Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The music of memories

If we had stuck more arms out of the car, it would have turned into an airplane and taken flight.

We were listening to the kind of music that requires vigorous arm waving. There was no hint of breathy guitars or soothingly droning voices. Summer in Greece makes the kind of noise that is not muffled by the sweaty bodies of five women, their sleeping bags, and the giant cooler they packed to pretend to be adults on this camping trip [read: to keep the beer and grilled cheese sandwiches cool.].

I remember eras by the music that permeated them. Whether I actually liked the quality of the songs associated with a particular era does not affect my love for them; it is an attachment bred by auditory memories. The drives of an entire Kentucky August took place to the tune of "I wanna be a billionaire so freakin' bad." I cringed then and I cringe now. And yet, the beauty of it is that when the rest of the world's eardrums have moved on, mine will always recognize the songs of each season. I will be lifted out of the hot-song-of-right-now and be plunged back into a drive of days long gone, a cafe of the past, a memory that would have faded were it not for the music.

Cat power graffiti in Colombia. 
I first touched his hair to Cat Power's Good Woman. We were still in the blushing stage of an undeclared love, when touch still meant "pass me the salt", when hugs would linger a little extra, just to make each of us wonder what they meant. Cat Power feels like curls, shy boldness, and budding intimacy.

On that very carpet on which we lay in Egypt on the night of Good Woman, I danced to Maps by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. "Maps" still belongs to the girls, to those girls, the girls we once were.

El Doctorado is for counting steps, missing steps, and salsa-ingly stumbling all over myself in Colombia. For falling in love with a country and a vocation. For a freer self who is still out there and sometimes comes out to play when the Doctorado era beckons.

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss walked me to work on my first job. Wilco walked me back. The National sat patiently with me while I longed for the kind of life and love I was still too shy to claim.

The bi-annual cleaning of the room my twin and I shared in college unfolded to Weezer. Weezer will always smell like Lysol and feel like the lone sock that was forgotten under the bed for a semester. Graduation involved multiple rounds of rain, rum, and Bob Sinclair. "We're the love generation," we shouted at the top of our lungs then. Funny - we still are.

My ears move on a lot more slowly than my heart. We can pointedly skip a song, we can erase it from a playlist, but I know that one day on an empty highway or in a cafe thousands of miles away, it will start playing and envelop all of us in the embrace of a different era. "Your Song" was one such song, underlined by the memories of a man who joked that he did not know "if they were green or blue." He knew. It was the era when we, practically children, listened to Damien Rice and thought the song said "did I say that I love you?" We found out it actually said "loathe you" and the whole world tumbled.

And then there was Home. I heard it in Guatemala, Elijah heard it in Boston, we sent it to one another over email on the same day. The e-mail still sits starred in my inbox and the song has a way of recurring when we most need one another. Rarely have we heard it blasting when we are together; it is as though only in the moments of deepest longing do the sound systems in the world's coffee shops conspire to remind us that "home is wherever I'm with you."

This morning, a few hours before boarding a flight to Athens, I was jarred awake by the sound of a song I hummed in Israel without knowing the words -- without knowing any words in the country at the time. It turns out the emotionally transportative power of music works in dreams as well. The journey I am embarking on today may determine the playlists of the next two years. Armed with the iPod that has accompanied every leap of faith since 2006, surrounded by the sounds of Cairo and Colombia, the uncertainty becomes more palatable. Greece is beating to the tune of "draw the stars for me and circle the one on which we'll live together." Here's hoping.
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Inspired by musical memories, and by Chloe Weil's Project: Sound of summer. What are the songs that are tied to your memories?

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