Some people remember the first time
Some can’t forget the last
Some just select what they want to
from the past
— Mary Chapin Carpenter, Come On Come On

Today’s Writing Group prompt: Write about Memory.  Something you have experienced that you wish you remembered in greater or more clear detail?  Something that makes you doubt your own memory of an event as accurate?  Something you’d prefer to forget? Memory.

We got this prompt a couple of days ago and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.  There are lots of things I wish I remembered better; I envy my older brother’s better memory of events that happened when we were young; and there are a few things I wish I could forget.  But what I was thinking about most with respect to memory is music.

In my younger years – high school, college, shortly after – I fancied myself a bit of a poet.  My “early” work stinks, straight up.  But one of the last poems I wrote, in April 1999, goes like this:

Just Music
The thing about a song
is that it’s just music
until —
until it attaches itself to you
and becomes yours.

Which is not to say
that it never becomes anyone else’s,
only that it will never be
anyone else’s
in quite the same way
that it is yours.

And each time you hear it,
you are reminded
of how it became yours —
how a boy you loved
once told you that this song
made him cry.

And how you found that admission
so inexplicably special
that this song,
about the power of first love,
has since been, is,
and forever will be,
for you at least,
connected to that boy
(now a man, whom you still love)
in a way
that’s almost enough
to break your heart
in the first two measures.

I really love that.  I’ve been surrounded by music my whole life (well, my whole life up until almost 11 years ago), and so there are certain songs that I only need to hear the opening notes of before I’m spun back into the past, tumbling down a rabbit hole of remembrance and nostalgia.  Like so:

All For You, by Sister Hazel: This is The Power Hour song, according to my brother, Nate.  When he and Andre were roommates and we’d have get-togethers at their apartment, this song in the CD player meant you got your shot glass and beer ready.  The single opening guitar chord never fails to put me back in that place.

Everything I Own, by ‘NSYNC: My best friend Aimee and I were unabashed ‘NSYNC fans in the late ’90s and early 2000s.  This song, off their debut album, is a remake of a Bread song (which I’ve never heard; the only Bread song I know is “If”) and was never released as a single.  It is amazing, though.  The best part?  Lance Bass – Aimee’s fave, who never, ever got to sing lead – gets a spoken word interlude: “You know, baby, my love for you will always stay true. That’s right, [chuckle], ’cause there is no me without you.”  Aimee and I would listen to the CD driving around Richmond and whenever this song came up, always, without fail, we’d speak Lance’s part together, chuckle and all, and turn and point at each other on “without you.”  And then we’d crack up.  Whenever I hear this song now, I can see us, shiny and happy in our early 20s, tooling around town without a care in the world.

Mr. Jones, by The Counting Crows: This album came out my freshman year in college and this song was everywhere.  When I studied in Spain my junior year, they played it in a club one night.  I remember so clearly standing on the steps up to the DJ’s booth singing my heart out and locking eyes with a Spanish guy 20 feet away also singing his heart out – he smiled the biggest smile and gave me a thumbs up, like “I can’t believe you know this song, too!”

All Along the Watchtower, by Jimi Hendrix: I lost my hearing in April 2002.  When I visited my parents the Christmas before, my dad called me downstairs one night after my mom had gone to bed (I think Nate must not have been there yet).  He put a tape in the stereo and pushed play.  It was a recording of him playing guitar and singing this song.  I’m so lucky that he shared that with me when he did.

Bed of Roses, by Bon Jovi: In college, I had two best friends, both named Jess.  Big Jess (who was 6’1″) was in my a cappella group, which is how we became friends.  Little Jess and Big Jess were best friends from home and roommates at school.  Little Jess always felt a little intimidated when we would go to karaoke because Big Jess and I would get up over and over and sing our hearts out because we knew what we had.  Little Jess always thought she sucked – she never sang in groups or anything, although she loved music – so she’d never sing with us.  Once I went home with them over a break and we were at a bar and this song came on.  Big Jess and I started singing along in harmony, just at our table, and all of a sudden, Little Jess joined in, finding a harmony right in the middle.  And she was perfect.  I’ll never forget that.

The Hard Way, by Mary Chapin Carpenter: When I was sixteen, I was driving with my mom in the car when this song came on the radio.  After it played a bit, she said, “I like this arrangement.”  I laughed and said, “I bet you do.  I’d like a chauffeur, too.”  Turns out she meant the musical arrangement!

These Are Days, by The 10,000 Maniacs: Big Jess and I dueted on this for our a cappella group in college.  Somewhere, there’s a VHS tape of one of our performances.  I’m nearly positive that, if you watched it, you’d see at the end this goofy little dance we always did because we didn’t really know what to do with ourselves after the words were done but the music was still going.  I miss my girl.

As for the song the poem’s about?  Maybe J knows.

You see what’s missing from this list, right?  There’s no song that reminds me of David.  I guess that’s not entirely true.  I mean, we danced our first dance to I Could Not Ask for More, by Edwin McCain, and I have lovely memories of that.  But David and I don’t really share music, since he’s only ever known me since I lost my hearing.  So we picked our wedding song not because it’s something special to us, or because it’s “our song,” – we don’t have one.  We picked it because it’s beautiful and has sweet lyrics (the runner up was When You Say Nothing at All, by Allison Krauss).  As much as I love that song, and as happy as it makes me to hear it when it comes up on my iPod, it’s not really the same as the other kinds of memories that music brings me.  There aren’t moments of our relationship that are defined by music the way so many of my pre-2002 moments are.  We keep our memories in pictures and trinkets, not music.


5 thoughts on “Memory

  1. I love how so much memory is tied up in music, too (smells, too). So many of the songs I loved in high school and college I loved SO HARD. I don’t have music that makes me feel like that now. Maybe it’s a function of age?

    • I have the same thoughts about loving music, but, of course, mine’s a function of biology. I do think that, once you’re out of those angsty years and settled into a comfortable life, you might not *need* music the way you did then. But the music that moves you to this day is the music that you needed so hard back then. The music my dad still loves, the music he listens to on the record player with his eyes closed in the dark in the living room after everyone goes to bed, is the music of his youth.

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