The Aural Roadmap

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.


One Reply to “The Aural Roadmap”

  1. 7/30/03

    Places that begin to match my imagined collection of snap-shots are what trigger my memories. As a child, this confusion led to the naming of a brook that runs through the 100 acre woods in Vermont ‘Twin Falls.’ I was fascinated by the fact that there were multiple places along the same brook that looked identical but that their relationship to the road (the central landmark in our small town) were different. Later, after my father died, I would imaging all of time stacked on a single spot, on every spot. As if the events that happened on that spot could be traveled and visited at will.

    With crayons on the insides of sacrificed paper bags, I created endless maps of the 100 acre woods. The landmarks were: My Favorite Tree (which was how it was referred to by everyone even though it was really *my* favorite tree), Twin Falls, Dad’s favorite Tree (on the way to Twin Falls), The Chipmunk Tree, The First Landing, The Second Landing, The Field, The Deer Camp, The Big Rock, and The Frog Pond. Over the years there were more landmarks: were we built the fort, the three trees we climbed, were we always camp, were Russ (my horse) ran away from in the middle of the night, where Dad used to practice for the Homelight Tournament of Kings, were Seth fell and needed to get stitches… So that eventually time an place became inseparable.

    Now, going from city to city, there is only one city. Congress Street/Market Street/State Street/El Passeo Road divide the city in half. There is a hill on one side, it is flat on the other. The place we shop for food is on the flat side, the college is down the hill. Sometimes I find myself halfway to a place before realizing that it was in the *other* city, at a different time.

    And yet, there are multiple versions of each city, each version attached to a boy or a set of events and therefore a specific time: a slice of the city, each slice stacked neatly on the next. Turning the corner, to the spot where we bought sushi one night, I can feel the time and the space happen together and almost click into place. Standing there, I wonder what might have happened if I had bought the vanilla Charleston Chew that day instead of the strawberry. But then I know if I played that day over and over again, I would always buy the strawberry. I would always order the too salty miso soup.

    In this slice, the tree that formed a bridge over the lower section of Twin Falls has begun to die. I buy kiwi at Hunger Mountain/Rainbow/The Whole Grocer. I pass the faded billboard under the freeway advertising the Homelight Tournament of Kings. I climb plastic walls (on the flat side of town) but really its twenty years ago, that day we almost didn’t get down from the Big Rock safely. And, even though I think I’d like to change a slice here and there (if only to see what would happen) I know I can only ever visit.

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