This one – five songs that bring back memories – ties in to what I was saying yesterday: that my memory is very much connected to what I hear. Most songs bring back memories for me of a particular time and place when I heard that song, maybe not for the first time but one very meaningful time. The very nature of memory then works to reinforce it, because every subsequent time I hear the song, I remember that one instance again, creating a deeper rut in the path back to that memory, making it easier to recall the next time. And again, and again.
Not surprisingly, most of these memories are going to take me back to my teen years.
1) “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel: Okay, this is a gimme. It’s my wedding song. And also the song playing on the boom box which Lloyd Dobler is holding over his head while trying to win back Diane Court (“whoa”) in “Say Anything” (a source of almost as many quotes as “The Princess Bride”). Lloyd Dobler. Being a man. And also the final song at Gabriel’s Back to Front concert at Red Rocks last September which impressed itself on my memory in rainbow colors and gentle rain and pure joy.
2) “Celebrate” by Kool and the Gang: In the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, I made a concerted effort to lose some weight. I’ve always carried some extra pounds, ever since I stopped running around as a little kid and started reading as my sole pastime, and like most chubby kids, I got teased for it. In high school, I was self-conscious and insecure, and I wanted to go into senior year with a little confidence boost. A little head-held-high. A little hey-look-at-me. So I exercised every day. Now, this was in the 80s and we didn’t own a VCR; I don’t think Jane Fonda had even made a workout video yet. So I bought a workout album — yes, on vinyl — and worked out to the voice chanting at me out of my stereo. The songs they used were mostly Kool and the Gang. To this day, when I hear the opening strains of “Celebrate,” I also hear that woman’s voice saying, “Heel, toe, heel, toe, side kick…” I got down to a weight that’s really trim for me and looked great when I went back to school. Nobody noticed. High school sucks.
3) “New Year’s Day” by U2: I grew up on Long Island in a middle class neighborhood. The kids around me wore black concert tee shirts of Led Zeppelin and Rush or dressed like Madonna, and I could not fathom them. I had posters of pale, skinny British guys covered in makeup and glitter on my wall — David Bowie, Adam Ant, Duran Duran — and felt completely isolated. There was one cold night, though, that I remember sitting up in bed reading (of course) and this song came on the radio like a beacon (from a pale, skinny Brit, of all things): that plaintive, longing “yeeeeeah”, that promise, “I will be with you again.” It made me feel connected, even though I was alone. Someone out there understood, and someday, somehow, we’d be together. Not me and Bono. But I found my folk. They know who they are.
4) “Beautiful Boy” by John Lennon: I will never forget John Lennon’s death, not how I found out, not every detail of it and the days after. I’ve been a Beatles fan since the day I was born and his death shocked me to the core of my being. This song, in which a man who had been so angry and so displaced for so long is finally contented and at peace, breaks my heart every time. “I can hardly wait/to see you come of age”: but he never got that chance.
5) “Go” by Pearl Jam: When I first started working as an attorney in private practice, I was fairly unhappy. I won’t say miserable, but I was definitely not following my bliss in any way, shape or form. The firm wanted more from me, but I watched them sucking the life out of the older associates and fought hard against their doing that to me; knowing all the while that if I resisted, I wouldn’t get good reviews or good raises or move forward in my career. So leaving that building often felt like leaving prison, and when I got into my car, I would blast the music really, really loud and move with it. Pearl Jam’s driving, screaming rhythms were perfect for the way I was feeling in those days. It also earned me some curious comments from some of the other attorneys who drove home in the same direction I did, but I didn’t care. I needed the release.
This is recent, but you can still see the edge of madness in Eddie Vedder’s eyes: