Music (Part III): Wrapped up in a song.

sixteencandles09Adventureland’s soundtrack got me thinking about music and how for me, it used to be a really tactile, physical thing – both literally and figuratively, in a way it just isn’t anymore. In 1987 we were listening to music on cassette tapes. Plastic, durable, stackable, bulky tapes with scratched cases. I can still smell the ribbon and feel the anger in my throat when it got pulled out and chewed up by a rogue tape player or a little brother. I remember spooling it back in with a pencil, holding my breath, hoping it would still play. Taping songs off the radio, making mixed tapes, it was a manual thing – you had to get the timing right, you had to listen and press RECORD and STOP at the perfect moment.

When you went to the record store and plunked down nine dollars and change for a casette, you were taking it on faith that you were going to like all the songs as much as you liked the one you bought the tape for. You listened to the whole tape as soon as you got in the car. It was cumbersome to fast forward to a particular song, although it’s a skill we all honed. Doctor Dash was exceedingly good at this, though he had had many years of practice by the time we started roadtripping together.

Music was experienced by album back then – not by song – so there was a depth of familiarity and listening that I’m not quite getting anymore. We used to listen to our tapes over and over until we wore them out. Now I flit around, clicking and dragging, making playlists, dismissing songs I don’t like in the first ten seconds. Truth be told, there’s so much music on our computer, I haven’t even listened to a lot of it. Music is an ocean now – vast, unknowable – I feel I can’t do much more than sail along on top of it.

When I was young, I would very specifically and deliberately associate certain songs with certain times or people. A song was like plastic wrap and you would wrap it around a memory and there it would stay forever. Packaged, accessible, easy to hold in your hand daydream fodder. Lionel Richie’s Hello offered direct access to the one and only time I danced with Danny Voss – hunky, blond, turquoise-sleeveless-t-shirt-wearing, cousin-of-a-girl-I-hated, Danny Voss. Talk about yearning. Talk about visceral. This song made my stomach do flip flops for months on end.

At the beginning of law school, I sat on my fire escape and cried because someone was having a party at a house nearby and loud snatches of Uncle John’s Band kept floating over to me. The late afternoon sun, the Dead, the smell of beer and pot – that was college and I missed that life so much it hurt.

Blister in the Sun by the Violent Femmes? High school dances – unfettered Molly Ringwald dancing. I Melt with You by Modern English? Also school dances – spinning, dizzy, swallowed up in the music, wishing I had a boyfriend.

The Reflex by Duran Duran was the lip synch contest at camp. A girl from another cabin peed on stage. Pee and nervous laughter as she pretended to play the keyboards. Darkening concrete beneath her feet.

U Can’t Touch this by MC Hammer was the lounge at school. Girls in uniforms dancing on the coffee table.  

Brass Monkey by the Beasties was Fourth of July fireworks. I was really really tan and my hair was really really big. I was wearing Levis, rolled and tapered at the bottom, a pink tank top and opalescent lipstick. Hot shit.

And if there’s any woman my age who can’t hum the song from the Sixteen Candles scene pictured above, I’ll get a spiral perm tomorrow.

Do kids still do this? Lock in music to moments? Or is that something you only do when you can fit all your music into a shoe box? When the rate of discovering new music is directly tied to weekly rides to the mall? Is there too much music now? Is our capacity to make music our own finite and ultimately being diluted by instantaneous and unmitigated access? Is the very fact that I’m posing these questions, proof positive of my old lady status and that I just don’t get it?

And then there’s irony, which creates even more distance between the gut and the song. A friend was complaining about how her high schooler was listening to Phil Collins, whom she had never liked and liked even less now that her daughter and her friends had discovered him. I can’t say I disagree, although perhaps I find myself softening on Mr. Honey Tones and Thinning Hair as the years pass. On second thought, Sussudio really was unforgivable.  Maybe I was uniquely unjaded when it came to music, but I always took it as it came. I certainly didn’t listen to music with any sense of irony. I do now. And kids now seem to as well. Is it their loss?

I hope not. I hope that when Saint James is 35, he can pick out a handful of songs that send him shooting to his teen years, to specific moments in time when he couldn’t breathe for laughing so hard or being so smitten, to driving with friends with the windows open and the wind on their teeth, to playing foosball in smoky basements, to wrestling in the snow because he and his best friend were both being dicks and it was the only way to work it out, to pressing a finger onto a girl’s sunburnt shoulder, watching his print recede and doing it again.

Which songs did you wrap around your memories? Do tell.

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8 Responses to “Music (Part III): Wrapped up in a song.”

  • Kim Says:

    The entire Abba album takes me back to 7th grade at Christ the King and rollerskating in my basement with a hairbrush as a mic. “Boys of Summer” by Don Henley is all about cruising around Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet in my girlfriends red jeep…I can almost smell my Loves Baby Soft perfume!

  • Audrey Says:

    You’ve nailed it–you are definitely an old lady! No, seriously. I still whirl around when I heard the Dead on soft rock stations and laugh and remember the mushrooms, the tie dies, and the vege sandwiches at Alpine Valley. (My kids’ 18 year old babysitter is going to Chicago for the weekend to hear the Dead, minus Jerry, of course.) My Dead tapes are long gone. Oh, the hours spent listening to the jams…Yes, we’re definitely too old to know what kids make of music.

  • Red Vogue Says:

    “The Theme from Shaft” was played for the ENTIRE lunch period via a juke box in the lunch room, at Saint Jean Baptiste School on East 70th Street in New York, 1971.

  • peevish mama Says:

    Red Vogue – love that! Super sexy! I want Salt and Pepper Polymath to pipe in too!
    Aud – I wasn’t serious about that old lady talk – we are NOT old ladies! No way, sister!
    Kim – This one’s for you baby: although I say nobody does it like Don . . .

  • S&P Polymath Says:

    Thelonius Monk’s “Crepuscle with Nellie” -the most evocative track of my teen years – I’ll spare you the details. Charlie Parker’s “Night in Tunesia” from the 1954 Tully Hall Session. Exotic – VERY romantic. Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung” album. (chemical boost yielded optimum experience.)

  • susan Says:

    I can’t hear “So Lonely” without thinking about that time when where we were sitting in the car before a Bonnie Raitt concert (as if we were really that into her??!!) at Pine Knob and how we rewinding it and listening to it over and over and finding it hilarious for some reason — but that had to be a cassette, yes? Perhaps made with one of our high-tech dubbing systems/boom boxes from Service Merchandise… not to harp on this, but how did we come to the conclusion we needed to go to bonnie rait?! (tho I think she may have been a precursor my ongoing and wonderful lucinda williams obsession, so maybe it all works out in the end.)

  • peevish mama Says:

    It was indeed a tape. And it was that little yelp/hiccup of Sting’s that we found so hilarious – granted, we were in a pot sauna at the time. As for Bonnie Raitt, not sure what the fascination was. I think we just liked to go to Pine Knob – explains Beach Boys, Brian Adams, Howard Jones, Steve Miller and our first concert ever – THE CARS!!! Who’s Gonna Drive You Home Tonight? Remember touching Howard Jones’ hand? Electric blue blazer.

  • johnnie Says:

    thrived@kerby.blemish” rel=”nofollow”>.…


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