Wednesday, December 6, 2006
just an old-fashioned love song
I know I just posted less than 12 hours ago ...but the point of this blog is to write, not just minorly edit something I wrote several years ago and paste it in here (as i did last night). Plus, I have about four different subjects I want to write about, so I figure if I get started earlier today, then maybe I can post one in the morning and one at night. Plus, I feel like the last few entries were borderline "Debbie Downer," so I wanted to share something more light-hearted. So this first one is for Carrie. I told her my ideas, and she chose this one because it's her "fascination in life." That being the way music and specific songs conjure up vivid memories. (It's now actually been almost 24 hours since the last post because this post got a little out of control, and I’ve been adding to it all day)
The idea to write about this came to me this morning while driving Max to school (that's what i do...I'm a driver.) Max is 12 and only listens to classic rock--our car rides consist of a Led Zeppelin, The Clash, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix rotation--which he mix and matches with the rotation of the shirts he wears, which match those same bands/musicians. Now, I consider myself pretty in tune with the world of music, but there was definitely a period of a few years--I.E. STARTING AT AGE 12!--that I only listened to Top 40 crap. As we approached the Lab School in Hyde Park one such song came on, and I hit the steering wheel and laughed. I turned to Max and I said, "Aaaaand I have not heard this song since--oh--about 1996..." (I was wrong--it actually came out in '97.) "...I can't believe I liked this shit...I mean the main lyric in it is, 'Pissing the night away!'" I then proceeded to sing the words leading up to that oh-so-poetic chorus..."He drinks a whiskey drink/He drinks a vodka drink/He drinks a lager drink/He drinks a cider drink/He sings the songs that remind him of the good times/He sings the songs that remind him of the better times...." Because my brain is THAT cool, I can remember the lyrics to any song I've ever heard before, not excluding the worst ever written. When the "pissing the night away....pissing the niiiiiight away" part came on, Max looked at me with a goofy grin, "Who is this even??" "Good ol' Chumba Wumba! Surprised you've never heard of them..." I answered sarcastically. We only had another stop sign to get through until the drop off zone, but he had had enough of the "Tubthumping" and hit the "CD" button. The haunting sounds of "London Calling" by The Clash filled the Volvo as he got out of the car saying, "See ya."
So back to Chumba Wumba. As soon as I heard the song begin, which is a song I honestly don't think I've heard since 1997, I had this flashback of sitting in our family room at home in front of our relatively new 5-disc CD changer, amidst our annual family Hanukkah party. I had just opened my gift from my sister. Chumba Wumba's "Tubthumper" album. At some point during the pre-holiday season I had added this album to my wish list, but even by the time the gift-giving day rolled around, I was already sick of that stupid song. I remember feeling disappointed upon opening the present (sorry Sheri), but then feeling annoyed at myself for feeling disappointed because she obviously was trying to give me something I had said I wanted. So, to prove that I actually did appreciate the gift, I unwrapped it then and there and stuck it in the CD player....to pollute the brains of all the party guests.
This isn't such a spectacular memory, but I still found it interesting that the second the song began, I felt like I was transported back to that place on the family room floor, as though it was yesterday. And it got me thinking for the rest of my drive home about music memory.
They say the sense of smell is the most memory-provoking sense...which I believe is true. Diane Ackerman says in the opening paragraph to her chapter on "Smell" in her book A Natural History of the Senses (which is quite an interesting read in general if anyone's looking for a good book):
"Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary, and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the Poconos, when wild blueberry bushes teemed with succulent fruit and the opposite sex was as mysterious as space travel..."
Another good read on the topic of smell is Jitterbug Perfume, a novel written by one of my favorite authors, Tom Robbins. Anyway, back to the point--hearing, not smelling. What I wanted to say is that I feel like hearing a song can almost be as powerful as smelling a scent. I wish I had Diane's book here with me in the city (It's part of my library back home in the suburbs) because she also has a chapter entitled "Music and Emotion," which I'm sure would further my point.
For kicks I came up with a list of songs/memories to share with whoever reads this (found below the upcoming photo) As you'll see, some songs only conjure up a brief image of where I was standing when I heard it, while other songs evoke enough details to write an entire novel, but the common thread is that these same images occur every time I hear the songs.
