Listening to language of memory


“Every life has a soundtrack. There is a tune that makes me think of the summer I spent rubbing baby oil on my stomach in pursuit of the perfect tan. There’s another that reminds me of tagging along with my father on Sunday morning to pick up the New York Times. There’s the song that reminds me of using a fake ID to get into a nightclub; and the one that brings back my cousin Isobel’s sweet sixteen, where I played Seven Minutes in Heaven with a boy whose breath smelled like tomato soup. If you ask me, music is the language of memory.” —Jodi Picoult, “Sing You Home”

The first 45-vinyl single that was mine, all mine, was “Modern Love” by David Bowie. I guess that song would be the left bookend of my soundtrack, which is continually being built over time.

If someone doesn’t have a life soundtrack, or recognize theirs, which I doubt is even possible, I feel bad for them. As summer winds down, I have been replaying portions of a borrowed virtual mix tape that will one day be more my kids’ than mine.

It’s fun to think back on the songs that shape us. The best part is when we’re surprised by it. Every so often, songs come on the radio that wash up a wave of memory. Some good, some bad. But either way, it can bring back a single moment that was buried under a stack of time.

How often does “I Love You” by the Climax Blues Band come up on the radio? For some people scratching their heads, probably never. But that’s a song that accesses the pre-teen buried in my head. She’s still in there and that’s her moment.

For every “I Love You,” “Take On Me,” “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” and “Drops of Jupiter” that take me back to very specific memories, there are four other song titles someone else can insert from their own soundtrack. Like Jodi Picoult said, “If you ask me, music is the language of memory.”

In the past two months, I have been lucky to see three concerts with eight bands between them. That’s not including a couple of random bands on an outdoor patio. That’s a lot of surprisingly good live music (and theater in some cases.)

And still today, like it did from my first concert at age 13 sitting in the cheap seats, makes me wish I were a roadie. Part of me will always want to know what it’s like to climb on a bus and watch the sets go up and come down dozens of times, night after night. It’s a musical fairytale.

I was thinking back over my concert career, trying to impress my unimpressed kids with the number of bands I had seen live. It seems like I spent my entire teenage years in stadiums with hair bands belting ballads under smoke rising up to the spotlights. The number might have caused their eyebrows to rise, but the bands themselves, not so much.

One of the best things about going to shows with my daughter this summer was to feel the familiar anticipation when the lights go down and the stage lights click on. I spent more time watching people than the stage, but a couple of these shows were specially designed for young girls, which made it all the more fun to watch the parents filling the seats. And there were plenty of them.

At a Taylor Swift show, I saw 9-year-olds with bright red lips and flashing rainbow wands sing along to every song. I saw a lot of mommies flipping between texting and taking camera shots of their kids’ grins in front of the big screen projectors. I even saw some dads decked out in Taylor Swift shirts and glow necklaces, their squealing daughters trekking behind them.

The energy of a live show is contagious. No one is immune. Not even you, dad in Section 216, Row H, approximate Seat 5. I saw you waving your cell phone flashlight during “Begin Again.”

That show may have been more for my daughter, but a piece of it is logged into my soundtrack, too. I’ll stack that somewhere between Bowie and Train. Somehow, it all works together.


Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.