My grandfather once related a story to me about how my uncle was doing some major repairs on his sailboat, and had arranged for a big crew of his friends to come over and help. My grandfather decided to stop by and see how the work was coming along, and was surprised to find that there were a whole bunch of people there, but no one was working. They were all looking around for a radio. Once the radio had been found and the music was going, they all got to work. Well that seemed to just tickle my grandfather to death. Imagine, not being able to work until the music was playing.
I chuckled. "Yeah, that's funny. Imagine". I didn't have the heart to tell him that I completely understood where they were coming from. I'm exactly the same way. Whether I'm working in the yard,the garage, or the living room, the first thing I do is put on some music. The beautiful thing about music is that it can accompany you while you're doing almost anything else. It truly is the soundtrack to your life.
Music has pretty much always been present in my life. The clock radio was always on in the kitchen when I got up. Mom and dad watched "Name that Tune." We even had finches named Simon and Garfunkel. So naturally, certain songs bring back memories. I've come to realize though, that some songs don't just remind me of a general time or place in my life, they actually take me back in time. The memories associated with the music are so intense and vivid that when I hear the song, I can close my eyes and virtually relive the moment.
Let me put on some music and I'll take you on a little journey through time:
"South Pacific" - Original Broadway cast
The space under Mom and Dad's stereo cabinet is a magical treasure trove of 33 and 1/3 rpm vinyl. I'm sitting on the floor sifting through the row of fading cardboard jackets. There are so many I'd never heard of; The King and I, Mario Lanza. They feel old and delicate, yet heavy, and if I try to flip more than a couple at a time, they fall against the previous albums with a solid, "Whumpf". This music isn't on the radio. It feels rare and valuable. If I'm very careful, Mom and Dad will let me put it on the turntable.
"Handy Man" - James Taylor
My first AM radio! Free for the first time to choose the music that I want to hear, I carry it with me everywhere I go. I revel in the sheer joy of having music with me anywhere, everywhere. I'm a little disappointed that reception in my bedroom in the finished basement kinda sucks, but it doesn't matter. A signal manages to get through. My best friend Eric gets a radio too, and for the first time in my life I am actually talking about music and have an opinion on specific songs. I love the song "Afternoon Delight" by The Starland Vocal Band. Holy crap! Did you know that song is about sex?!?
"Three Dog Night - The Greatest Hits"
I'm in the back seat of a huge gold Chevy station wagon with my brothers and sister and we're driving home from church. It's a gorgeous spring day in Central NY and the sun feels amazing after the dead gray of winter. Jeremiah was a bullfrog is playing in the 8-track tape player that wobbles under the dash where it's held by two sheet metal screws. I can see the speaker wires sticking out the back, wrapped in black electrical tape. I don't even want to like this song, but it's catchy and I'm having a hard time not singing along. We've heard it a couple of times now, because 8-tracks just keep going if you don't stop them. Black and White comes on and we all start singing along, even my little sister in her car seat. Everyone claps when we get to that part of the chorus and it makes me laugh, like when you all try to whistle the theme from Jeopardy.
"Freebird" - Lynyrd Skynyrd
School is out. There are about a dozen of us and we're at Kasson Road school tossing a Frisbee around. The music is coming from speakers in the back of my older brother's truck. Most of the gang are his friends so I feel a little out of place, but they're all pretty cool. They call me "little Striff", which I don't really like, but I feel kind of lucky that they're letting me hang out with them. Mark Taylor is busy polishing his classic Cougar and you can see the grass reflecting off of it. There's a cooler of beer out of sight behind one of the cars. The drinking age is 18 and most everyone there is legal, but you're not supposed to have alcohol on school property so it still feels rebellious. The sun is shining, there's a nice breeze, and the summer seems to stretch out forever in front of me.
"Heat of the Moment" - Asia
We're on the grass outside of my dorm room and I have the stereo speakers turned out into the quad so we can hear the music while we're playing Frisbee. Dan in his ball cap and Brad, shirtless in the northern NY sun. Rich is being a dork and seems to be the only one who thinks it's funny that he seems to have no ability to aim the Frisbee whatsoever. I haven't known them that long, but it's obvious that these are some of the best friends I'll ever have. We are having too much fun to stop and realize that these are the days we'll look back on so fondly.
