Sunday, March 18, 2012

Music Made Me - Part 13

Hmmm… I may have been a bit overzealous in zipping to the end of high school. These first two songs should be retroactively spliced in before prom and "Like A Prayer". I know, the academic sloppiness of being off by a couple months… you must be horrified.

Do What You Have To Do - Sarah McLachlan

I never owned this album. I say this not in an effort to protect my manliness (although this is probably the girliest entry on this list). I say this because it's noteworthy how well I know the album given that I never had personal access to it. This is the result of dating someone with a different musical history; you get a deep dive into their music tastes without even realizing that it's happening.

As I built this list I often do research by listening to albums I remember being exposed to at the time. Sometimes I come back with memories, sometimes I don't. This one was a bit of a late addition, something I didn't even consider until a week ago. But I'm glad I acted on that idea. This album sounds like high school to me. It sounds like prom. And it sounds like the relationship I was in.

I didn't go out of my way to select a song with any lyrical significance. But in listening through the album this song oddly stuck out to me, and then I noticed the lyrics of what I had chosen. "I don't know how to let you go." Wow, okay. Um, did I mention that this was a doomed relationship? It was the end of high school, and we were each going away to colleges in different states. The experiment had an undeniable fixed end point. It didn't really matter if it was going well, it was going to fall apart. It had to. That creates a very particular brew of emotions. And this song stirs those up.

There were less heavy aspects to this album. "Ice Cream", for example. But I'm going to stick with my first instinct and go with the melodrama.

They Can't Take That Away From Me - Diana Krall

Okay, I feel terribly exposed talking about all these intimate details on the internet. When I started this project I didn't realize how personal it was going to get. I guess that's just the cost of telling my musical story. My relationship to music is intimate and steeped in memory. I'm apparently incapable of talking about one without the other.

So, continuing...

It's a unique kind of relationship that starts from an existing close friendship. There's an immediate intensity to it. Combine that with a fixed time limit, and it's even more so. In this song I clearly see the two of us, up late talking, listening to music, and just generally enjoying the moment. This memory must have taken time during high school, not the summer after, because I specifically remember hearing the lyric of "the way we dance 'til 3" and realizing that it was at least 3am at that very moment. On a school night. And I had to be up in only a few hours. Still, no regrets.

For someone who isn't really into lyrics, I seem rather focused on them here. But the song doesn't lie, this was a person who really and truly changed my life. I would not be the same person if I had never met her. The memory of all that… no, you can't take that way from me.

Weapon and the Wound - Days of the New

Okay, we need a shift in tone. Something a little less heavy. Well… this song has one of those odd associations that's entirely personal to me and completely irrelevant to anyone else. This song makes me think of mammoth tanks.

I'm on the computer in my dad's office. I'm listening to the radio and they're doing an interview on the release of the second Days of the New album. It turns out the band is really just one dude, Travis Meeks, because he fired the rest between albums. The first album was basically acoustic guitar porn; the second one is a far more ambitious project.

The point is that I was listening to this interview and later the whole album as I'm playing Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun. I'm building my base, sending out tanks, and listening to my custom soundtrack. Two independent pieces of content consumed at the same time, forever linked together in my brain.

I struggled to pick the one song from the album to represent this connection. In the end it had to be "Weapon and the Wound", because I have a reaction to the orchestral beginning of this song that evokes specific units from the game. What I was doing and what I was listening to matched particularly poorly at that point in time. The song does not suggest mammoth tank carnage, but that's what was unfolding before my eyes. Yet now, they totally match for me, because that's how memory links everything together.

The Opera - The Jazz Mandolin Project

Probably more than any other, this song represents what this list is about. Music memory.

I had just dropped my girlfriend and her family off at the airport. I saw them off at the gate, because back then you could do that sort of thing. It's shortly after that moment, and I'm driving their minivan home. But it's my music in the stereo. This isn't the first song that comes on after leaving the airport; it's actually a bit later when this perfect match to my mood hits. To this day I can see where I was in all clarity, driving on I-5, every single time this song starts.

In that moment emotion and music found each other and fused. Permanently. Those first couple notes hit me so hard, and they still do. After that gentle start then the song develops this understated drive that perfectly synced with my very real and physical drive away from a difficult emotional moment. It then turns its somber character to be slightly more optimistic. I was in that moment considering my very near and very unsure future, and this tone was a great aid to me.

That first minute and a half of this song are so intensely familiar to me. It's honestly startling the power it still has over me.

I've always considered myself to have a poor memory. This whole project has really helped solidify a different perspective on that. It isn't that my memory is bad; it's that it doesn't store what I expect it to. I never have forgotten the memory of this song, but I didn't realize how many similar connections I have buried in my head. This musical archaeology has helped me realize this, and I'm so happy that I decided to go on this crazy journey.

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