Saturday, January 28, 2006

Musical Snapshots: Prelude

Sorry, gang: the big-ass Ultimate Box Set I promised ain't happenin' this week. I've had a little trouble tracking down a few songs. You understand. Look for it next week, assuming I can find what I'm looking for. (Possible irony: "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" was one of the first things I found. Go figure.)

So instead of what I promised -- a dorky expounding on music that's been important in my life -- I give the introductory part in a series I've considered starting for a while: a series of dorky expoundings on music that's been important in my life. Musical Snapshots, I call it, if only to smear on the dorkiness nice and thick. I'll explain.

You know how every once in a while you'll smell something -- baking bread, or a certain perfume, or cigar smoke, or something -- and you're suddenly instantly reminded of your grandmother? I'm always fascinated by that type of synaptical connection, the way the wires in your brain link to one another. The way that sometimes the connections don't even seem to make much sense at first glance -- I can't eat grape jelly without thinking of my great-grandfather, for instance, and dolphins always remind me of Missouri. (Took me a while to decode that one, lemme tell you. Short version: I was given a Greenpeace calendar as a gift from my teacher when I left Missouri, and a beautiful photograph of a dolphin adorned the cover. It's also fitting that my clearest memory of Missouri is associated with leaving. But I digress.)

With me -- and with you, too, I'm willing to wager -- a lot of music is like that. My appreciation for a lot of songs (many of which appear on that big box set thingy, which is what started this train of thought this time 'round) has more to do with the memories that come tangled up with them. This series is an examination of those connections.

I mean, "The Unforgiven" is a pretty great tune on its own merits, far and away my favorite song, but when I hear it nowadays I don't just hear the music -- it's tied up in a hundred different memories and experiences that flood through me every time I hear that trumpet sample at the beginning. Start up "The Unforgiven" and I'm ten years old in Maryland, watching the video on MTV and practically feeling my DNA change; and I'm eleven in Oklahoma, jamming out with little tiny portable speakers that rattle against my grandmother's filing cabinet; and I'm fifteen and playing some weird game with dice at Jeff and Robbie's house and listening to the black album over and over and flipping through a book of Edgar Allan Poe poetry; and I'm nineteen or so and it's around midnight and Steve and I are dissecting the song line-by-line, pulling it apart like it's fucking "Howl" or something, gushing over the way James Hetfield has somehow managed to reach through not only time but space as well and write a song that's about us, it's like we wrote it ourselves, oh my god how fucking cool is that. All that and so much more, in just one song.

Like I said, I'm fascinated by that kinda stuff. Which is why I've decided to write about it at length.

It was hard to know where to start, really. There are any number of songs that carry with them deep emotions and memories. Practically everyone I know these days has one song (at least) that is inextricably tied to them in my mind. I could fill two mixtapes with songs that make me think of my mom, or my sister, or my father. And some songs make me think back to people or places I haven't seen -- or even really thought of -- in many, many years. "Electric Blue" is one of my mom's boyfriends, who gave us a Nintendo and collapsed in tears in our apartment when his father died. "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" is another one, Larry, the guy who dragged our family from one side of the country to the other like a piece of luggage, in whose face I had to struggle to keep from cackling when he announced he had to move to Maryland (joke was on me, we went with him). "When I Was Your Age" is the group of mutants I was nearly brothers with in sixth grade, the ones who obsessed over Street Fighter II and Ren and Stimpy. The "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" song is Allan, the kid I was best friends with in fifth grade because he was the only kid in the class weirder than me. "Two Princes" is Sean. "Johnny B. Goode" is Atlanta in 1991 (or was it '92?). "Livin' on the Edge" is Cathy, whose son Matthew is somehow around thirteen years old now even though he couldn't have been born more than a few months ago. "Get in the Ring" is Sam. "Do the Bartman" is Kate, who supposedly had a crush on me. "Superman's Dead" is James. "Don't Look Back in Anger" is Josh. "Clumsy" is Jeff when we were still friends. Billy Joel's "She's Always a Woman" is Penny. Hootie and the Blowfish's "Goodbye" is never speaking to her again, ever. And so on and so forth.

But I finally found a starting place. Oddly enough, we'll be starting at the beginning: with the very clearest musical memory I have, from way back when I was seven years old. And even stranger, this one band has wound its way, snake-like, through so many different phases of my life it's nearly comical.

Of course, this entire exercise is merely a framing device to tell old anecdotes from my childhood. But who cares? It'll be a nice break from endless goofy lists and the half-assed movie reviews I can't even be bothered to do anymore.

Our journey proper begins tomorrow. Pack a lunch, and make sure your mom has signed your permission slip.

And you should not take my enthusiasm for this new project as a sign that I've given up on Revolver, 'cause I haven't. I've already started work on episode eight, which currently bears no title. But it's coming.

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