When I hear a song I haven’t heard for a while, I immediately remember where I first heard it, or where I bought it, or which hangout played it a lot. . .
I thought I’d share some of them.
When I was seven, my mother claimed to need a break from me, and I was put on a train and sent to a Red Cross summer camp for low-income kids. I have no idea where it was, just that it was somewhere outside Sydney. I didn’t like it; I felt like a lost puppy and the women who ran it (I seem to remember that they were nuns) were strict and rigid. But the one thing I liked was that there seemed to be a radio playing hit songs everywhere I was. We didn’t listen to the radio in our home, and I had certainly never heard pop hits. That’s when I first heard several Beatles songs, but my favorite was “Morning Town Ride”, by the Seekers. At the time I didn’t realize that it’s a lullaby, but when my children were small I sang it to them when they went to bed, and it was always as much for me as for them. I still sing it to R every now and then, upon request.
I think A Question of Balance was the first pop record my parents bought. I was absolutely crazy about it, and I still am. I played it silly in our living room in Collaroy, Australia, and especially when I hear this song, I go back there, with the sun shining in through the huge windows with the fantastic view of the Pacific Ocean. I associate this record with warmth and airiness.
I had recently heard Bob Marley’s music when I became friends with Sandra, at age fourteen. (She’s still my best friend.) My first visit to her at her house, in her bedroom, was a turning point for me. Her bedroom was her haven, in which she was surrounded by everything she loved. She made tea and brought it up there, and she burned incense and played records on her parents’ hand-me-down avocado-green, bakelite record player. (Later she would hand it down to me when she got her parents’ next hand-me-down.) When I got home, I tore down the Mickey Mouse Magazine centerfolds depicting all the Mickey Mouse characters from my wall, I told my parents I didn’t need my bed anymore because it was much cooler to have my mattress on the floor, and I wanted incense and a teapot.
It was 1975, and Sandra’s older brother was a pot-head. At that time, before pot was legalized in the Netherlands, it was a stepping-stone drug to heroin. Within that next year, that’s exactly what her brother stepped over to and it wreaked havoc on the entire family for years until he finally managed to quit. He bought a lot of potty music, and sometimes he gave a record to Sandra. One of the records she had was Bob Marley Live, but she hardly ever played it and she gave it to me.
I’m still a big Bob Marley fan. Whenever I hear “No Woman No Cry” or “I Shot the Sheriff” I think back to Sandra’s cozy bedroom, the tea, the incense, and the music.
In the Netherlands, elementary school goes up to sixth grade, and it’s high school after that. In seventh grade we started having class parties. About every fourth quarter, we’d have a party with our homeroom class. In seventh grade we slow-danced for the first time and in ninth grade that was already considered childish. But during seventh and eighth grade . . . oh boy, it was a big thing! My first physical contact with the other sex, apart from punching and slapping or getting my hair pulled.
The class parties were always held at one of the students’ homes. We’d all be sitting on the floor along the edges of the living room or dancing in the center. The ubiquitous incense was burning, the lights were low, and bowls of chips where always within easy reach.
There was a tension when slow-dancing, even when there was absolutely nothing going on with the boy I danced with. And when I first slow-danced with the boy I was in love with, in eighth grade, it added a whole other dimension. I was a late-bloomer, so I can’t say it was sexual, exactly–just a new and exciting kind of surrender to physical contact. I always think back on those days when I hear “Angie”.
The Sting was the first adult movie I ever went to, at age fourteen. I was invited to go along with my friend Marit and her father. It was the greatest movie EVER, and I was crazy about the music. Every time I went to Hilversum, the nearest big town, I would listen to it at the record store.
It wasn’t until I was sixteen and I had my first weekend job that I could buy it. It was my very first music purchase. Apart from the movie, obviously, what immediately comes to mind when I listen to the soundtrack of The Sting is sitting at the counter at the record shop, with the huge headphones on, enjoying every single note, etching it into my memory until the next time.
