Noises come from the radio that sound sort of like a train whistle. They repeat several times before Paul McCartney starts to sing. It’s the beginning of “Silly Love Songs” and I am immediately taken back to age 9, sitting in our kitchen on Charles Street eating my sugar-laden cereal for breakfast, getting ready for school, listening to WSBA 910 am radio with the Morning Mayor, Hal Raymond. That memory floods over me every time I hear “Silly Love Songs”.
We all have these moments of time floating around our heads like bubbles just waiting for the right song to burst them and release the memory. Whenever I hear “Monster Mash” around Halloween I remember being about 5 years old, sleeping with the lights on and the radio playing low to help me go to sleep. The last thing I needed was Dr. Frankenstein singing me a song when I was still convinced the closet door creaked open after my eyes closed.
Sometimes the song and memory are lodged in our brains because it was a traumatic event. When I was in 8th grade, myself and two friends started re-writing the lyrics to rock songs, replacing certain parts with words we had learned from a Richard Pryor album. Kiss’s “Detroit Rock City” was our magnum opus. Take a guess as to what word we replaced “rock” with. Yes, our humor was very sophisticated. Anyway, these ditties were supposed to be just between the 3 of us to provide sophomoric chuckles for our inchoate little minds. But one of my pre-pubescent cohorts in crime decided to pass “Detroit %$#@ City” around the room culminating in the TEACHER FINDING IT! Thank you St. Clair for giving me a stroke at age 13. To this day I can’t listen to “Detroit Rock City” without my chest tightening.
The length of time the memory represents is fluid as well. It could be an event that was over in minutes or it could be an entire week taken as a whole. INXS’s “Kick” album came out in 1987. I liked it but my fiancé at the time loved it. When we went on vacation to Ocean City MD that September she popped it in every time we got in the car. Every time. By the end of our vacation I hated it, wanted to run over the cassette with the car until the plastic casing burst like an over-cooked sausage and the tape lay across the road like greasy intestines. Now every time I hear “Need You Tonight” I’m suddenly driving down Coastal Highway headed for the boardwalk screaming “Damn you Michael Hutchence!”
It’s an amazing power that music has on us: To be able to so easily replicate a moment in time even if it’s decades old or we were only children when it happened. The best part is you don’t even realize your mind is storing away that tune and memory tandem until years later when you’re in the grocery store and you recognize the muzak version of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall”. Just like that I’m a high school freshman again and someone is playing the song during morning announcements. I have no idea why but I still remember.