Music, memory, emotion weave unbreakable threads

What is it about music, anyway? Even if you aren’t currently in a music-loving stage of life, you probably have been. And certain songs evoke emotions we didn’t know we had, or remind us of things long forgotten, not to mention things we’d rather not remember. We all have memories that come back in a joyous flood when we hear “that song.” Other songs bring back losses or tragedies so sharply that we bleed all over again.

At some point in the last ten years, I deliberately stopped listening to music. Doing so cut off the rhythms that could make my toe tap unconsciously (my personal test for how good a song is), stopped the music that could lift my heart, and deadened those primal club beats that could have me speeding joyously down the road like a bat outta hell — or my old lady version of it. For the most part, it’s probably my loss. But when you’re looking for a place to hide, you don’t want to take the bad stuff with you.

Old ladies, you see, have had a lot of time to build up a lot of memories with a lot of accompanying music. That doesn’t make me a music expert; it just means I’m older than you. There are certain songs that transport me instantly to another time and place in my life. For example:

“Les Préludes” – Liszt. I knew it for years as the music from TV’s “Flash Gordon” before learning its origins were much earlier and of a much higher caliber. Quite likely my earliest realization that classical music could be cool. Same was true of “The Lone Ranger” theme, actually the classical William Tell Overture.

“Boléro” – Ravel. Highly addictive, repetitive classical piece, one of the first I bought as a teen. Drove my parents absolutely nuts by playing it over, and over, and over. I wasn’t being malicious; I just liked it that much. Younger listeners probably remember it in a much different context — as the music from Bo Derek’s movie 10.

“Victory at Sea” soundtrack – The first LP I ever bought. I heard some kid playing it at the Science Fair that year and fell in love with it. Lots of triumphant marches. Hard to top Richard Rodgers compositions. With the album came descriptions of the scenes (from TV’s “Victory at Sea”) that each song accompanied, so I could “hear” the bombs dropping in the chaos of battle, the calm that followed, and share the joy of victorious troops coming home.

“Moon River” – Andy Williams. The original from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. “Our song,” my high school sweetheart (and first husband) and I.

“Classical Gas” – Mason Williams. Guitar doesn’t get any better than this. Williams lived in Oklahoma City and his earliest gigs as a musician were played there in a coffee house (folk music club) called The Gourd, which later became The Buddhi. The Gourd was almost mythical by our standards, being a mysterious little hole in the wall on a side street that was barely more than an alley. When I finally started dating in my high school senior year (no snide remarks, please), we ventured into what

by then had become The Buddhi. Dark, smoky, a single room with bare brick walls and a tiny little stage. Some pretty famous folk singers played there, before they were famous. Judy Collins, for one. And Williams, of course. (I think he was a part owner.) Turns out it wasn’t such an evil place after all. They served nothing alcoholic. (The bad memory associated with all this is that I once owned an LP that Williams recorded there. A real collector’s item. I loaned it to a “friend” who wanted to record a copy of it and never got it back.)

“Theme from a Summer Place” – Percy Faith Orchestra. Song from one of two LPs my sweetie gave me for Christmas, 1960 — the first gifts he ever gave me.  It’s everything that next year was for me.

“The Twist” – Chubby Checker. (Also “Doin’ the Twist” by Billy Dee and the Starlighters.) Fall 1961, my freshman year at the University of Colorado. The Twist was new, this song was hot, and I drank gallons of beer while dancing the night away at “The Tule” (Tulagi’s) in Boulder. Did you know if you keep dancing hard enough, you can put away gallons of draft Coors and still walk back to the dorm sober? (Yep, mine was a very sheltered upbringing.) The Tule, at the time, was the biggest single outlet in the country for Coors draft beer. Of course, Coors wasn’t distributed nationally in those days, and the brewery was just right down the road in Golden.

“Here Comes the Bride” – The song my church wouldn’t let me have at my huge, long-imagined dream wedding, because it was secular music. Instead I had to settle for Purcell’s (Clarke’s) “Trumpet Voluntary,” which is magnificent on a big church organ, but at the time I’d never heard it. And it certainly wasn’t the tune every little girl dreams of hearing at her wedding. I’m still mad at me for not sticking up for me, but my parents were paying for everything, so …

“Joy” – Apollo 100. A ’70s instrumental rock version of Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” that I played endlessly.  I used to play this as loud as a really big home stereo could manage and dance wildly around the room with my son, who was then maybe four or five years old. He’d spin himself in a tight circle as the song progressed until he finally got so dizzy he’d fall down laughing.