"I Go Swimming" - Peter Gabriel
It's about 8:00 at night. Could be 10:00. Feels like midnight. We're driving in my Toyota Corolla just south of Washington, DC, and traffic has finally started moving again. Some college friends and I are going camping at Carolina Beach. It's our first post-college road trip together, and we've been trapped in the car for almost a full day, battling traffic and listening to 80's rock. I Go Swimming comes on and we start to accel-a-bop. The gas pedal goes down, we're singing at the top of our lungs and swinging wildly back and forth in unison, which is making the car sway back and forth in the lane. No doubt we look like a car full of idiots. It's great to be alive.
"All I Need is a Miracle" - Mike and the Mechanics
College is over and the 80's are in full swing. I'm in King of Prussia, PA, working for GE Aerospace and I'm on a temp assignment with some other folks waiting for our government clearances to come through. We're a small group of young people in a dark room in the back of an old building full of old people. There is a manager we call "Timely", because he's always harping on us about being punctual. The work is tedious and boring and we're having the time of our lives. We've bonded in a way that only bad situations can foster, and our working lives spill out into the nights, dancing, drinking, playing softball and going to see concerts. It's the worst job I've ever loved.
"Summertime" - from Porgie and Bess
We're walking down the street in Center City, Philadelphia. We pass a piano bar. Through the window is a sea of people crowded around a baby grand. My friend Patrick gets a huge grin on his face and says, "C'mon!" In a flash we're in the bar, pushing through the crowd, and he's whispering in the piano player's ear. Patrick starts singing and the crowd goes silent. He knows what this song is about. He feels it. His voice and his heart and his soul pour out into the room and in that moment you know that he's right - that one of these days, you will rise up singing, you will spread your wings, and you'll take to the skies.
Patrick left us two years ago at the tragically young age of 33. His smile, his laugh and his voice touched the life of every single person he ever met, and Summertime will always be his.
"Time after Time" - Cyndi Lauper and Sarah McLachlan
A timeless song, sung by two of my favorite artists. Can it get any better than that? Well, yeah. It can. I'm standing at the top of the stairs, holding my little niece's hand, looking down over 300 hundred of our closest friends and family. I'm about to marry my best friend in the whole world. The man who's smile captured my heart from the first time we met. He's holding his niece's hand, and as the music starts he fidgets in his tux. He's so nervous it's adorable. Almost too soon the ceremony will be over and we'll walk out into a sea of smiling, cheering people. You'll be able to feel the love in the air, and we'll be the two happiest people on earth.
So, those are just a few of my songs.
I'm sure you have similar memories, locked together forever with a song. Dig out the old records and tapes, or hit iTunes, and take a trip back in time. Relive some of the moments you may have forgotten, visit some old friends, and while you're there, send us a postcard, we'd love to hear about it.
See that job title? Check it out: "Spy". How cool is that? I know, you're probably wondering what it means to be a spy for an international organization like Intrepid Media, huh? Well I'd love to tell you, but I can't. It's all part of the spy game, baby.
ABOUT ROGER STRIFFLER
more about roger striffler
IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
7.9.07 @ 2:30a
Roger, I'm a diehard fan of Cyndi Lauper's version "Time After Time." I have several versions of that song, and recommend checking out ones performed by Cassandra Wilson and Everything But The Girl.
Oh, and I never get started writing without music on, either. The orchestral soundtracks for "Batman Begins", "Gladiator", and "Lord of the Rings" are all handy for that.
7.9.07 @ 3:08a
I do listen to music a lot, although when I'm working/writing and in the zone I don't even hear it. I listen to it all the time while driving.
You're right, there are songs that hold a place in time for me.
7.9.07 @ 1:12p
Two musicals on your list. curious... :-)
7.9.07 @ 2:13p
You know, that is pretty funny, considering I'm not a big fan of musicals these days.
This was fun to write because I just sat there and let my mind go. These are just some of the first ones I thought of. Needless to say, there are tons more, like you singing Stevie Nicks...
7.9.07 @ 2:41p
I giggle everytime I hear "Stand Back" on the radio.
