Songs with Baggage

A few weeks ago, we launched a new project. It’s called Songs with Baggage, and it’s all about the songs that make us feel a little something extra.

It’s in conjunction with the exhibition Baggage Claims, which is at WAM for a precious few more days, until May 12th. The exhibition is all about baggage, metaphorical and literal. It has luggage that contains the remains of a past relationship, videos of people walking mysteriously towards a homeland that may or may not exist, carrying their lives with them...

In a very real way, we’re all always carrying baggage, and we never totally feel at home.

And songs are a big part of that. When we hear them, we are transported to a past moment. For me, the song that I think of is Let It Go, by James Bay. It was our song, if you know what I mean, and I remember slow dancing to it, in my tiny apartment. And now I can’t hear it without remembering times that used to be, and being grateful for the times that we had.

I’m a believer in the idea that we are constantly new people. Everyday we wake up and we create the world anew, and ourselves anew. We can decide who we want to be (and if we wanted to, we could move to New Mexico and be totally new and different people, although I would never do that, because I would move to Idaho). Every now and then, sometimes overnight, and sometimes over a long time, we become new people, sometimes intentionally, and other times unintentionally.

Songs can be a way for us to become spookily entangled with past versions of ourselves, the people we no longer are but once were. We can become entangled with a version of ourselves that loved someone, for instance, or a version of ourselves that was strong enough to leave someone that we loved. Or maybe, we are reminded of our own recoveries from trauma, or the traumas that are ongoing.

Songs have baggage for us. They carry more weight than we expect.

With that in mind, we’ve been collecting your Songs with Baggage, and we’ve compiled them into a playlist. You can find that here, or through the screen below. Listen to the songs, and let’s help each other out with the baggage that we carry. As you listen to the songs and read the stories, remember that none of us are alone. We always have each other, and we have art.

To the people who submitted their songs and their stories: thank you. I cried along with all of you and your stories, and I promise that I will carry them with me. Hopefully your baggage is a little bit lighter. Art is a way of dealing with baggage, and as a museum, we are happy to help you how we can.

The following stories have been lightly edited for clarity.


I've Got That Tune, Chinese Man

The band name simply makes feel home, closer to my own identity as a Chinese who lives abroad overseas, I feel connected. I learned this song when I was abroad in another country and a new friend introduced this song to me and we danced and drank.

Die Young, Sylvan Esso

I met this girl who was really into this song and we listened to it together. The lyrics say "now I gotta wait for you honey." She left to study abroad. I hoped that she would wait for me. She didn't.

Maria I’m DrunkTravis Scott feat. Justin Bieber and Young Thug

It reminds me of hanging out with old friends.

Antichrist, The 1975

It reminds me of my mental illnesses.

Old Town Road, Lil Nas X feat. Billy Ray Cyrus

It reminds me of when I was a child and I went to my Great Grandmas farm in Iowa. It got handed down to my Grandpa after she passed away and unfortunately he moved and I miss the house a lot.

Love Sosa, Chief Keef

It reminds me of my first heartbreak and I didn’t take the aftermath too well so I played this song on repeat.

Space, Maren Morris

I grew up in a small town, and a lot of the time it felt like everyone around me would notice if I showed even the slightest weakness. It created this habit of hiding my emotions so that they wouldn't be seen as weakness. This song has always reminded me of the sometimes suffocating ways that small towns care for their own, and how important it is to recognize when you need to get away, even for just a little bit.

Alabanza, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mandy Gonzalez, 'In The Heights' by the Original Broadway Company

In the fall of my junior year of high school, a friend of mine committed suicide. At his funeral, many of the people who had been in the school's production of In The Heights with him sang this song. It's sung at a point in the show where a lot of the characters are grappling with an unexpected death.

With suicide, there's this weird period where you shift between disbelief and total gut-wrenching sorrow. You manage to take a few deep breaths and steady yourself, and then it hits you again harder than before, washing over you until you feel like you're drowning. You both do and do not accept what's happened. Sitting there, seeing the pain on the faces of my community, squeezing the hands of the people next to me, hearing the emotion being poured into this song—that was the moment that I believed it. That was the moment that I knew.

Fake Plastic Trees, Radiohead

I listened to this song and the rest of Radiohead's The Bends album on repeat throughout high school. It was during a period of growth and a lot of pain, as high school wasn't easy for me (much like it is for most people). I was in a suffocating place, surrounded by toxicity and close-mindedness. This song helped me cope with that.

Yesterday, Atmosphere

For me this song represents the melancholy of human relationships, and the misdirection of time and energy. I gave so much attention and effort to newer different friends in my life often neglecting the ones from my childhood.

