remembering in music

one of my friends recently wrote a blog entry about music, and it inspired me to write one of my own. although not quite on the same subject.

my parents and i went to lawrence, kansas, today. lawrence has lots of memories for all of us, but my most vivid and fond memories are related to going to school at the university of kansas. hugh laurie’s let them talk was our soundtrack for this trip.

staring out the window at the greening trees and fields, i thought about the blues. i thought about blue. i thought about summer. summer equals blue in my mind, and summer music is gershwin, copeland, joplin, sinatra, davis, holiday. summer is thunderstorms, humidity, jaw-dropping jazz improvisations.

it is difficult not to associate music with times or events in my life. i fell in love with jazz when i was fourteen and my uncle, who is a professional jazz pianist, had just released a new album. jazz is tied up in my mind with a wonderful time of becoming alive, of discovery, of the melancholy little side story of the person who inadvertently reminded me i wanted to learn how to fence. before i learned how to fence, i learned how to swing dance. before i learned how to do that, i tried to hip hop dance to john reuben’s do not (in a dance class), but mostly succeeded in straining my stomach muscles.

nickel creek and michelle tumes are what i remember of high school. i must have started dabbling in other music then (like simon and garfunkel), but all i really remember is falling head over heels in love with nickel creek. i thought sabra girl must have been written about me. i think the jane eyre musical sneaked in there then, too.

oh yeah. and i when i was 15 thought avril lavigne’s first album was pretty cool. i wanted to be punk. i dropped the idea when i realized i would never get the hang of liquid eyeliner.

i don’t remember the music of the year between high school and ku, but i think it was iron and wine. i have a hazy memory of a late summer evening after youth group when one friend sang cinder and smoke into the twilight on the church steps while her brother played guitar.

but the summer before ku was england. england means anberlin and michael buble. a foggy day in london town, right? well, it was more like 90 degrees when we were there, but the memory sticks nonetheless. (by the way, fred astaire sang that in “damsel in distress,” based on p.g. wodehouse’s novel.)

michael buble means my junior year of college, along with loreena mckennitt and sean watkins. i commuted five days a week, so for 45 minutes twice a day i sang along and harmonized wildly to their music. hey, it’s the best place to practice — no one else was there to hear me.

during spring break of my junior year i took a day trip to st. louis and the city museum with some friends. dave matthews’ stay or leave is my st. louis song.

in my senior year i discovered the decemberists and rediscovered ben folds (who had appeared briefly when i was about 16, i think — i couldn’t handle him then). i worked at ku’s tv station for a semester on their website, and the computer i used had 16 military wives in its itunes library. i found the song humorously appropriate considering the job i was doing.  i also discovered the radio that year, when making the long drive at 1 a.m. after a copy editing shift on the paper meant i needed upbeat music. should i be embarrassed to mention i liked the all-american rejects dirty little secret, nickelback’s “rockstar,” colbie caillat’s “bubbly,” sean kingston’s “love like this,” and fergie’s “big girls don’t cry”? fergie’s clumsy was another favorite; it’s about being klutzy and falling in love, and at the time i thought both subjects were humorously appropriate.

which is the reason i don’t listen to ben fold’s gracie girl anymore. for a while it made me feel sick to my stomach (which is too bad, since it’s a sweet song). (if you want to know that story, ask me, but i won’t explain it here.)

josh groban was another college soundtrack. i remember singing remember when it rained at the top of my lungs late at night the summer after my graduation as i drove home with the windows down after seeing “get smart” with some friends.  the glottal stops of regina spektor’s it breaks my heart and the bittersweet beauty of coldplay’s viva la vida broadened my musical horizons along with flobots’ handlebars as i tried to figure out what in the world to do with myself now that i’d finished college.

in the autumn, when i started working, one line of taylor swift’s teardrops on my guitar summed things up: “and there he goes so perfectly/the kind of flawless i wish i could be.” only i misheard it as “lawless.” also, anberlin’s unwinding cable car. i love, love, love this song. it’s bittersweet, beautiful and reminds me of the golden light of early autumn.

