Friday, July 15, 2011

Memories & Music

Music, melodies, and sometimes even just few notes, like fragrances and aromas, are quick triggers, not only creating an instant mood, but transporting us back to incidents in our lives, sometimes buried and forgotten, until we hear that song that meant so much to us then, or maybe a song that simply makes us “feel” something intangible, that touches us, yet we don’t quite know why.

Recently, before my Facebook account was hacked (by someone in England. .they had it pinpointed to the exact town too!, so I’m laying low for awhile over there),  I saw where people were listing by day a song that made them feel a certain way. .happy, sad, etc. And some days, I would mentally play along, trying to come up with a song in my own memory banks. Some were easy to think of, while others, I drew a blank. I guess my mind is just too over-wrought these days, filled with “must-do’s”, to think creatively.

Admittedly, I don’t listen to much pop radio these days, so my answers weren’t too relatively current.  My music choices have always been diverse, even when I was a child, then a teenager, listening to the top 40 with my friends, and thoroughly rocking with it, then listening to Broadway musicals, Classical, Folk, & Blues, with just as much enjoyment.  My answers were culled from my memory bank.

My Hubs and I have “our song” as many people do. One that is special to us, and we hear it every so often on oldies stations, and get to dance to it at wedding receptions. It always leaves me a little teary eyed. Not only because it fills me with an almost overwhelming love for him, but because it makes me realize how much time as gone by, and how I treasure those moments.  And now with him being  ill, time is even more precious.

Jump back a few more years. .play any Moody Blues, and I’m transported to pulling all-nighter’s studying for college finals, after returning to school, with toddlers hanging from my waist length hair, and granny dresses.

Go back a few more. .Jefferson Airplane, Steppenwolf makes me think of. . . .umm, never mind. . keep going back. .going back. . .

Even the first few notes of Dion & The Belmonts singing Run Around Sue, and I’ m in the backseat of my best friend’s boyfriend’s car, in the Fall of 1961, my Sophomore year. .first year at the High School, with my group of friends, on our way to the football game. And just as we got to the parking lot, the airwaves, be-bopping across L. Michigan, from WLS in Chicago, would start playing the #1 song of the week. And I would again endure another moment of good natured ribbing, not only because I was basically a shy, so NOT runaround Sue, but because it was a kick-a** song, and still is! If you want to listen to it, please click off the music below, and play this clip:

A few years earlier, Mr. Blue, by the Fleetwoods (no “Mac”), sends me spinning on the Octopus at the country fair, fighting with a huge pink poof of sticky cotton candy, the blending of the aromas and sounds of the midway. Snoozing in the hay in the horse barn, warm with the smell of leather, fresh hay, and yes, horses, all mingled together, warm and sweet.  And feeling the first stirring of Summer love.

Tripping further back along memory lane, another song that brings back fun, but poignant times, is another “Sue” song. When the Everly Brothers came out with Wake Up Little Suzie in 1951, it gave my Dad the perfect fodder for waking me up for school each morning. I still remember him coming in on those dark cold mornings, after he had gone down to stoke up the coal furnace, and singing the lyrics, intentionally off key, to start my day with a laugh and a smile. It worked. .for a while! 

Now, in a slight mind-bending time warp, coming back to present, about the same time as I’m seeing these personal trips through the musical vaults on Facebook, I hear a segment on NPR about a memory study, and how they have been recording what children remember, at what age, and how most of our earliest memories disappear from our consciousness as we get older.  I found the different stories from people to be very interesting, and some surprising, like the woman who can’t remember anything before her 14th year.  But most adults can remember incidents from their grade school years, and some remembering earlier moments.

It made me remember again, a number of things about the house that we lived in before I was a year old. .the layout, the furniture, how it was decorated, and routine daily events.  There are also some special moments too, and the one that stands out most clearly, and still affects me today, involves music.

Picture a warm, but not hot, late afternoon, in late Summer/early Autumn. The living room has a muted mustard wallpaper on it, with small flowers, causing the room to glow. The woodwork is a dark brown, and Irish Lace curtain panels are gently puffing in the cool breeze that is coming in from the West window, teasing the pattern shadowed on the floor into a lazy dance.  Dust motes are doing their own ballet on the sunbeams filtering through the fabric, and little Suzie is sitting contentedly on her Daddy’s lap, watching these movements with fascination, and listening to radio, in its tall wooden cabinet, while her Mama was in the kitchen, making dinner.

The notes start slowly, in a rhythm that seems to match the dancing dust and lacy tracings on the floor. .the notes. .the music. .the nuances seem to soak right in, and touch someplace deep inside of me, causing me a sweet anguish that I don’t understand, and certainly can’t verbalize. I’m not even a year old! 

Unbeknownst to me, I’m listening to George Gershwin’s Summertime, from Porgy & Bess, and as it plays it seems to become a part of me, or I, it.  If anyone ever wanted to do a study on how music affects people when they otherwise cannot express themselves, this is would be a prime example.  I wasn’t reacting to the words, but the music. I think that this song is the epitome of what a song should do. Touch your soul and make you feel it. .to breath it.

I am told that when the line was sung, “. .so hush now little, baby, don’t you cry”, right on cue, that is exactly what I did!  My Mom rushed in from the kitchen, asking my Dad what was wrong, what happened, and he, sitting there stunned, is uttering, “Nothing! I don’t know WHAT happened! She was sitting here content and quiet, and the next thing I know, she burst into tears!” It took a lot of cuddling to console me. (Ice cream would have worked faster, but I had no say in the matter).

