Friday, March 25, 2011

Hear Music: Memories

Sometimes I hear songs that are from my past. Sometimes I hear songs that should be part of my past. Sometimes I hear songs that define my present.

Sometimes I will hear a song and try to breathe deep to smell the places it reminds me of. Sometimes I will hear a song and try so hard to see the settings they remind me of. When I listen to Hear Music Vol. 2 I am transported to eleven o’clock at 1930 Hillman Ave, Belmont, California. My father is drinking a glass of white wine, and the back porch door is open. The light in the house is rich and colorful. The house is newly remodeled, covered in modern lights, granite and cherry wood. The summer air drifts in smelling heavily of oak and humidity. The windows reflect brightly but I can see into the valley that is Belmont and I can taste the rich night air; streetlights mirror the lights inside. My father’s speakers blast the music and I am sleepy, but going to bed is the furthest thing from my mind. My mother is asleep on the new brown leather couch with the Navajo rug draped over it, and I am sitting in the old white leather seat. I can smell the old leather; in it is our first house, the first place I ever lived. Billy Bragg and Wilco permeate the house, drowning out the crickets I know are outside. I stare at the bright track lights and let my mind drift outside. The potato vines that cover our fence, the little flowers that fall over the retaining wall, the plum tree that hangs in the corner of our property; all tell me I live in a veritable Eden.

Bap Kennedy flows gently from the speakers and suddenly I am in Reno. It is summer again. The air is dry and warm, the air is earthy and full of sage, the air is ambient and light. I am in the front yard, I am in the backyard. In the front yard I watch cars pass on the distant roads. I wait for my friends to arrive. In the backyard family friends are here, Natalie is on the trampoline, the pool lights are on, and the laughter of old friends layers itself over the tracks. Inside, the dishes need to be done, but everyone has eaten well. A bottle of white wine sits on the coffee table, it is empty and everyone’s glasses are half-full. Our house is a warm yellow, rich with varnished wood, and I am home, living on an oasis in a desert.

Bruce Cockburn takes a turn at my memory, making an abstract picture of my past that is as much the song as my memory. It pulls me into Arizona, I am much younger now. It is gray out; soon I will be exploring Arizona’s beautiful terrain, the intricate canyons and native tribes. It is midnight, and a couple young teens bike past going to a friend’s house. I can hear the gentle clack and click of the wheels running under the gears. A warm full breeze blows past. It fills the air with the scent of desert flowers and dry warmth.

Over all these tracks is the one memory. I wanted to share this with Ciera. So I did, one night, sitting at two in the morning in her bed. We looked into the gray dark—a city dark—holding each other. One headphone in each of our ears we listened to the tunes off my iPod, the screen casting long shadows over the messy room. I couldn’t ever fully explain the love of those songs to her. The Boston spring air drifted in through the window. The sounds of the early morning city faintly accented the songs. Each track steadily re-imprinted itself upon my memory, this time with the darkness of a hotel room, the security of a relationship, and the insecurity of the future. Unable to make sense of the newly vast world, we fell asleep. The profound pain of our separation and first year of college escapes from Joseph Arthur’s guitar. The smell of her hair clings to Neko Case’s voice.

But then there are songs that define my past without being part of my past. The songs that I hear for the first time and know I have heard for all eternity. David Byrne and Brian Eno, Modest Mouse, and The Magic Numbers, all transport me to a past before they existed. They fit in the crevices of my memory without hesitation, filling in the blanks, becoming a soundtrack that wasn’t there before.

The last song is the song that is my present. These are the pop songs my peers seem to like so much. Fall-out Boy’s “Sugar We’re Going Down” is 16 years old. Kevin Rudolph is February, 2009. MIA, “Paper Planes” is spring semester 2008. These songs are the songs I can’t escape, and they define my present without hesitation. They so strongly define my present that I feel uncomfortably human when I listen to said songs. Sometimes I will have random outbursts of words or names; I am recalling awkward situations, I can’t escape them. They are so present in my mind that time does not allow it to erase, merely to imprint stronger on my mind. The songs of my present are the songs of development and change: unstable, transitory, not of my choice.