and then, between november and january, there was andrew bird, who is an entire story in himself — and you can read that here.

that winter my music was fiction family. elements combined quickly became my favorite, but not sure is another i keep coming back to, for the simple reason that the lesson in it never gets old for me.

in some spring, a few years ago, i discovered simon and garfunkel’s album “bookends.” america makes me hungry for spring and misty, damp, warm rainy days. punky’s dilemma makes me hungry for english muffins with jam and laughter.

that summer was the perfect summer — an odd, cool, beautiful, magical summer — with lots of rain and not much heat, and gaelic storm’s kelly’s wellies and “me and the moon stayed up all night” sent me humming along in the early mornings on my way to our church’s summer outreach program.

perfect summer. we went to the mid-atlantic and my memories of pennsylvania, new jersey, maryland and delaware are sewn to landon pigg and God help the girl. down and dusky blonde reminds me of driving in the car on our day trip to cape may, new jersey, when i realized they call it the garden state for a good reason.

i broke out in sufjan stevens somewhere between july and late september. i remember visiting my brother and sister’s house apartment in westport for the first time, barefoot, breezes blowing through the windows and late summer light on worn wood floors. another brother lightly fingered the strings of his guitar and sang the opening strains of casimir pulaski day.

then perfectly odd autumn, when i fainted and all the world seemed to be muddled and confusing. there was a funny little frog in my throat, too. i remember quite clearly listening to noah and the whale’s album “the first day of spring” the next march on our way up to rochester, minnesota, and mayo clinic. i looked through the rear window at the black winter sky and looked at the stars as i listened to our window. i was busy and angry and did not think i had time to have brain surgery. it had been a while since i’d stared at the stars.

that summer i learned audrey’s assad’s show me. i sang it over and over and over. there was also the new pornographers’ these are the fables.

when we drove back up in late september for my surgery i was listening to dark captain light captain’s “miracle kicker.” since the album was a loan from a friend i don’t remember the names that went with any of the songs, or which was what, but i remember thinking it sounded like music to give someone when you didn’t want to hurt them. i know that seems like an odd (and possibly negative) description, but what i meant was that it sounded gentle and didn’t grate on my nerves.

when i was lying in my hospital bed in the dark, i sang my brother’s song do for me over and over to myself as well as a song called “stars of the morning star,” which he wrote for his/my little brother (note: none of us are actually related in normal terms).

in january i discovered jj heller. in february i discovered the weepies. somewhere in between i discovered owl city. in march i was introduced to U2. in april, mewithoutYou. i remember lying on my back in bed, in the dark, listening to it, willing myself to stick it out to the end. i remember driving out to the end of the world and back home again, listening to it in the dark and the rain and loving it. “brother, sister” is my easter album now.

the civil wars and fleet foxes flew me to germany and back again in june. it was a musical explosion last year — in a good way. last year was an explosion generally — everything was “the first” after surgery, and, whether it was my medication, my emotions or something else entirely, everything was 100 times more vivid and wonderful or horrible. i have memories of dancing happily around the kitchen to the weepies, and memories of crying into my pie dough to jj heller. i remember singing along to katie herzig’s chase me when i was feeling sarcastic and angry (it does happen sometimes). i remember realizing sigur ros’ hoppipolla, my “jumping in puddles when i’m old” song, was the song at the end of penelope, one of my favorite movies.

and i’ve run out of memory to remember all the memories i have. i have bela fleck memories, a fine frenzy memories, priscilla ahn memories, vague memories of random cds i found at the library and did not end up liking. i have musical memories from childhood and from last summer and a million times in between i’ve forgotten how to pinpoint chronologically. i have classical music memories and classic music memories and odd associations with odd music — like playing murder in the dark to the soundtrack of a collection of medieval songs for pilgrimages.

a song can carry me back to the past as easily as a photograph. maybe even more so.