The other day, while listening to 1990s radio on Pandora, I was transported back to a high school assembly, one meant to deliver doses of optimism and confidence to teens.

The assembly was packed with stories of perseverance. I don’t recall a single narrative, but what I do remember is the video montage set to the song “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips. It was 1990 and that song spoke to 14-year-old me in a way that I struggle to articulate.

Cheesy? Yes. Did I admit it to anyone? Absolutely not.

But it did exactly what the program designers hoped it would. It reached me when I needed to trust that I was going to get through and that things could change tomorrow if I just held on for one more day.

The songs of my youth pipe through Pandora and I remember my dad driving and listening to the 1960s music on the radio. I cannot believe I’ve reached the days when my favorite songs are now deemed “oldies.” But these ’90s songs strung together create the soundtrack of my formative years.

They are the songs that soothed adolescent me, songs that gave credence to my angst and songs that pumped me full of hope.

I do not come from a family of wholehearted communicators. Like many other Gen-Xers, I was raised to be self-reliant, and tough love was my lot in life. I didn’t hear the words “I love you” until I was much older. I was fed, clothed and shuttled to my extracurriculars.

So, love was something I supposedly understood without many soft places to land.

Along with self-reliance came self-soothing and navigating options for coping to hopefully find a healthy one. I smoked cigarettes as a teen, so obviously, I didn’t always choose wisely.

Music spoke to me, though. Maybe because I latched on to music at an early age through piano lessons followed by guitar lessons and then high school band. It was my go-to outlet.

I was never alone with music. Poetry could become songs inside my notebook, or I could tinker for hours with a melody on my piano. The stereo sat next to my piano in what I called the music room of the house. Sometimes I played both, rewinding a cassette tape again and again as I tried to figure out how to play a favorite song from the radio on my piano.

In the age of mixtapes for crushes and best friends, I made one for myself to help me when I was feeling down. One side had all the sad and angry songs I loved to wallow in to help “get it out.” The flip side lined up all my favorite bring-me-back songs and served as my hype man, or my “you got this” girl.

If it was delivered with music, I got the message.

Like Wilson Phillips sang, “I know that there is pain/ but you hold on for one more day / and you break free from the chains.” The lyrics rang true for me as a high school freshman, and I’ve been going day by day ever since.

Maybe optimism is in my DNA and fortitude is just part of my packaging, but I also needed those songs. I still gravitate to songs that point to the fighter and say, “You got this.”

From Garth Brooks and Jo Dee Messina in my country phase to Jason Mraz, Imagine Dragons and the whole dang soundtrack of The Greatest Showman … my hype man and my you-got-this girl will always be music.

Bonnie Jean Feldkamp is a wife, mother of three kids, and the opinion editor of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Louisville Courier Journal. She can be contacted at, followed through her YouTube channel and on Twitter: @WriterBonnie, or click here to learn more about her. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.