Separate world I grew up in, and as a student at the U, I could forget what neighborhood I was from, and the poverty that makes my blue collar roots. Now I have student loans to live off of, and friends whose parents bankroll them, I could forget about the daily decisions of paying what bill, and what extra job to pick up when. I, for a while now, have turned my back on the class that informs every part of my identity. Not to be ironic, but at the time of filling out this survey, yesterday (the song title) I buried one of my oldest friends. I have known him forever, and as of the last few years became a rock in the community. But just as Atmosphere "But you knew me back when I was a younger me you've seen me in all types of life and I've been meaning to ask you if I'm doing alright" about the fear of how you're reading to the people who knew you in a different life. "I can't front, I'm having a blast" about how much easier it is to be in school, with people's biggest worry is failing a class, and not about another uncle or neighbor who got cancer and doesn't have health insurance. He goes on about it, and a first time listener would probably assume it's about an ex girlfriend, but he later reveals it was about his dad who had passed. "I thought I saw you yesterday, but I know it wasn't you, ‘cause you passed away, Dad." The first time I listened to this song after my friend's death, I was walking on the sidewalk and it hit me so hard I bent over and just cried. But just as Atmosphere's dad and my friend, "You disappeared, but the history is still here." I'll never forget you friend <3 RIP

Perfect Day, Lou Reed

It's the last song I listened together with someone I was obsessed with through one ear bud in front of a subway station. In the past 7 years, whenever my phone playlist shuffles to the song Perfect Day by Lou Reed, I stop what I do and take a picture of whatever is in front of me.

Kiss Me on the Bus, The Replacements

The theme to the sweetest most romantic evening of my life at Midway Stadium's last gasp. we rode the shuttle to the show, of course (we walked the train tracks holding hands back)... I fell in love.

This Is What It Feels Like, Armin van Buuren

My husband was deployed, and I was living alone in an unfamiliar state with no family or friends to speak of. I took up running just to try to stay sane, just up and down the one little stretch of sidewalk outside our rural Florida apartment. The song was part of my daily playlist from the minute he left until he got back. I can’t listen to it now without being reminded of how terrible it is to be truly alone on this planet.

Animal, Neon Trees

We would duet it together during long car rides or guitar sing-alongs. Turns out he had another duet partner in the wings when I traveled for work.

Believe, Benjamin Booker

“I just want to believe in something, I don’t care if it’s right or wrong / I cannot make it on my own”. Pretty much sums up how I feel right now.

Subversives, The Lowest of the Low

Twenty years ago when I met the guy I ended up marrying, he played this song for me on our 3rd date. It was our song and as the relationship grew stronger and we knew we were going to get married, we always were playing it and singing it to each other. We were married in 2000. We became parents of two adopted kiddos in 2009 who had special needs. After we became parents (which I thought was our dream), the marriage fell apart in a huge way with incidents of domestic violence toward me and our children. In 2012 I finally got the courage and strength to leave and file for divorce, asking for sole custody in order to protect the kids. It took me 4.5 years to get the divorce finalized, but it became final in 2016. There are lyrics in the song about not being able to be apart and knowing the other person so well that you are always together and grow old together. That's what I thought my future would be 20 years ago, but it is now far from that. I'm happier being on my own and parenting on my own, but this song definitely brings back the memories of everything we went through and the tears start flowing.

Hide and Seek, Imogen Heap

When this song first came out, my sister was at her worst with bulimia and alcoholism. The vague lyrics allowed me to hang my own weight and symbolism on them. It’s been over 10 years and sometimes I still can’t listen to this song.

Frozen in Slow Motion, Brett Dennen

Takes me to a place I long to live and this potential move gets in the way of my life here, in Minnesota.

Elastic Heart, Sia

My daughter had experienced a significant amount of trauma and abuse before coming to live with me when she was 8. Everybody had given up on her and abandoned her in her life, except for me. When she was 14, her emotions that she was holding in had burst and she was threatening suicide, homicide, self-injury, running away at least once a day. I had to seek significant therapeutic help for her out of the home. While away, her therapist played her this song and my daughter really identified with it. It became her theme song to get through the next couple years, which were rough and scary for our family. The song is about finding the strength inside to realize life is worth living, despite overwhelming emotions and hurt one might experience. I cry every time I hear this song, as it makes me think about how far my daughter has come in her recovery from trauma and how she is now a positive and bright young lady with many future dreams in the horizon. Nobody can stand in her way. Ever.

Open, Rhye

It's really the whole album but that first song always makes me think of my ex. She introduced me to that record and I immediately fell in love with it. We saw them live when we were both dating different people but after we got together that LP took on a whole new meaning, especially the first song. The lyrics just laid out all the things I felt about her. We'd listen to it in bed and I was convinced that she was the one and that we'd be together forever. Obviously we didn't and there ended up being a lot of things about her (and myself) that contributed to a very unhealthy relationship towards the end. She broke my heart and to this day (almost three years later) I can't bring myself to listen to more than a couple seconds of that song before turning it off. It plays in the background of a very pivotal scene in the upcoming Olivia Wilde film, Booksmart, and I absolutely lost it in the theater, nearly crying uncontrollably. That's what that song does to me now.

STUART DEETS (HE/HIM/HIS) WAM PROGRAMS ASSISTANT, 1ST YEAR PH.D. STUDENT ART HISTORY.  Originally from Wisconsin, Stuart Deets is an art historian who believes that art, at its best, gives us a means of negotiating our life in common. His art historical work focuses on the Anthropocene (the proposed geologic age in which humans have become the dominant ecological force), and eco-criticism. Throw him a follow on Twitter at @stuart_tweets