You” with Usher and “When Dem Girls At” with Flo Rida.
It became my jam of the season, the song I put on full blast while zipping down the Cross Island Parkway at 70 mph, or cranked up on my headphones while finishing out my last story for that week’s edition of the Queens Tribune. But the memory that I most associate with song, besides of course being Nicki’s cool junior high school friend at 232, came that June. After a long day of going out covering stories, I sat in my car outside the Knights of Columbus Hall in South Ozone Park listening to Turn Me On waiting for the Queens Community Board 10 meeting to start, one of my monthly assignments to cover as a South Queens reporter.
After I got out of my car and walked to the meeting on the beautiful warm June evening, humming “Turn Me On” as I walked across Lefferts Boulevard, I saw Anna, my colleague from my sister paper the Queens Chronicle. Anna and I had developed a friendship over the years covering the same beat and sitting with each other at meetings. As we gathered outside the hall for the meeting, the community board chair congratulated her. I inquired on what and Anna said she was leaving for a new job. I pounced.
“How do I get your job?” I asked. Her face lit up and later that night the publisher called to informally hire me (I still had to go through the interview process). The move was a promotion with higher pay and more clout on the beat. It also got me out of a toxic work environment.
The new job also put me on the Education beat, and the ongoing saga over former Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s plan to close a number of city high schools and reopen them as “educational campuses.” One of my sources was a chapter leader for the United Federation of Teachers, the teachers union, who also taught at 232 and had taught Minaj 15 years earlier.
We outside the main entrance of Nicki’s junior high school on a warm late-Spring day to chat about education policy when “Turn Me On” played from a passing car stereo.
“That’s Nicki,” i told him, “In case you’re wondering what she’s up to now.”
The song always brings me back to that Spring where my journalism career seemed almost at its pinnacle.
9.) Intro- The XX
Spring weather in New York City can be an exciting roller coaster of conditions. Beautiful bright sunny days, cold snaps, unexpected heat waves, and long stretches of showery weather as storm systems detach from fronts and meander along the coast.
One such example of the latter was in the Spring of 2010, where for about five days, it just rained. And not a happy warm soothing rain, the type of raw rain that chills you to the bone, the type that isn’t quite a downpour, but definitely more than a mist or drizzle, and enough for passing cars to splash in, making that audible “SWISH” sound as they drive by.
In late March 2010, I was sent out to cover a rather thrilling event – the Internal Revenue Service was doing an all day workshop with students at Queens College to show them as they take down financial criminals. This was the cool side of the IRS, not the pencil pushers in the audit department, but the gun-toting law enforcement offers who raid tax-dodging, money-laundering operations. The symposium, called the “Adrian Project” brought students through the process of investigating and solving financial crimes, and arresting the suspects and executing warrants. I was there to write a feature story on it.
It occurred however on a day when New York City was being socked by one of our classic coastal storms – a Nor’Easter. As I sat in my car at 6:45 in the morning, the sky still dark because the clouds and rain made the rising sun almost irrelevant, I was listening to a morning talk show and watching the windshield wipers swish side to side, fighting with the drenching rain. That’s the first time I heard “Intro.”
It was one of the first times I ever hit the “Shazam” app on my phone. I downloaded the song into my library to listen to later. The rest of that day found me taking part in the mock investigation with the students, studying evidence and narrowing down a list of suspects, before getting a warrant from a judge and staging the takedown. It was a long nine hour day, but it was exciting. At the end of it, I drove home to immediately write my 2,500 word feature piece. The storm raged on and I listen to “Intro” on repeat while writing my story, the raindrops slamming on my window just outside.
When I heard this song next, years later in my career as a realtor working in the office, my body shivered suddenly, reminded of that chilly rainy Spring day in 2010 when I got to cover one of the most exciting feature stories on my career.
8.) Ms. Jackson – Outkast
When I think of happy Spring memories, I’m often brought back to the years I graduated high school and college. Those event still fill me with pride and sense of accomplishment to this day; not to mention that “wise elder” feeling I got when I was a Senior. Three years of looking up to the underclassmen, imaging what I would be as one, and there I was; one of them.
In April 2001, I had taken a family trip to Hawaii during Easter Break and came back baked by the tropical sun. I’m typically fare skin, especially when I was younger, but Hawaiian sun is a special kind of strong. Though I got a pretty nasty burn sunbathing in Kona, by the time I got back to New York for my Senior retreat with my classmates, that burn had turned into an olive-toned tan.
I went to a Catholic high school (St. Francis Preparatory School) so we had regular retreats to Camp Alvenia, a retreat camp for the Franciscan monks who ran our schools out on Long Island. It was a giant estate on the Long Island Sound with a beach, basketball and tennis courts, a retreat house and wooded areas to walk and observe nature. It was in Freshman year that my friend Stella and I walked the grounds and opened up to each other about life and our hopes for the future. As cliché as it is to say, the retreats did what the campus ministry hoped, allowed us students a day away from the rigours of academics to engage in social development and get to know and like each other.
The Senior retreat was like a goodbye so to speak. It would be the last one and students were given one of maybe two dozen retreat days to choose from. Students often attended with friends, so my friends and I picked a day in April, hoping the weather would be springlike. It was sunny, but abnormally chilly for April. Still, it was nice enough for us to spend our free few hours between prayer and group sessions to sit by the Long Island Sound and listen to music and chat. Yes, we smoked some marijuana on the retreat. Sorry Sister Diane, we were young and stupid, but even without passing around the joint in the forest, we felt a type of bonding on that retreat that continues to bring me happy memories two decades later.
Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson” is the one song that brings be back to the retreat by the Sound. Imagine, if you will, happy teenagers, their high school graduation just months away, bopping to the piano interlude to this song, trying to imitate Andre 3000’s singing voice:
Forever, forever, forever ever, forever ever?
Yes, it’s a memory that will last forever ever.
7.) A New Day Has Come – Celine Dion
The winter of 2001-2002 wasn’t a great one. I was a college freshman struggling to keep it together as the trauma of September 11th made me afraid to leave my house and drive to Long Island for school, on the off chance New York City is gone when I return. I was also working long hours at the card department in Barnes and Nobles.
The winter seemed to drag on forever. The aftermath of 9/11 hung over everything like a dark cloud on a blustery day. It felt like we were all waiting for a sign that we can turn the page and begun healing and building anew.
But then the temperatures warmed, the days got longer. the forsythias on the median of Robert Moses’ Long Island parkways exploded in waves of yellow, and the colorful trees on Hofstra University’s campus (which doubles as an arboretum) brought a new day. The imagery in lyrics Celine sings; rain washing away tears, filling the soul, drowning the fears, shattering the wall, all expressed what it felt like to watch spring bloom in 2002.
Fittingly, Celine Dion made her post-childbirth comeback that Spring with a song that seemed perfectly fitted for the time; a city and a country that spend a winter grieving from the shock and trauma of September 11th. That spring, it got warm very quickly. The weather went from frigid mornings to 90-degree afternoon in less than a month. It did feel like a new day had come, and it came fast and was welcomed. It felt like we could finally breath again. On gorgeous sunny Spring days in 2002, I would sit in the grass in the quad at Hofstra or take the subway into Manhattan to stroll around Central Park and browse at Borders and The Strand, my happy go-to places and listen to this song. It made me feel inspired and aspirational. It made me think about what was the next step in my life; changing my major from Broadcast Journalism to Political Science; joining the staff at WRHU, Hofstra’s radio station which became a turning point in my life and a place where I grew most as a person.
Now that I write this, this song seems to fit the mood today, in 2022, as well. Replace 9/11 with the COVID-19 Pandemic, that appears to be drawing to a close, at least where I am in the United States. We have walked through the darkness and a light is appearing on the horizon. A new day has come.
6.) Sex On Fire – Kings Of Leon
It was finally warm enough to open the windows.
In the Spring of 2009, I was a rudderless, confused 25 year old who had just gotten laid off from his promising job as a television producer at Long Island’s PBS station- WLIW21; one of the victims of the financial crisis. What my next step would be was still in question. With no jobs out there to apply for, and no offers coming in, I often stayed in bed late and refused to get up or shower or do anything remotely productive.
As the weather turned warmer, I realized I had to get up and get out, let the sun hit my face, if I wanted to somehow get out of the funk. I started by camping out in the room in my attic that was always my favorite place, where I used to stare at the Manhattan skyline and listen to music when I was in high school (I wrote about it in my Autumn song list). My grandmother was living upstairs at the time, but she stayed out of the attic during the day, so I commandeered the “TV room” as we called it, opened the windows and let the fresh air pour in. I would lay on her futon and watch the curtains dance in the chilly breeze, which seemed to get warmer and warmer everyday and listen to the sounds of the city outside. I listened to the sounds of car horns, subway trains, sirens and someone in the distance blasting “Sex on Fire” by Kings of Leon, at least once a day, for nearly three weeks. I never knew who it was, probably someone who was a fan of Kings of Leon playing it on their stereo with their windows open, but I always knew whoever it was would play it sometime between 1 and 2 p.m.
