As I’ve mentioned many times throughout this blog, I have always had a deep and abiding love for music. So much so that it serves as an “index” of sorts for my almost 57 years of living. Specific songs produce immediate memories and visual images in my mind’s eye of a particular time and place. A ‘rolodex’ of my memories, if you will.
My earliest memories were of ‘church songs’; songs we sang in Sunday School at our Lutheran church in the mid to late 60’s. “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in His sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.” Fast forward from elementary grade Sunday school to “Luther League”. Just as my physical body was growing and changing, so too were my musical tastes, as they met with the songs of that era. To this day, as soon as I hear the first few stanzas of “Magic” by Pilot, there is an image that pops up on my “screen” that seems as real as if it were yesterday and yet light years ago….simultaneously, somehow. I’m sitting on a log on a fall day with my good friend Jayne and several others. We’re at a remote location up the road from what is now the Pleasant Hill Outdoor Camp. It’s the Luther League “initiation” event and we are excitedly chatting about that and other things. The “other things” including the fact that one of the “older” Luther Leaguers who was to be initiating us is someone I happen to have had a huge crush on over the span of several of my teen years. Of course, being the total socially inept wallflower that I was, Mr. L.F. never even had a clue that I scanned the congregation for his blonde locks every Sunday from my perch in the choir and watched with my heart doing flip flops as he came down the center aisle on his Sundays to help usher. I think someone had a transistor radio there that day and this song played during that time there on the log, hence the permanent ‘DVD’ it created in my brain.
In that same general time frame of my early teens, I discovered the one and only Elton John, John Denver, and The Carpenters…and so it is that songs like “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”, Take Me Home Country Roads”, “Rainy Days & Mondays” and “If” by Bread bring on images of me lolling around in my bedroom, staring off into space. A bedroom filled with posters of John Denver and my then sexy ballet dancer idol – Mikhail Baryshnikov, where I listened to music for hours while wrestling with teenage hormone-driven melancholia and introspection. Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen” was also a regular on my turntable at that time.
Late junior high/early high school I happened to be the piano accompanist to the church junior choir. Our church back then housed “interns” … young college-aged men studying to become Lutheran ministers, each for a year or so. The one during this particular time period caught my silly teen eye … a totally one-sided situation (mine) I assure you, as I barely even spoke to him for the entire duration of his internship. However, as the choir practiced immediately after school and I was not driving quite yet, he nicely offered to come pick me up at the high school in order to get me to practice in a timely manner. Oh be still my heart! For a shy teen who was so totally inexperienced with even talking to guys, let alone never even dating any, this was the pinnacle of my existence at that moment in time! For the first time in my life, I felt like “hot stuff”, walking out amongst my high school peers to get in the car of an “older man” after school once a week. Just writing that sentence makes me laugh, even after all these years!! I was so clueless. I remember these car rides vividly along with some of the songs playing on the radio at the time. Minnie Riperton’s “Loving You” and “Three Times A Lady” by The Commodores are the standouts in my mind.
As high school progressed, I stopped playing piano for the choir but I never stopped loving the music of the day. “Dust In The Wind” by Kansas and “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin were among many of note back then.
From high school it was on to college where not only did I blossom and expand my world in so many ways but, so too my musical tastes. Heretofore, I was mostly into folk, ballads, and soft rock. My new world found instant pleasure as well with pop tunes like “The Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats, a song that to this very day just makes me feel good whenever I hear it’s fast lively beat. It transports me immediately back to those college days that were some of the best in my life. “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurythmics and “Centerfold” by the J.Geils Band evoke similar feelings of positivity and rejuvenation.
My sophomore year was a pivotal one for many reasons. For starters, this was when my friends and I discovered a place out on the far west side of Columbus called The Dixie Electric Company … and I discovered how much I loved to dance. We went at least once a week. As soon as I hear the first few bars of “Turn Me Loose” by Loverboy, the song they opened with every night, I can see the dance floor in the darkened room, strobe lights flitting around like lightning bugs in the summer. This was also the time and place I met my first and only long-term boyfriend. He asked me to dance. I used to remember the song that we first danced to…and if I heard it again I probably still would but right now the name eludes me. I was in awe of his 6’4″, Tom Selleck-like good looks, dark mustache and all. He was a smooth operator … too smooth for this inexperienced small-town girl. He told me he drove a “German sports car”…..which turned out to be a yellow and black VW Karmann Ghia, a bit of a trick for his tall self. He was full of self confidence and charm … enough to sell sand to the Arabs if he wanted to. Well I fell … hook, line, and sinker…. for this older looking smooth dude who made me feel like a million bucks. Imagine my surprise a few weeks later when he revealed that not only was the ID he used to buy us wine a fake, but he was actually 2 years YOUNGER than me!! I was in shock but ended up going to his high school graduation at the end of that year and many other events throughout the three years we dated.
Many many songs mark this time period for me. Abba was and still is one of my all-time favorites bands, as was and is ELO. In fact, “Take A Chance On Me” was the song that sparked the idea for this very post, when my iMusic “mixer” included it in a recent playlist for me. It instantly evoked such a feeling of happiness and pleasure that I felt I needed to further explore this whole idea of “music-ignited memories”.
After college, life started to get real serious real quick. My first job was on a very stressful, fast-paced pediatric unit where my roommate and fellow OSU classmate also worked. She and my boyfriend were both chain smokers and soon I began the nasty habit as well. We worked long and hard hours on the floor and then stayed way past our shift smoking and charting in the nurse’s lounge. Can you imagine!? Stupid fools we were! I had even given a speech in high school about the health-related ‘evils’ of smoking! This became my James Taylor phase, as his smooth and silky “You’ve Got A Friend , “Sweet Baby James” and so many others were what I listened to in an effort to balance the hectic work life. Even though I thankfully have not had a cigarette in my mouth for over 30 years now, as soon as I hear his voice, I STILL think about lighting up. The brain is a strange and powerful thing indeed.
In June of 1987, four years out of college, I met my future husband and we married 7 months later. From here life got REALLY serious REALLY fast … a move from the city back to small town life, the birth of our daughter, life threatening illnesses for both of us – in the same year no less, job losses, financial struggles and much much more. During these 24 years there was not a lot of extra thought given to music per se’. There wasn’t time. Then in 2011, a month before our daughter was to graduate from college, things fell apart . The bottom fell out of my life completely. Back came the music … in a VERY big way. I was totally heartsick and broken. The songs of Selah — “Rescue Me”, “Press On”, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”, “His Eye Is On The Sparrow” and many many more spoke to my wounded heart and helped to pull me through the trauma of that first year after he left. As much as I love those songs, I have a hard time listening to them now, without choking up and tears, as they transport me back in time to those very, very dark days.
Almost 7 years later and my music is front and center again and I enjoy so many different artists and genre’s. Music touches me so deeply, more so than just about anything else. It has the power to make me deliriously happy or very ‘gray’ and melancholy. But no matter the mood evoked, it brings images to my mind …. truly an “index” to my life.
How about you? What makes your memories come alive? What place does music have in your life?