The proverbial they say that scents are often the strongest triggers of old memories, and I wouldn’t be one to argue with them.
That said, personal experience has shown that strongest memories re-enter my consciousness not through my nose, but my ears. My first strong musical memory dates back to 1982, where as a young nine year old, my older neighbors cornered me and demanded to know whether i listened to ‘rock’ or ‘soul’. I was terrified -I didn’t know what either one was, and I didn’t want to sound like a complete idiot. I must have mumbled ‘rock’ under my breath, since I wasn’t beaten to a pulp and was allowed to hang out with them after the incident.
A few short years later, i took delivery of my first two records: Def Leppard’s ‘Pyromania’ and Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’. The Def Leppard was easily explainable, as i had an older cousin who had the album. ‘The Wall’, however, is still a bit of a mystery, as I don’t know how an 11 year old listening to that album flew in my mom’s house. To this day, Pink Floyd is a very meaningful band to me, and I have a Syd Barrett tattoo to show for it.
1985. I was twelve, and still having to do the custody visits at my dad’s house every other weekend. I hated it, and tended to stick to my room, where I had a Panasonic boombox and whatever bad stations it could rip out of the air with its crappy little antenna. I’d spend hours sitting with my finger on the ‘record’ button, waiting for that one precise moment. You probably remember it – that split second between when the DJ would stop talking and the song would finally begin. Too quick, and you’d get Casey Kasem reading some sappy story. Too slow and you’d miss valuable seconds of the song and be forced to wait another hour until it was repeated.
In my room i sat, awaiting recording perfection to fall into my lap. Finally, after failure upon failure, mix tape nirvana was achieved. I had captured a clean copy of Falco’s ‘Rock Me Amadeus’ backed with Don Henley’s ‘Boys of Summer’. It was my shining moment, and I listened to that tape for what seemed like months on end. Play, rewind, play, rewind. I was no longer stuck in a small room at the back of my dad’s house against my will. Me and my twelve year old imagination were free to wander wherever I wanted us to be.
As I grew older, things changed. My life was changed forever when, in the tenth grade, I was handed a Clash/English Beat mix tape. I discovered a world outside the radio-friendly Top 40, and I haven’t looked back since. And while the musical choices of my youth may not have been all that impressive in my before-Clash/English Beat (BC/EB?) days, they were at least simple.
All that changed with the introduction of the female to my music listening experience. For better or worse, I started associating entire bands and artists to girls that meant anything to me. I guess it’s nothing new for a couple to have their ‘song’, but I made an art of taking it one step further. I’d give the girl the artist. For Lisa , it was the Stone Roses. for Jenny, Sigur Ros. Whenever I hear Ned’s Atomic Dustbin I’m taken back to Utah in the early 90’s and Shawntel. Angella had James Taylor, and Dawn had Nick Cave. They all had someone.
That is, they nearly all had someone. Strange as it may be, I wouldn’t allow myself to give certain girls the music. I suppose it’s some twisted meter of my seriousness about the relationship. Certain relationships I’ve had were doomed to fail from the beginning, and I usually knew this from the start, whether it was conscious or not. And as music is close to sacred to me, I wouldn’t allow them to have it. I knew it would outlast them. And when the inevitable end would arrive, I didn’t want to have a painful reminder of them every time I listened to the music.
Looking back on it, not only have I failed to give certain girls the music, I’ve also tended to be selfish with the music i did give. Stone Roses, Sigur Ros, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin: these are all bands that they liked and I had discovered as a result. They weren’t mine to give in the first place. And maybe there’s something in that…
I have never given any girlfriend Syd Barrett. I have never given any girlfriend Bob Dylan, Albert King, Woody Guthrie, or The Pixies. I’ve never allowed myself to share Hank Williams or Johnny Cash. Robert Johnson or The Mountain Goats. I’d like to think it’s not because I don’t want to, but rather the right one hasn’t come along who I feel would appreciate the gesture, strange as it may be.
Because in the end, music is me, and I am the music. And until that ‘one’ comes along, I’ll be waiting in my room with my finger on the record button.