“Danger Zone” – Theme from the movie Top Gun. I had just bought a brand new “Colorado sky blue” (my description) Acura Integra, and I’d take long, fast expressway drives clear around the city with this song blaring on the radio. Loved the whole soundtrack, actually.

“I Want to Know What Love Is” – Foreigner, 1983, the months right after my divorce. I’d jog around the local track with this playing loud enough to deafen me and with tears streaming down my face (lemme tell you, even on a standard oval track, it’s tricky to jog when you can’t see).

“The Impossible (Unsinkable Ships)” and “I’m Already There” – Released about the time my dad died and triggered terrible crying jags every time I heard them. Still do, actually.

“I Hope You Dance” – sent with love to a man I should have treated better, on what I found out later was the day he died. About three months after my dad died. More tears.

*  *  *

So, what are some of your landmark songs, the ones that always remind you of a certain place and time? There’s a good chance I won’t be familiar with them, but I can always find them on the Internet. To jog your memory, Billboard has posted a fabulous list of their 100 all-time greatest songs from the year they (Billboard) started, 1958, to the present. Not only the titles, but the video of each song. Now if only I could figure a way to rip all those songs …

And the beat goes on.

3 thoughts on “Music, memory, emotion weave unbreakable threads

  1. After my father passed, I kinda stopped singing, I noticed. I’ve started again but it was a very hard time so I understand that. I have songs that bring me back but mostly to my teenage years for some reason- I guess I was having the time of my life, living care free. I was born in 70. So, of course I was a huge Michael Jackson fan (I still am of his older stuff). You know which songs bring back the most and best memories for me would be the songs from the 80’s. No mortgage payment, no worries, just get passing grades and the rest was all fun and games. 🙂 This is a great post. I wish I could be more specific for you but I don’t think you have the time – LOL! I enjoyed watching some of your videos. Especially some of the classical music – you had/have great taste in music PT!
    I hope you noticed I didn’t know most of the classical music was classical at the time. (“Classical!? Ewww. That’s what stuffy old people listen to!!”) It was ’40s and ’50s TV show music. I can’t take any credit for that. Some of my earliest music exposure, though, was the old 78s my parents owned, and almost all of it was classical. So some of those melodies were imprinted early; decades later would come the realization … oh, that’s the name of that piece!

    The ’80s had great music. I associate it mainly with my son’s teen years and his tastes then. Fortunately for both of us, we enjoyed the same music.

    The videos were included only because I didn’t know any other way to link readers quickly and easily to specific songs/individual MP3 files. Not a part of my aging geekiness. 🙁

  2. The music director where I got married discouraged “Here Comes the Bride” as well, but for different reasons: It’s from an opera, and the bride is murdered when she reaches the altar. Once I heard that, it was Trumpet Voluntary all the way.

    I wanted “Linus and Lucy” as the recessional, and as this was a Unitarian-Universalist church, they didn’t care, but my ex-husband wanted something else–Handel’s Water Music–so that’s what we had. I still think Snoopy music would have been cooler.
    If my Presbyterian music director had told me that story, I might have felt a lot better about Trumpet Voluntary. Not that it mattered on D-Day. I was too busy concentrating on not tripping on my train, keeping my head up, not walking too slowly or too fast, doing that little hesitation step that brides are taught to do, and not crying. Music? What music?

    “Linus and Lucy” would have been a great recessional! And why not? The service is over, the vows have been repeated, you’ve been officially pronounced man and wife, you’ve kissed. Celebrate! I had to look it up just now but my recessional was Campra’s “Rigadoun.” Yawn. I hope it was played in a more upbeat way than I can locate atm.

  3. I guess it’s to be expected that those of us of a similar age have similar memories evoked by similar or exactly the same music. I think I’ve always been partial to instrumentals, but I really liked folk songs back when Joan Baez, Judy Collins, The Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul & Mary were on top of the charts. I too can visualize Victory At Sea scenes when I hear the “Theme Of The Fast Carriers” and “The Pacific Boils Over” or really any of the other titles. Demetri Tiomkin was the John Williams of movie theme songs back then. Who can forget Gary Cooper walking down the dusty street alone in the movie “High Noon” with “Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darlin” in the background? There were many, many others.

    You’re right. Remembering music makes you remember other things you thought you’d forgot.

... and that's my two cents