As Heard By

A new collaborative project. A place for memories of music to live. 

By Lizzie Racklin


If you play the right Jim Croce song and pour enough wine, my dad will tell you about his life. One night, it was “Operator,” playing on a dying bluetooth speaker in an isolated New Hampshire cabin. Upon hearing the opening line, someone brought up their confusion about how an operator moving wires around could ever result in a phone call.

My dad looked up and, not really answering the question, told us that during one of his first summers in America, he worked at a factory making a small, specific part of a telephone switchboard.

He described his boss, “a tall, well-built man named Cliff who talked about his divorce all the time,” and his coworker, who was “5’11” and weighed 270 and played guard on the high school football team. He was a nice kid. He was in a rock band whose signature was that they drove around in a hearse.”

These kinds of details about his early life come sparingly from my father. After coming to the United States at 15, he disavowed essentially everything from the crumbling Soviet Union of his childhood, with its antisemitic prejudice and institutional neglect. He changed the spelling of his first and last names and adopted strong appreciations for assimilation and the free market.

Later, during the same stay in New Hampshire, we gathered around a makeshift fire pit in the driveway. The conversation somehow turned to pop-punk, which prompted us kids to ask our parents what their “angry teenager music” was. We drifted from Janice Ian to The Clash to the week in the 90s where everyone was into Gregorian chants, and eventually, my father brought up the underground samizdat tapes he listened to while growing up in the USSR.

Hearing him speak a word in Russian is rare, so we all listened. I pulled out my phone and he typed in the names of singers he could remember from the dissident movements of his youth. We found a live rendition of a Vladimir Vysotsky song, played safely on TV in France. The rhythmic, very Russian song intertwined with the Fall Out Boy coming from the speaker, blending into a weird, discordant mashup of our teenage angst.

We asked him how he would get a hold of these tapes:

“From a friend.”

“How did they get them?”

He laughed. “From a friend.”

We asked if his parents knew that he had the illegal recordings:

“They had their own upstairs!”

It is possible to feel full and hungry at the same time. When someone I love tells a previously untold story, they become both closer and more foreign to me. Learning more shows me how much I still don’t know.

I’m obsessed with this kind of memory, details that fill in the lives whose outlines I generally understand. They aren’t necessary in a government-form or security-question kind of way, but their specificity feels so crucial to understanding the people around me — the time they had hiccups for a week, the bullshit their siblings told them about the tooth fairy, the day they lost their shoe on a muddy hike.

These anecdotes are often brought up upon hearing the first notes of a familiar song. Their mouth breaks open, tilts to the side as they dig for the words, and they point up at the speaker. A memory is wrestled out from the couch cushions by the song that was playing when their crush asked them to dance at a bar mitzvah, or the Top 100 ballad that was blasting when they got into their first fender bender. Sometimes, songs evoke the smallest instances, an image or a scent or a freaked-the-fuck-out pang in your stomach.

For example:

I once had to pee unbelievably badly in my mom’s car and sang along in real agony to the punctuated “oh oh oh oh ohs” in Alicia Keys’s “No One,” playing on Kiss 108, Boston’s #1 Hit Music Station.

My parents once played the music video for Bonnie Tyler’s “It’s a Heartache” for me over Zoom, hoping it would make me laugh and provide comfort after a breakup. I started tearing up and took an Ativan off-camera.

I would play “Nights” by Frank Ocean every single morning on the drive to school during my senior year of high school, apologizing to my younger sister each time because I knew the repetition annoyed her.

I remember the bend in the road I was looking at when I first heard “Paint It, Black” by The Rolling Stones.

The entire Pretty. Odd. album by Panic! At the Disco brings up the taste of Odwalla green smoothies because of a specific middle-school summer.

And for years, any time I was on a flight, I would listen to “This Time Tomorrow” by The Kinks during takeoff to drown out thoughts of engine failure and oxygen masks.

My approximate location when I first heard “Paint It, Black”

This is a small number of memories that can be called to mind by a small number of songs. I often wonder about the stories that I won’t get to hear because the right song might never play.

In that vein, I wanted to create a place for these music-specific memories to live. I want you to send in stories or memories associated with songs — not necessarily your favorite song but one that is inextricably linked to a moment in your life. It can be three sentences or three pages. Or less or more. Thank you.

Please send submissions to: