Friday, October 30, 2009

Souvenirs from an Era

A few weeks ago I woke 15 minutes ahead of the alarm, and when I tried to go back to sleep, I couldn't. Cheap Trick's "The Flame" was suddenly, inexplicably and without warning in my brain. Well, actually it was Maroon Five's "She Will Be Loved" - which is even more inexplicable, as they just plain turn me off - which then morphed into "The Flame." Sitting upright in bed, in the dark, I had three thoughts in rapid succession:

1) Damn, NPR for running that story about the Deering Mansion in Miami being haunted. I can't shake it. As either Huey, Dewey or Louie used to say: "I don't believe in ghosts, but I sure am scared of them!" The story made my restless nights even more restless.

2) Wow. Those two songs are structurally very similar. Someone should mash them up if they haven't already. Wow! I noticed an opportunity for a mashup! Look at me! Club DJ stardom is just minutes away!

3) Aww. "The Flame!" It's one of those songs from the soundtrack of my life. A song I may have enjoyed, but because it emerged on my radar at a certain critical moment in my development, I cherish it as a landmark of sorts.

Playing the song in my head, in bed in our dark room, I recalled how I'd relish listening to it at night, coming from my clock radio in my dimmed bedroom. I had a dimmer switch in the room I had from birth to 12 which I rarely turned all the way off. I remember how comforting that song was to me, in junior high, lying in bed, my room in artificial amber gloam, the rest of the house asleep. There are a handful of songs, images and other artifacts that whenever I encounter them, inspire a certain nostalgia that would not have seemed likely when I originally encountered them. Certain pop songs from 1988 - 1989 forever haunt me in ways that other don't. And I think it has everything to do with two things: the fact that that's when my family made our first big move; and that I was at the peak of puberty. (By the way: never move your family when one - the eldest, at least - is in the throes of puberty. It's more traumatic than a move at 10 or 15. I've asked around.)

If I really thought about it, I could find those musical or cultural artifacts that were in the background when I lived in these places that later proved to be memory markers.
  • "Stand" by REM will forever be the song that introduced me to REM and the song that I identify most with arrival in my small town. I'd heard of REM, but never anything from them. I was 12 and whenever the video would come on MTV, Dad would get up and get my brother and me to do the Stand dance, encouraging me to accept our new, small town. I resented the new town so much, but couldn't resist Dad's enthusiasm. It's only years later that I appreciate what Dad was trying to get us to do: embrace place and bloom where planted.
  • "Mary Moon" by Deadeye Dick is always the song that brings me back to 18, in a small west Texas university starting school completely - and I mean completely - clueless, but feeling utterly liberated and probably the most confident I've ever been in my life. I think I liked it because I had a "Mary Moon" reputation at my high school, but it was mocked, not celebrated. Here was a song that not only celebrated that archetype, but made her (sexually) desirable. Same me, new leaf.
  • Fresh Air with Terry Gross on NPR became my best friend when I had to drop out of college after my first semester due to lack of funds. I still listen to the show as often as possible, but I remember discovering her in Houston, when I was in depression, knew no one and the future looked uncertain. When I think back on those days, those afternoons in my bedroom, I am so grateful to her and to the local NPR station for fostering and sating curiosity.
  • The Indigo Girls were always playing from my stereo or from those of my best friends during my college years.
  • Margaret Atwood and Kurt Vonnegut were my book buddies the year after college, when I joined Honey at his first station, in the city to which I would never return to live in a million years, but for which I have a soft spot in my heart.

I don't know what the cultural artifacts are that I associate with my current place. I'll probably find them in retrospect. Plus, we've been here long enough - almost 10 years - that I probably have cultural artifacts associated with certain periods in my life, as opposed to places. For instance, I associate Sigur Ros, Rilo Kiley and Ben Gibbard with the period I spent completing my thesis. A friend turned me onto Sigur Ros when he heard the topic of my thesis dealt with constructed languages and gibberish. They sing mostly in Icelandic, but occasionally in a fabricated language. They're so mellow and soulful that I was able to mope and comfort myself in their music as I plowed through. A coworker turned me onto Rilo Kiley and Ben Gibbard, breaking me of my prejudice against Death Cab for Cutie, much to the relief of my husband, who likes Death Cab. I can't place my finger on what it was about those two artists that spoke to me in that manic period, but I latched onto the music he shared, and that we already had in our collection, but I was too blindly stubborn to listen to.

I'm really curious what music or cultural events or artifacts will turn out to the be the familiar landmarks in my memory for this period of my life. It seems like this year and the coming year will likely be so momentous for us that there will be something that I always associate with this period. I'm just eager and curious to find out what it is. It'll probably be evident 5 or 6 years from now. And it'll probably surprise me. I never would've guessed something like "The Flame" would've been among my take-aways from 1988!


Virginia Gal said...

So interesting you say that about Musical artifacts, I can relate. The songs of Richard Marx, and that song "Toy Soliders" by Martika and many of the early songs by Mariah Carey, bring me back to 1989 and 1990, when I was in love with New Kids on the Block and my life was so idyllic.

JoeinVegas said...

Now that you have the music, how about scents that bring back memories? (or have you done that already?)

Molly Malone said...

Joe, I think I did do a post on familiar scents. Something I've noticed with this blog is that I'm prone to reminisce. Aye, me!

VA Gal, I was a New Kids fan in jr high, too. But their music - though I remember it all - doesn't "landmark" for me the way other stuff does. I'm always surprised that it's random other songs. I will always associate Richard Marx's "Right Here Waiting," however with a boy at church camp who I later grew to have a years-long crush on. Sappy, but isn't that how puppy love is?

secret agent woman said...

There are s ongs that take me back, in an instant, to each phase of my life. And often, lyrics spring to mind in a situation that capture what I'm feeling. I love that about music.

mommanator said...

music from the Sound of Music, Scarlet Ribbons to name 2