This year's Smith Reads book choice is a collection of essays by Ross Gay that celebrates the search for "ordinary wonders" in challenging times. Gay will give a poetry reading on Tuesday, Sept. 26, at 7 p.m. in John M. Greene Hall and will also hold a special session with new students.
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Not Your Mother’s Music
Phoebe Kallaher ’25 spins the most-loved tunes from decades past
After attending an Indigo Girls concert with her mother last summer, Phoebe Kallaher ’25 got curious. Her mom had loved the Indigo Girls during her own college years, in the early 1990s, and clearly so had hundreds of other similarly aged women at the show. That got Kallaher, a history major, wondering about the musical touchstones of past generations.
So, last fall, Kallaher surveyed alums and students about their favorite music and the memories that go with it. From some 200 responses, she mined enough to create a weekly radio show, So Last Year, on Smith’s station, WOZQ, 91.9 FM.
Over the course of 10 weeks, Kallaher, as DJ Bygone Bee, took her listeners on a hit-parade tour of Smithie favorites, from songs by Elvis in the 1950s to the Beatles and Bob Dylan in the 1960s, from Joni Mitchell to Van Halen, Blondie, the Talking Heads, Tracy Chapman, Ani DiFranco, and, yes, the Indigo Girls.
Kallaher created a weekly radio show, So Last Year, on Smith’s station, WOZQ. Hearing anecdotes about the role that music played in past decades brought those days to life for her.
What she discovered is that popular music is like a time machine, with the power to cast you back to when you first heard a particular bass line or poignant lyric. An alumna from the class of 1977 describes being catapulted back to the halls of Tyler House whenever she hears Stevie Wonder. Another alum, class of 1988, recalls, “There was a month in the fall of ’84 where you could walk from Wilson House to Green Street and hear a–ha’s ‘Take on Me’ playing continuously.” Similarly, an alum from 2001 remembers walking from the Quad to her 9 a.m. class to the beat of Lauryn Hill or Bob Marley blasted from Park House. “Cannot listen to either without thinking back to those walks,” she writes. Different decades, different sounds, same effect.
Parties were a big part of the memories, so Kallaher devoted a show to those memorable rocking tunes. “It was kind of crazy to hear about all the stories from the ’80s and ’90s,” she says. “There’s a lot less party culture at Smith now.”
From the class of 1982 came this memory: “I remember waking up to the sound of dripping through my ceiling and the bass line from [the B-52’s] ‘Rock Lobster’ playing. It was a keg that was leaking through the ceiling to my bedroom.” A 2012 alum remembers her first big campus party; it was themed “I Kissed a Girl,” based on the Katy Perry hit. “There were bowls of cherry Chapstick everywhere,” she writes. “I didn’t kiss a girl that night, but it’s still a fun memory.”
For the history-minded Kallaher, hearing anecdotes about the role that music played in past decades brought those days to life. “Thinking about people listening to these songs made them seem so real,” she says. “It also made me think about myself as one of those alums thinking back on my time at Smith and what music my friends and I listened to 30 years ago when we were in college.”
What will be Kallaher’s own musical touchstones decades from now? She favors woman-led bands and vocalists, like Japanese Breakfast. A standout memory so far is going with her Gardiner housemates to a Sammy Rae & the Friends concert at Pearl Street Nightclub. But she also figures the class of 2025 will always have a soft spot for the perennial names of her time: “Oh, you know, Taylor Swift and Phoebe Bridgers.”
This story appears in the Spring 2023 issue of the Smith Alumnae Quarterly.