"I Saw Her Standing There" by The Beatles--I turned 17 years of age in November, 1999 (Prince interlude: We're gonna party like it's 19-9-9!). In high school it was customary for people to shower the birthday girl (i don't think guys ever did this...) with balloons and flowers, sometimes a party hat, and adorn the hallways with posters announcing her birthday with embarrassing baby photos. This was one such year...So I was sitting in my Journalism class waiting for the bell to ring, balloons floating next to my desk, and in comes Mr. Jim Wyman. He takes one look at the balloons, his face lights up with a classic Mr. Wyman grin, and he starts snapping his fingers as he slowly makes his way across the classroom singing, "She was just seventeen/You know what I mean/And the way she looked/Was way beyond compare...."
"jesus, etc." by Wilco--I was in love with a guy who wrote me letters. In one such letter (7/02) he talked about how he had just gotten the new Wilco CD (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot) and wrote "You were right about the stars/Each one is a setting sun" followed by "I thought you'd like that." A month later we went to dinner at The Cheesecake Factory before I headed back to NYC for my second year of college. When we got back in my car after dinner, he asked if he could put on YHF. "I want you to hear this song," he said. We sat in the Woodfield Mall parking lot for the duration of the song. The sun was going down, and there was a sadness in his eyes as he lightly touched my hair. That was it. But it gave me shivers. Another month later he called on an 800-mile phone line to tell me, "You're too good to be true. Sorry." Well that was the gist of it anyway. The first track on the album took on a whole new meaning..."I am trying to break your heart"
"That's The Way It Is" by Celine Dion--Another one from junior year of high school...or maybe it was sophomore? Abbi--help. All we did in Mrs. Emmer's gym class was ride stationary bikes. To pass the time, Abbi and I made up an interpretative "dance" to this song...acting out every word, while continuing to ride the bikes. We were that good. We still act it out when we see each other, and it still makes us laugh really hard.
"I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues" by Elton John--I've always been an Elton fan, but I went through an Elton John phase senior year of high school, and I used to put on his CDs while I worked in the darkroom after school. Sometimes when I hear this song, I can almost smell the chemicals.
"Hang On Sloopy" by The McCoys--My dad and I were visiting my parents' friends, Andi and Mike. Our Chrysler minivan was parked in their cul-de-sac. I was probably 8 years old? My dad lifted the trunk door open and stood outside of it. I decided to take the stage and started singing and dancing in the trunk space. Except I didn't know the words and kept saying, "hang on SNOOPY." And my dad was laughing. To this day, I still don't know what "sloopy" is.
"Walking in Memphis" by Marc Cohen--My senior year of high school was also my last year year as a dancer. I took as many extra classes (I already had Dance Company classes twice a week on top of whatever else i wanted to take) as I could fit into my weekly schedule. In my extra ballet class, our dance for the annual June recital was to “Walking In Memphis.” My teacher, Maya, put me in the front row for it. This rarely happened in my dance career. I performed the hell out of that dance on stage. So much so that I think I was crying during part of it…another rarity. Every time I hear this song I’m transported back to that stage, under the bright lights, twirling around like I’d never dance again.
"Run Baby Run" by Sheryl Crow—September 11, 2001. I woke up at 8:10 a.m., 10 minutes before my alarm was set to go off. It was day 3 of my first year at NYU. At 8:20 I jumped a mile in the air when my cd alarm clock did go off, blasting Sheryl begging, “Run baby run baby run baby run baby run…..” Around 8:40 Brianna, my roommate, asked if I wanted to get breakfast with her. I declined. She left. Less than ten minutes later she came running back into the room, yelling—“ OH MY GOD YOU HAVE TO COME OUTSIDE!! A PLANE JUST CRASHED INTO THE WORLD TRADE CENTER AND YOU CAN SEE IT ALL FROM THE FRONT OF RUBIN!” To this day, if I hear this song, my breath gets involuntarily caught in my throat, and the familiar panic sets in.
"Lump" by The Presidents of the U.S. of A.—I was allowed to pick one song to add to the music list for my bat-mitzvah party (you know—apart from the givens—“YMCA,” stuff like that.) I decided that the best option would be the then-popular song, “Lump.” Gotta give it to the Stax O Wax DJs—they actually played it. The adults on the dance floor looked around confused, while all the kids ran to the front and started a mosh pit. Normal.
"Basketcase" by Green Day—Michelle’s basement. Fifth grade. Amy and Carrie were there (yes?) Green Day’s album, “Dookie” was the #1 album in the country. Or, if it wasn’t, it at least was in our eyes. We were obsessed with their hit, “Basketcase,” and despite being the “smart and therefore nerdy kids” in the school, we thought we were total badasses. Especially when we sang that song. So that night we made up body movements to act out all the lyrics. The end of the chorus is, “Am I just paranoid? Or I’m just stoned.” Welllll we thought we had it all figured out and that “stoned” was the same thing as “drunk.” So our motion for “stoned” was throwing back an imaginary glass of beer. Really we were the most innocent 11-year-old girls on the planet, and it wasn’t until several years later that we realized our mistake. We still laugh about it any time the song comes on.
