Friday, January 10, 2014

Music and Memory

Looking back on my life, I now realize that my memories are always centered around music. Most questions that begin with "Hey, remember that time..." end with a puzzled look on my face and no recollection of said event. But if you connect it to music, I will remember it always, with as much emotion as ever. Music transports me back in time and drops me squarely in the midst of that event.

My earliest childhood memories are of me sitting in my bedroom in the basement clutching a record sleeve, music blaring, me singing along. I can feel the dampness and coolness of that room. I can see the support poles that dived my space from my sister's, though it did nothing to keep us from tip-toeing across the room at night to talk and play after bedtime. I see so much of this child in my oldest daughter who sings a never-ending soundtrack to her own life.

I remember buying my first record, Madonna's "Like a Virgin." I asked my mom, at age seven what a virgin was. My mom, cool as ever, responded simply with "it's someone who has never had sex before." I always felt sort of awkward singing along to that record afterward.

My formative childhood years were spent in England, so many of my childhood music staples were different than those of my peers in the US. To this day, someone will mention a song/show/commercial from that period of time and everyone else in the room connects, while I am left feeling as if part of my life is missing somehow.

In high school, I used to watch MTV while doing my homework. Ever the multi-tasker, it was usually no distraction to me. I remember so clearly one day hearing something new come on the tv. From the first line grumbled, "load up on guns, bring your friends," I was entranced by the rawness and the emotion that Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" evoked. It make me feel primal and alive. It is still one of my all-time favorite songs. Being well before the time of youtube and the internet, I watched MTV for hours at a time, waiting for that video to come back on again.

And then there was Robert, who introduced me to Violent Femmes and the Rollins Band. This boy would have been my undoing if my parents had not had a strict no dating before 16 rule. In hindsight, I am so glad they did, though I hated it at the time. We met in study hall and he was relentless in his pursuit of me. At 15, I loved the attention. Once he finally realized that I simply could not date him, he moved on, his intentions coming clearly to light. I still feel sort of icky when I hear those bands.

My senior year of high school brought me from Omaha, Nebraska to Warner Robins, Georgia. It was a year of hell and I still cannot go back to that town without having a panic attack (mostly, I just don't go; I have no reason to return anymore). But there was one bright spot in the awful year and as a result, Marilyn Manson always makes me smile. Greg was my tether to reality and hope that I might one day be worth something. We met in Physics class and quickly began eating lunch together every day; well, every day that I didn't skip school or sneak off campus for lunch. He was nice to me, even when I didn't deserve it. I was too busy hating myself and making bad decisions to notice that when he was asking me to hang out with him, he was actually asking me out (at least I think he was). So I blew him off, not because I wasn't interested, but because I felt unworthy. He eventually stopped asking and started dating a cheerleader instead. We didn't spend as much time together after that and my decision making got worse. But I still think of him in his Marilyn Manson t-shirts and black and white striped tights worn under shorts. He would have been good for me, but I wasn't allowing anything good in my life at that time. While Marilyn Manson makes me smile, Smashing Pumpkins and Live bring about dark, lonely memories from that time. Odd, I know.

In college and another lifetime from high school, I ran into Greg again. It took me a while to work up the nerve to say hi to him. In high school I used to run from him and this time he ran from me. I woke up one morning to POD on my stereo chanting "when we come, when we come, the wicked run," and had that song stuck in my head as I made my way to class one morning. I would often run into Greg waiting for his next class as I was on my way to mine. We would chat a bit and then move on. I was terrified to tell him that I was a completely different person than I used to be (in very good ways) because of Jesus. This particular morning, I worked up the nerve and told him. And he ran away from me; literally got up and ran away from me. Greg is far from wicked, but it still makes me laugh to think of that song and to picture him running away from me when I told him I became a Christian. Another lifetime passed before Greg and I connected again.

My husband and I fell in love to music. The first time we spent any significant time together he drove my car to a music festival in Kentucky (I hate driving). Most of our early conversations were centered around music. Later, when he moved to China, we used to play a game of sending each other song lyrics to see if the other could come up with the song and artist. A few years later, when we finally professed our love for one another, we were living a thousand miles apart at opposite ends of China. We began sending mixed tapes to one another to communicate how we were feeling. Dashboard Confessional was on heavy rotation during this time in my life.

Later, during an especially difficult time in our marriage, I remember clearly sobbing while listening to Coldplay's "The Scientist," wishing we could "go back to the start." Thankfully, we forged ahead instead. But that song still makes me cry.

When I miscarried our first child, it took months for me to be able to return to church. I felt betrayed by God and splayed open for all to see my deep wounds and failure to become a mother. The thought of being surrounded by sympathetic looks and smiling faces kept me away for too long. It was Mother's Day when I finally returned. The first song we sang during worship time was "Blessed Be Your Name." When I got to "on the road marked with suffering; though there's pain in the offering; blessed be Your name," I broke wide open and sobbed, right there in the middle of church. I kept telling God during that church service that I didn't understand why He took "my baby" away and I felt every time, that He responded gently with, "his name is Joshua." God gave me my son's name during that song. I cannot sing it still without missing that boy and thinking of who he might be right now.

I could go on and on and mention R.E.M., Blondie, Zao, Blindside, MxPx, The Juliana Theory, Pedro the Lion, Counting Crows, etc. and all the memories connected to them, but I will save your tired eyes from reading further. Hats off to those of you who made it through this marathon post. Sometimes, these thoughts of mine just need to find a place to land.

1 comment:

Kristen said...

Just loved reading this, Jo. Music has the same hold on me; life would be so different without it.