My wife would probably accuse me of being too attached to the past. That may be, but I often find comfort in the memory of something that happened years ago… Almost like I sometimes need a reminder that I was actually alive then. I was there for the first go-around of bellbottoms, Disco, and New Wave, because I participated in these cultural movements in real time, long before any history was written about them.
Music is is the gift-wrap that many of my memories come delivered in. For years, I've been fascinated by the fact that some songs can take me back to a specific moment in time. I hear that song and I feel the way I felt as an eight-year-old, riding with my mom in the Family Truckster as she ran errands. This isn't because running errands with Mom was such an important milestone, but for some reason that song came on the radio while we were in the car, weaving itself, and that moment into my DNA.
A few years ago, I decided to make a list of songs that provide me with this kind of memory time-travel. Whenever one of these songs came to mind, I would write it down. The plan was to take my list and attach the corresponding memory to each song. I was thinking this would make a neat list of songs and memories that were significant in my life. But initially, I was just curious to see how many of these songs I could come up with.
As I young child, I began listening to the radio – keeping it on next to my bed, all night long. It was very comforting to wake up and hear music playing in the middle of the night. As a result I became very familiar with modern music. A trait that would continue with me well past college. Because of this, I figured my list could be as long as sixty or seventy songs. Impressive indeed!
So I spent months with a pen and a spiral memo pad in my back pocket. Any time a song came to mind, I'd scribble it down. Once I was comfortable that my list was mostly complete, I began attaching the memories.
An irony is, some of these songs aren't even good songs, or songs that I like. The only requirement for any song to make the list was that it needed to transport me to specific moment in my life.
As I wrote my memories, songs would continue to come to me, so I added them to the list.
Once completed, my list read like a diary of my life, beginning somewhere around kindergarten, and ending at about age thirty. This was just about the same time modern music began to slowly make a left turn on me. At this age, for some reason, new memories ceased attaching themselves to the new music I was listening to.
Another characteristic I noticed was that many songs were associated with firsts: first crush, first time I heard the song, gaining freedom as an adolescent, getting a drivers license, girlfriends, graduation, apartment, etc.
Some were not a first, but simply a moment in time. These memories are almost more important as they seem more like a snapshot. What was it like sitting in the car with my mom as she ran errands? Let's listen to the song and find out…
Honestly, not all were good memories. Some were moments or people I'd rather forget, but memories were the criterion, not the quality of the memories.
You may be asking, “So what's the point?”
Honestly, I'm not sure, other than it's pretty cool to see pages of my life bound in front of me in a notebook, knowing that all of this lives inside of me on a daily basis. That miscellaneous moment of time in the 70s? I carry it with me. My first girlfriend? She's there too. Hanging out at the swimming pool in the summer time? Yup! I'm a walking history book. It just took music to help me unlock the pages.
This exercise helped me feel slightly more centered. A little like the way John McLane felt when he made fists on the carpet with his toes. (That's a Die Hard reference.) This made his anxiety about flying begin to subside. Similarly, this music journal grounded me and I felt more connected to my own life and the world around me. I experienced my memories as real – not imagined or just something I concocted in my head. They were inextricably attached to the songs, which were real. Thus my memories must be real… Of course they were, but it was like, now I have proof.
This was significant for me.
Also, the list that I thought I could stretch to as many as seventy songs actually became a list of three hundred and twenty-three songs by the time I was done. I used a spread sheet to alphabetize and index them.
None of this is about living in the past. It's more about taking a wholistic view of my life and incorporating the past into my present. It's also a unique form of journaling – a topic I probably should have prefaced this blog with. I'll probably cover that next time.
In the mean time, not only was this exercise fun to do, but it has a good beat, and it's easy to dance to…
Jeff Walz, MA