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Friday, April 2, 2010

Music as Memory

I'm listening to my favorite NPR podcast, All Songs Considered. This particular episode is an interview of Jonsi Birgisson from Sigur Ros. The host Bob Boilen sometimes invites popular artists to be guest DJ's, selecting songs that have had a huge impact on their lives.

This episode is part DJ, part Q&A. I like several of the questions that Boilen asked, and basically wanted to ask myself some of these questions :) Because music is touchstone for me. Especially from childhood, but also jr high and college, I often don't have distinct memories full of details... but I remember songs I liked at various points in the past. Strange perhaps?

(I'm including a photo from my freshman year of high school. I spent two hours every day on my hair, counting shower time and blow dry.)

I'm taking some of the questions from this interview, which also spawned some questions of my own. Feel free to write your own replies to any of them.

What is your first musical memory? I remember listening to vinyl albums in our family room. In a life that was tightly controlled in many ways, we were given surprising freedom in terms of music. We could pull out all of our parents' albums, and play them on the turntable as much as we wanted. I have no memory of being told to turn the music down either. We listened to Simon & Garfunkel, Beatles (especially Revolver), Barbra Streisand, The Band, Carole King, Three Dog Night, Jim Croce, Bill Withers, Helen Reddy... When I hear anything from Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water, I can immediately picture every piece of furniture, every feeling, every word from that album.

Did you listen to music on the radio growing up? Most definitely. Back in the day, the main way everyone listened to music was still AM Top 40. You were basically not allowed to go to jr high unless you listened to KFRC out of San Francisco, 610 on the dial. We all listened to Dr. Don Rose as we got ready in the morning and when we were driven in the car to school. If you were really daring, you would sneak a listen to KOME. I won't repeat the slogans they used. Ridiculous. I still can't believe what they got away with....

I would also remember we would tape songs onto cassettes off the radio, and make mix tapes out of this. Even with the DJs introducing each song and cutting back in at the end. How goofy.

Every single person I knew memorized all the lyrics to American Pie by Don McLean. I think the song was 8 minutes long, which was unheard of back then in the era of 2 and 3 minute songs on AM pop radio.

Did you buy music? You bet. Absolutely. I would save up my allowance to buy 48's at the record store. This started young -- at Tower Records in Sacramento, around 4th and 5th grade, and then at some record store I can't remember when we moved to the Bay Area. I remember buying singles by Stevie Wonder, Jackson 5, Three Dog Night, Dawn (Knock Three Times!), Paul McCartney & Wings, Grand Funk, John Denver, Earth Wind & Fire, Commodores... gosh. Just seeing those names sends me.

First song you slow danced to? Stairway to Heaven, Led Zeppelin, 7th grade dance, Bobby Thompson. I was wearing a blue and red velcro dress with Cherokee platform shoes. I'm laughing at this mental picture.

First albums you bought with your own money?
Yes, I had rather eclectic musical tastes. To say the least.

First concert? This is my favorite party question to this day. You learn a lot about people when you ask it.

My first real concert, on my own with a friend, was in 1977 at the Oakland Coliseum, called "Day on the Green." 50,000 people in attendance, and the acts were The Outlaws, Santana, Peter Frampton and Lynyrd Skynyrd. My best friend Wendy and I were possibly the only two sober people in the entire stadium. We sat on the grass, and I feel like we were at the most 100' away from the stage. I got a horrible sunburn and truly discovered the power of rock 'n roll. Half hour of Freebird. Oh yeah.

Main songs at your prom?
Again, a stroll down 70's memory lane... Brick House, Best of My Love, September, Once Twice Three Times a Lady and of COURSE, Always & Forever.

Top songs in the dorms, freshman year of college?
  • Rock Lobster, B-52's
  • Everything from Off the Wall, Michael Jackson
  • Another Brick in the Wall, Pink Floyd
  • Come Sail Away, Styx
  • Everybody Has a Hungry Heart, Bruce Springsteen
  • Train Kept a Rollin', Aerosmith (because the guys below us were idiots and played it every night)
Enough for now. The memories keep coming, but for some reason the earlier ones really burn into my brain in a different way. My memories become more formed and distinct starting in college. Music is there, but more as soundtrack than as the main dialogue that I recall. What about you?

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree. It is a soundtrack. I always have something in my head or some song or band will come to me in every situation. "Oh this reminds me of..." "This song would fit perfectly..." Life is a walking soundtrack. Best life metaphor ever.