7.9.07 @ 10:58p
Oh, and Alex - I'lldefinitely check out the other versions. I have a bad habit of getting attached to particular versions of songs, but I'm breaking out of that.
Robert - examples?
7.9.07 @ 11:46p
One of the best examples I have of a song associated with a time and place is the theme to my senior prom: Out Here On My Own from Fame. Of all the more positive songs, the uplifting songs, a song about being and feeling alone really has been a theme running through my life since that time.
Another is actually any song from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. That takes me back to 1980 and going to the midnight shows every Friday at the Art Cinema in New Brunswick, NJ. The Art Cinema was built in the 1920s and was one of those great art deco style theaters that has fallen into disrepair and was an adult theater during the day. Any song from RHPS takes me back to sitting there throwing rice, and yelling with the crowd and doing the Time Warp in the aisle of this great old theater.
Midnight At the Oasis and Band on the Run were my two first AM radio laying in bed at night before falling asleep in 1974-75/76. I can't hear either song without remember warm summer nights looking out the window at the moon or stars, and feeling young and safe.
The Andrew Sisters singing Rum and Coca-Cola takes me back to 1988 and a local diner that was a theme place styled to look like a 40s/50s tin can diner where the servers did dance routines every 30 minutes or so, and the menu described jello cubes as, "they're cute, they're red, they jiggle."
Springsteen's Jungleland takes me to 1982 and Asbury Park, driving to the shore at night and playing miniature golf on the boardwalk, hitting the Funhouse and Merry-go-round and arcades.
Those are some examples. Thanks for writing this. It made me remember some good, safe, happy times.
7.10.07 @ 9:32a
Again, this is marvelous.
7.10.07 @ 6:45p
I was collecting aspersions to cast concerning many of these songs when you mentioned Summertime and all is now right with the world. The moral: the quality of the music (Mike and the Mechanics? Gahh!) has little to do with the strength of its connection to great memories.
7.10.07 @ 7:08p
Oh, hey...don't get the idea I'm endorsing any of these bands or albums wholesale...these are individual songs that have memories tied to them.
I also have quite a few songs I can't stand that have memories tied to them, but I thought I'd try to keep this more upbeat ;o)
7.22.07 @ 9:06p
I just can't understand the need some people have to have music on while doing stuff. It's a totaly foreign concept to me!
Okay, okay...maybe I understand a little bit.
By the way, Roger, can you put a place and time to this song? "Rocket Man" ;->
7.23.07 @ 8:16a
Pub outside the Panthers stadium in Charlotte, the night Oasis and the Manic Street Preachers canceled on us. It was playing on the jukebox, and suddenly everyone in the bar started singing. I think that was the point where we looked around and realized it was a lesbian bar.
We were really disappointed about the concert being canceled, but the story had a surprise happy ending when we got to see, meet and hang out with the 'Preachers the next night at the Cat's Cradle in Carrboro.
Good times, good times.
7.31.07 @ 11:19p
I realized tonight yet another song that takes me back to 1978, freshman year in high school, in English class. MacArthur Park.
I went to a very progressive high school. That song was on the radio I had in my pocket with the jack in my ear, all through first period. WABC AM radio. the line up was almost identical every morning.
I heard the song on the radio tonight I was back in that hell hole, um, high school classroom, reading Macbeth, wishing the room had windows so I had something to look at.
8.1.07 @ 8:57a
I remember that song too, and you know what? I still don't understand what it means. Who the hell leaves a cake out in the rain? And it kills me that everyone who's ever recorded it tries to be SO serious doing it.
I realize that I had a really great childhood, but now I feel kind of spoiled. In twelve years of school, I don't think I ever sat in a classroom that didn't have windows.
8.2.07 @ 12:18a
Yet the Donna Summers disco version manages to make it a fun song to dance to.
My high school was built in 1976 and had this weird design where the library was to the right of the center hall and a classroom section was to the left of the center hallway including the "Home Ec" room, and neither library or classrooms had an outside wall because on they were bordered by hallways on both sides. Of course we also had a building where the contractors misread the building plans so the pool below the gym floor became rooms above the lockerrooms instead. Having no pool made it harder to have a swim team, but we sort of managed.