It wasn’t until I was an adult, that I could sit through that song without crying, and was finally able to share my side of that event so very long ago.  My parents were fascinated not only that I could remember and relate what had happened, confirmed by their memories, but that I was so affected by Gershwin’s music.

 When I was little, and it came on the radio or televisionI found a way to leave the room until it was over. If I was in a car, I had to work really hard to concentrate on something else, and not get captured by the magic.  Even today, it is one of my favorite songs. I love the music so much, even though it makes me feel melancholy. Maybe that is what I love about it. .the depth that it makes me “feel”. It is almost tangible to me.

Through the years, I discovered that I was drawn to Gershwin’s other songs too, although I didn’t know that he was the composer at the time.  To my delight, my piano teacher brought me sheet music to Rhapsody In Blue, when she felt that I wouldn't completely make a mess of it. And then I began to tie in all of the other songs that I loved in those Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers movies. But while I enjoy them all, none of them have touched me in the way that Summertime has.

Imagine my delight when I discovered that George Gershwin and I share the same Birthdate!  I’ve wondered from time to time, what he would have thought if he had known how powerful his music truly was, that he could touch the heart of a little baby.

I don’t think that I’m alone in this phenomenon, and perhaps you have had some piece of music fill your soul, too.

I’m also interested in how far back you can remember any experiences. .how old were you?

Thank you for reading my story, now I’m looking forward to learning yours! Please share it!


  1. Wow, your connection to Gershwin through his music and your mutual birthdate is downright spooky! I agree that music is one of the most powerfully evocative things there are. Hearing certain songs can immediately transport me back to certain memories.

    My earliest memory dates from when I was around 3 or 4. I have lots of childhood memories from then on. I read once that people who cannot remember childhood memories often had very traumatic childhoods (sexual abuse, etc.) and not remembering anything is a protective device.

  2. I agree with Debra - that is an interesting coincidence.

    Gershwin will always remind me of my grandma sitting at the piano giving me lessons. And me not paying near as much attention as I should. I wish I could go back and tell the younger me how much I would regret that now. :)

    My parents had very different I got Hank Williams and Patsy Cline from my dad any the Beach Boys and David Bowie from my mom.....then like you, I was all over the map with music.

    I really do not remember much before my youngest brother who is 6 years my junior. That said, I think that Debra might be right :D

    Anyway, thanks for the great post. Enjoyed your story very much. I just love my blogger buddies, always get you thinking.


  3. I have been thinking about this post. I've read it and now I'm back again. I can't remember alot of my childhood. Well, if I really try but I'd rather not. I'm AMAZED that you can remember as young as you do. If it was anyone else, I probably won't believe it. But whoa...just amazing. So I'm struggling here, TRYING to remember something. First of all, I thought we were the same age but you are just a tad older I guess. So here's the music I remember. The Beatles singing on Ed Sullivan. My brother playing Bobby Vinton in his room. I listened to Bobby Sherman, The Monkees, that kind of stuff. My little sister loved Dean Martin. Later it was The Beatles again, and obsessively. Then Elton John, Three Dog Night, Carole King....but most of those songs hurt my heart to hear. I'd rather just block out the years between 14 to 24 years of age. So, the 80's music, MTV were the fun years and I like the music now too. I love ADELE, I even like Lady Gaga and I discovered Nina Simone....
    And what always makes me cry? "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" The little girl with her dog hoping to escape from her black and white world, dreaming in Technicolor...crap! I'm crying now as I write this!
    So, there ya go! You asked!
    :D - Cindi

  4. I just found you today,, from Octoberfarm,, I was drawn in by the moon and the cat.I love the moon,, it infulences my painting.I am truly moved by this post amazing connection you have with the great composer,, I would think there's something quite special at work here for sure.I had a head injury which has robbed me of blocks of memories but I do remeber bits and pieces,, like walking to scjhool in my lovely fall clothes with lovely soft cream colored knee socks..Strange bits,, the brain is a mystery and I have retained bits of memories one would wonder why,, and others, gone.I'm 55 but remeber little from before I was 14 either then blocks were taken by the injury,, the eighties for one!!

  5. I love Gershwin too. I'm a big fan of those old musicals!

    My earliest memory was being four and swinging on a swingset in my back yard. I was singing "one two, buckle my shoe..." and I remember feeling this absolute peace, like I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

    I had a similar experience when I was eight - also on a swing. Perhaps I was meant to fly.

  6. My first memory was when a tree crashed through the roof of the tiny bungalow we lived in. I remember that night and I remember moving to a huge duplex just down the block. I was two and had a little wagon filled with my toys. I remember walking down the side walk and that huge house coming into view for the first time. It's like a slow motion movie as the house comes into view.
    I remember enduring American Bandstand every
    day. My brother and sister loved it and I watched it only because the Mickey Mouse Club came on next.
    I like the old 40s and 50s music and some country. But the one song, that always puts a lump in my throat is the Star Spangled Banner - nuts, I know, but by the time they get to 'land of the free and home of the brave', I'm starting to get a tear in my eye!

  7. Great are soo right. Music and scents transport me to another time and place...


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