WHEN I HEAR “BAND ON THE RUN”, I’m immediately propelled back in time to the inside of a bright orange Dodge van. The sun is shining, it’s warm, and I’m enjoying the coolness of the air blowing on my face from the AC vents. I’m only 3 or 4-years-old and I’m leaning on the center console, straining to see the lines go by on the highway.
Your entire brain “lights up” while you’re listening to music. Perhaps that’s why it triggers such strong, vivid memories. It sometimes only takes one note, or one word, and BOOM – you’re reminded of a time, a place, a person, a feeling.
The B-52’s “Private Idaho” will have me dancing in a living room in Westminster, California at 9-years-old, but “Love Shack” has me bringing in 1990 at Mama Gilbert’s Rock Option in North Myrtle Beach.
I remember going swiftly round and round on a ride at The Myrtle Beach Pavilion while John Lennon’s “Watching the Wheels” played. I was 10 and had been sent back to Myrtle Beach by my mother. The bright lights and screams of delight around me were in juxtaposition to the inner turmoil I was feeling about the uncertainty of life back in California.
Sometimes, just hearing the name of an artist will summon a moment, an event, or a person. The mere mention of Conway Twitty brings my grandfather to mind, Donny Hathaway conjures up my mother, and The Ramones – my first concert. Bring up Cab Calloway and I’m transported to Palm Springs.
When I hear The Clash, I’m reminded of buying my first record at the now legendary Lou’s Records in Encinitas, California. “London Calling” was playing as I plopped down money for a used Queen album. Lou’s is still going strong, but sadly, Myrtle Beach’s Sounds Familiar is long gone. For decades, it was home to Jeff Roberts, “The Minister of Music”. He was a local treasure. Anyone who visited Jeff there, or later at Sounds Better, could tell you that, in addition to being just a fantastic human being, he’d probably forgotten more about music than most of us will ever learn. You could also count on him to turn you on to music you didn’t know you were missing. In addition to Jeff, I miss the music buying rituals of old.
I’ve bought music in several mediums over the years. I adore the tactile and olfactory sensations of opening fresh vinyl, but I don’t miss my cassettes getting eaten by my tape deck. I love the portability of music now, but the purchasing experience leaves me wanting. I miss the barrage of promotional materials splattered on the walls. I miss physically browsing the selections and I miss getting comfy with the liner notes. Do you remember opening some new music and anxiously looking to see if the lyrics were included? Were there secrets to unearth? Did the band write anything funny, or meaningful inside? Now, for the most part, you push a button. It’s damned convenient, but it feels hollow. There’s nothing to savor as you listen to the entire album for the first time. Do kids even buy entire albums now?
I guess I was around 9 or 10-years-old when music became more than just, well – music for me. It became more than just background, or how the people around me made a living. It became my first love, my first drug, my constant companion, and best friend. When the world around me went crazy, I depended on it. The times in my life when I felt completely alone, I had it to keep me company and serve as a reminder of my actual “not-aloneness”. It could put words to the things I didn’t know how to and speak for me when I couldn’t speak for myself. No matter what was going on or where I went, the music was there – it understood. Sometimes, it even saved my life. In celebration, in triumph, in survival and in my darkest hours, I had music. Thank God, I had music.
When I opened my computer this morning to complete this blog post about music, nostalgia, and meaning, I was deeply saddened to learn of Chris Cornell’s death. His voice is ubiquitous in the soundtrack of my 20’s. If there were a Mount Rushmore of 90’s music for Generation-X, his timeless face would be carved into it.
Certain artists can be so omnipresent over the years, they feel like old friends who’ve been there for you through thick and thin. They’ve accompanied you in good times and in bad, they’ve comforted you. They can stir things so deep it’s as if their music has seeped into your cells and written itself onto your DNA. It’s in you, a part of you. I think that’s why it so upsetting to some of us when we lose them. When someone passes away whose creativity has touched you, it can feel like you’ve lost an old friend that you never got a chance to thank.
“The Making of a Natural Disaster” is the first book of my series, “Somewhere Between This & That: An Absurd Journey” — Coming soon.