I had heard the song before, but didn’t know what it was at the time. “Sex on Fire” was one of those songs that got stuck in your head and you find yourself humming or quietly singing the chorus at random times during the day: in the shower; while cooking; while making your bed or folding laundry. It became almost an anthem for me that scary Spring when the economy was teetering on depression and my career prospects were uncertain. I sat in the backyard on warm sunny days listening to this song on my iPod, and had it playing while running through Forest Park trying, in vain, to keep my “quit smoking” weight off, or hiking up and around Bear Mountain, all things I did to take my mind off the situation I found myself in.
Today when I hear it, I’m taken back to that Spring when there were no jobs to apply for, or money to make, but I still had dreams, aspirations and, what I miss most of all, my youth.
5.) Midnight City – M83
There was a time just before I turned 30 that I hit the “alternative rock” stage. I began frequenting bars in Williamsburg and Greenpoint that often played the Alt-Rock, electronic-rock, synth-pop and all the non-mainstream pop hits of the day; Death Cab By Cutie, Cage The Elephant, Silversun Pickups, Arctic Monkey, MGMT and so on. It wasn’t my first time in the scene, having been on a Franz Ferdinand, Modest Mouse and Empire Of The Sun trip in college. The music made me feel young again as I closed the door on my 20s.
That year I became obsessed with the alt-rock channel on my Sirius radio in my car. I listened to it during my nine-minute commute to work in the morning and when I would drive to Brooklyn or Long Island City to meet with friends and several songs that were in regular rotation became personal favourites. The one song that takes me back to that era is this one, “Midnight City” by M83.
This song, and the French-American electronic rock band’s follow up “Reunion” brings me back to the Spring of 2012 when I began writing my first, still-unpublished novel Lower Than The Angels and began work at the Queens Chronicle and I would go for long drives to Rockaway Beach or East River State Park in Long Island City to get some after-work fresh air and people watch.
Those happy memories sustained me last Spring when I was stuck inside for 55 days avoiding COVID-19, missing New York come alive in the warming months, and listening to this song helped me weather those lonely days in 2020 when we were imprisoned for our own safety.
4.) If You Had My Love – Jennifer Lopez
I struggled through a tough winter in early 1999. I was going through some of my first “adult” issues in my life, compounded by the arrival of the internet in my household and the start of “cyberbullying.” Imagine being a 15-year old whose bullies now had to ability to continue the bullying after school hours on America Online?
It was a new experience, and a scary one. In April of 1999, an elementary school classmate of mine catfished me on AOL, and coerced me to come out in an instant message conversation, which he later emailed to everyone on my Buddy List – including family. The experience left me exposed and terrified. Fortunately, it occurred just before Easter Recess, where I would be out of school for ten days, away from the mobs of classmates and bullies and others I felt vulnerable to. I could hide in my cocoon for a week and a half and let the bad stuff pass. And that’s what I did.
On my way home from school on the last day before the break, I did what I often did, stopped in Queens Center Mall and browsed Sam Goody, the record store in the basement of the mall where I bought most of my albums at the time. On the walls were advertisements for albums due to be released in the coming weeks and months, and over the register, where I had seen Metallica’s “Reload” and Britney Spears “…Baby One More Time” advertised before their releases, was Jennifer Lopez’s “On The 6” album cover.
I was familiar with J. Lo from her roles in Selena and Anaconda and was surprised to see her cross over into music, which has since probably been where she’s been more successful. On the way home from the mall that day, I heard “If You Had My Love” on the radio for the first time listening to my Walkman with the radio tuner. Man, it was like the Stone Age back then, wasn’t it?
Back in those days, before Napster, Limewire and Apple Radio, you would record new hit songs before they came out right off the radio. Just throw a blank cassette tape in the stereo and listen intensively, catching your new favourite song just as it starts and press Record.
That Spring Recess, I sat on my front stoop, sucking up the warm Spring air, hoping to go back to school with a tan so my classmates didn’t think I spent the whole ten days locked away in my room like a loser.
This song takes me back to that April, taking long walks through my neighbourhood; watching work trains roll back and forth along the elevated subway line near my house – there was track work being done during that time; sitting out front on the stoop reading whatever book my English teacher had assigned us to read during break, looking real good in my tight white t-shirts and Gap jeans. Ah, to be young again!
3.) Rozes- The Chainsmokers
There is a specific type of weather that lets you know its Spring in New York City. It’s that first bright sunny day in late March or early April where it starts off cold, but quickly warms up enough to ditch a jacket and open the windows. The air stops smelling like snow, and starts smelling more floral and green, almost like a salad. There is no chill, only a welcoming sense of warmth.
It’s those days that Chainsmoker’s “Rozes” takes me back to. The first warm Spring day of March 2016, lying on the floor of my partner’s Brighton Beach apartment staring out the open window as the sea breeze battles the warm air and take their fight to my face.
It takes me back to the first warm day of April 2016 when I decided to take a trip to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens to check out the cherry blossoms and the Japanese garden, before driving over the Manhattan Bridge to meet friends for an outdoor lunch on the Lower East Side. It takes me back to May 2016, doing flights of Rockaway Brewery’s latest brews before filling growlers with my favorites to bring home for Memorial Day Weekend.
In the Springs since, that etherial beat in the song’s chorus after Rozes’ angelic “Say you’ll never let me go” brings me back to those early warm days; opening the window to let in the fresh Spring air at an open house or driving around with my moonroof and windows open, letting the Spring air whip through my car.
Brighter and warmer days are coming.
2.) Drive- Incubus
Believe or not, I was terrified to learn how to drive.
In 1993, my grandmother’s uncle and cousin were killed in a car accident on a busy stretch of Route 25 in Selden, New York, about 60 miles east of New York City on Long Island. The only survivor was my grandmother’s cousin’s son, Vincent, who was at the wheel of the car at the time of the accident. That crash left a long-lasting phobia about driving in me.
But as I got closer to the legal age to drive, I realized that I would have to get over that fear. Driving is a rite of passage for most teenagers in America, and its no different for one in Queens. The cool Seniors had cars and drive to school, the loser still took the bus. I had no excuse not to get my driver’s license in Senior Year except my own irrational fears.
I took driver’s ed and passed my driver’s test (and the third try) in December 2000. For several months after I got my license, I drove only close to me, and only on local roads. I avoided highways, they scared the crap out of me.
That is until my older cousin let me drive his Chevy Malibu on May evening. Though I was only supposed to be moving it around the block into my driveway, he instead decided I should take it on a joyride, onto the Belt Parkway. It was an anxious fifteen minutes, and I veered into traffic a couple of time, but I did it. I drove on the highway.
I found it ironic that Incubus had this song out at the same time I was learning, and getting over my fear of driving. Even though “drive” in the song is a metaphor, the literal meaning hit home for me that Spring. A lot of change happened: I turned 18 years old, I graduated high school, no more curfews and I could buy cigarettes. I was also able to drive.
Today, when I hear the opening guitar riffs of this song, I remember the sense of freedom and independence I felt when I got over my fear of driving and enjoyed what seemed to be way everyone else gets around.
1.) Move Along – The All American Rejects
May 21, 2006 will remain one of my top five best days ever.
It was the day I did what I had always thought, right up until the final week before it happened, was impossible. I graduated college.
That Spring was full of a lot of really thrilling memories. The building excitement and anxiety over my imminent college graduation left me a chaotic ball of energy all Spring. I went on a Senior class trip to Washington D.C., where I got to stand on the floor of the House of Representatives, see the inside of the Supreme Court and meet elected officials. I furiously applied for jobs and sought post-graduation opportunities and most of all, I made sure every I was dotted and every T was crossed because it still felt unbelievable to me that I would soon be graduating college.
You see, I was the first male in my immediate family to graduate college. It was a feat that even I wasn’t sure I could do. When I was a freshman, I looked at my DAR, which was sort of like my unfinished transcript that showed all the classes I had to take and exams I had to pass to graduate. It overwhelmed me. I had a minor panic attack and even at one point thought about ending my life, but I quickly perished that thought and talked myself into believing the impossible. That I could do it.
A couple of days before graduation, I was shopping at American Eagle at Bay Terrace, a shopping centre in Bayside, Queens, It was there that I heard The All-American Reject’s “Move Along” and felt this rush of positivity and happiness run over me. I hummed the song the entire way back to the car in the warm spring sunshine. The lyrics spoke to me, it was the story of my college experience; a roller coaster that often put me in hopeless places, where I gave myself no other option but to “move along.”
At my graduation on May 21, I carried with me the new iPod my parents bought me and played the song as I walked on stage to receive my diploma and shake hands with the dean. I listened to the chorus as I moved the tassel from one side to the other. I had done it. I had graduated college.
Ever since, this song brings me back to that day and reminds me, even in the darkest moments, the things you believe are impossible…are possible.