Semibreve memories: The music that ‘takes me back’

‘In memory, everything seems to happen to music.’

These words are spoken by Tom, the character who narrates much of The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, as he retells the story of the life with his mother and sister which he has left behind. I studied and performed part of the play during my A Levels, and this line always struck me as fairly spot on. In the play, Tom’s reflection is tinged with regret about the family he has forsaken: the apartment where much of the action takes place has a ‘Victrola’, a wind up phonograph which plays slightly grainy, mournful music. To me it always seemed that this alone could have been the music in Tom’s sad memories: an appropriately melancholy soundtrack.

I too have found that memories tend to play to music, and that, in turn, music tends to bring back memories. Sometimes that’s a lovely thing, but sometimes it has the unfortunate side effect of reminding us of things we’d really rather forget. So I thought I’d share some of my most potent memories in which music plays a central role, or to borrow from Williams, in which things ‘seem to happen to music’.

American Pie, Don McLean, 1976.

My Dad loves music, and growing up our house was always full of a huge variety of sound: a lot of the music I love I discovered through my father, and it’s one of the things I’m most grateful to him for. Don McLean’s American Pie album was one we’d always listen to when my brother and I were eating the porridge Dad had made us before we left for school, and as well as being an awesome song, this takes me back to school ties and the kitchen counter more than anything else. Every day we’d listen from the beginning of the album, and so we never got much further than the first two or three songs!

What’s Shakin’ on the Hill, Nick Lowe, 1990.

Another result of my Dad’s musical influence: I still struggle to listen to this one. It takes me right back to that feeling of being left out of something which you so desperately want to be included in: I think most people experience this at some point growing up, and it’s not a nice feeling! But I guess it always made me feel better that somebody as completely cool as Nick Lowe knew how I felt.

Kiss Me, Sixpence None the Richer, 1997.

During our last years at high school one of my best friends and I used to get off the school bus at the end of the day and head to her house to make milkshakes and dance around her blissfully deserted kitchen before her parents got home from work. I had my first heartbreak at about this point, which took a lot of getting over and I felt awful for a long time afterwards, but it was during one of these dancing sessions that I suddenly realised I felt truly happy again. Every time I hear it that surge of pure happiness and contentment always comes back strong.

You Didn’t Know Me When, Harry Connick  Jr, 1991.

When I first went to university, Dad wrote to me all the time. He also sent me several compilation CDs: this song was included on the first one, and reminds me of my first term in Oxford when everything was new and exciting and terrifying. I used to listen to it on my iPod walking through autumn wind and rain to the library.

Girls Chase Boys, Ingrid Michaelson, 2014.

I loved Ingrid Michaelson’s music from the moment I discovered it: this one is a bit different from her older stuff but I became completely addicted to it during the my last year at university. One of my best friends, who lived above me in college and was too fond of using her speakers VERY LOUDLY also fell in love with it and used to blast it and then text me saying ‘this is for you’, which always made me smile. A nice change given that her noise pollution usually elicited extreme grumpiness on my part! This take me back to writing my thesis, and living altogether in university with so many of my friends for the last time.

Which songs bring back memories most strongly for you?

And by the way, if you’ve read this far, the image at the top is of the noticeboard in my university room in first year: the things I stuck on it still bring back memories of the time that I chose them to decorate my walls. In case you were wondering. Which you probably weren’t. Totally worth reading this far for that, I know.

All content is © Rebecca Daley and ohtogoawandering, 2014

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