"Ready or Not" by The Fugees—My friends and I had this habit in junior high of hanging out on my driveway. Usually it turned into a dance party. Ok, usually it was just me having a dance party with myself. One particular night, Jenny was over and we were listening to The Fugees album on my boombox. The song “Ready or Not” came on, and I decided that the mood of the song called for me acting as creepy as possible and followed Jenny around the driveway, eyes wide, straight face, singing the song in a freaky manner. It totally freaked her out. I still picture the scared look on her face whenever I hear that song. And she probably still pictures me being a creep.
"Satisfaction" by the Rolling Stones--After swim lessons one summer afternoon, I was standing on a patch of grass in front of our van in the parking lot. My mom must have had the Oldies station playing on the radio. I don’t know if I had just learned the meaning of the word “satisfaction” or what, but I have this distinct memory of singing it really loud to the empty field in front of me. Apparently when I was 7 (or however old I was…8 or 9?) I felt as though I couldn’t “get no satisfaction…” (If my mom reads this, I’ll let her share her story about the Rolling Stones’ “Painted Black” song.)
"I Will Always Love You" by Whitney Houston—In fourth grade I was obsessed with The Bodyguard soundtrack and thought “I Will Always Love You” was the best song ever sung. We were doing this unit where every day a few kids, one at a time, got to sit in the teacher’s chair, while the rest of the class interviewed them. Then, with the collected information, we’d make a page complete with a few sentences about the person and a drawing of them. At the end, each person ended up with a book about themselves, authored by the rest of their classmates. So it was my turn to be in the hot seat. Joey, my “boyfriend” throughout elementary school, raised his hand and asked, “What’s your favorite song?” flashing that charming, mischievous smile. He already knew the answer, but I didn’t get it until after the song title came tumbling out of my mouth. “I will always love you,” I said matter-of-factly. The class erupted in a chorus of, “Oooo la la”s, and when I saw him wink at me with that smile, I turned bright red, realizing he had set me up. When I hear this song, I see myself sitting in the teacher’s chair, facing my classmates, one severely blushing 10-year-old.
"My Boyfriend's Back" by The Angels—For the majority of my early childhood years I had a crush on my next-door-neighbor, Billy. I remember strutting around the cul-de-sac singing this song, or as I called it--the "hey-la song" (as in Hey la Hey la my boyfriend’s back), in hopes that Billy would come outside to play with me.
"Reflections"--by The Supremes—This is only a brief memory, but I can picture myself in the kitchen, and my dad excitedly yelling down from upstairs, “Hey Lyse! Turn on the radio! It’s your song!” I walk over to the clock radio on the desk and turn on the Oldies station. He said it was my song because I had recently won some distinguished award for The Reflections art contest (as a second-grader). I remember standing there until the song ended, thinking Diana Ross was singing only to me. I still hear my dad yelling, “Hey Lyse!” whenever this song comes on the radio.
“The Boxer”—by Simon & Garfunkel—I was sitting shotgun, while my mom was driving. It was nighttime, and I believe we were in the city. This song came on and we were both quietly singing along. I remember noting that it was strange to hear her sing the line: “Just a come on from the whores on seventh avenue.” The combination of the sing-songy voice, the fact that the singer was my mom, and the word whore thrown in there…threw me for a loop.
"Forrest Gump Suite" by Alan Silvestri—And we have come full circle, as this final music/memory note involves Carrie. In 5th grade she convinced me to see Forrest Gump with her because she saw it (I believe with Michelle, mentioned above in the “Basketcase” story) and loved it. I had no desire to see it but went anyway. I ended up falling in love with it, and it was the first movie I ever purchased for myself. I was going to say it was the first soundtrack I ever owned as well, but it was second after The Bodyguard (wow…everything is coming full circle!). Anyway, some time after seeing the movie, Carrie learned how to play the instrumental suite on the piano. I was over at her house one day and she played it for me. As I stood there listening and watching my best friend tickle the ivories, I started to cry. Even then, I thought it was a strange reaction, but I still get mildly choked up when I hear the music.
Please feel free to comment with your own musical memories. Like Carrie, I find the subject quite fascinating. Also--If anyone's read: This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel Levitin, let me know what you think. I haven't read it, but it looks interesting.
(top photo: taken at South Union Arts in Chicago on 10.19.06
middle photo: Petaluma Vale performing at the Sidewalk Cafe in NYC, April 21, 2005)