I first heard this on an overnight trip in tenth grade. It was a trip with just our homeroom class and the homeroom teacher. We had a building somewhere with a big room to hang out in and probably rooms with bunk beds in the back, but there was a teepee set up outside and that was where I was going to sleep, along with some of my friends. I had put my mat and sleeping bag in there in advance.
That evening was the first time I had beer. I had two bottles, so I associate Tubular Bells with my first time getting somewhat drunk. At some point I felt the world spinning and I went outside. The feeling didn’t really go away, and I decided I’d go to sleep. But the only other person so far in the teepee was this guy who was whining about it not being a fun trip at all, so I dragged my mat and sleeping bag outside and fell asleep under the stars.
At the time it was the coolest experience EVER and I bought Tubular Bells not too long afterward. I played it over and over, still on Sandra’s hand-me-down avocado green, bakelite record player, which was pretty bad by then. Halfway college I got a new record player. Somewhere in the record Mike Oldfield says “Grand piano” in a deep voice, but I had never heard that on my old record player and the first time I played Tubular Bells on the new record player I just about jumped out of my skin in fright.
The summer after high school, I was going to cycle to Paris with one of my best friends and a friend of hers whom I didn’t really know that well. The day we were going to take off, my friend’s friend Miriam had a hangover and we couldn’t leave yet. That set the tone for the entire vacation. Her father drove us to the Belgian border that evening, when she was sufficiently recovered, because that’s about where we would have gotten if we had started cycling that morning.
The next day we got as far as a little town near Turnhout in northern Belgium. We had dinner in a fast food place that turned out to be the favorite hangout for the paratroopers who were stationed nearby. Miriam got drunk, ended up in the sack with one of the soldiers and the next day we had to go to a doctor to get her the morning-after pill.
One thing led to nothing at all, and we ended up staying there for three weeks. We never made it to Paris. Instead, it was a vacation of hanging out with soldiers, drinking beer and playing poker for matchsticks (and me winning from those hard-nosed poker-playing paratroopers almost every time–something I’m still pretty proud of) and going to the discos in Turnhout. Our parents were freaking out and, looking back, I don’t blame them, but nothing terrible happened, apart from a rift developing between me and my friend because of Miriam’s nightly, vicious drunkenness.
But we sure had fun in the discos. It was my first and last time in any disco, and it was great. The one big hit that was played over and over at every disco we entered was “Ring My Bell” and whenever I hear it, which isn’t that often anymore, I’m back in Turnhout, dancing and trying to keep up with the beers the guys were buying us.
I have always been a huge fan of Bette Midler. The movie The Rose came out during my first year in college. College was also an intense time of boyfriends and heartbreak and I can’t count the times I played “The Rose” while bawling on my bed, wanting to die. I even wrote out the lyrics and posted them on the wall by my bed. To keep myself in pain, I suppose. Oh god, being nineteen–I sure don’t miss it.
Several years ago T surprised me for my birthday. We went to San Antonio, to a Bette Midler concert! It was the best birthday gift of my life. I whistled on my fingers and whooped like an American at the end of every song and I had tears streaming down my face almost the whole time. And during “The Rose” I was a complete and utter mess, but this time in a good way. I love you, T.
I met T in Edinburgh, Scotland, in the summer of 1991. He had a few music tapes from home with him during his year in Britain.
He lent them to me, along with his headphones, while he was looking for a job during the day. I lay on the grass in Princess Street Gardens, listening to his Copperhead Road tape by Steve Earle, feeling terribly torn between what I thought was common sense and falling in love with an American, yet another relationship that wouldn’t go anywhere . . .
He asked me to go with him to see Steve Earle in concert in Glasgow. We went there, stayed in a Bed and Breakfast and had a great time, even though we never got to see Steve Earle, because the concert was cancelled. (It was during Earle’s drug years and he wasn’t very dependable with his fans.) But it was the beginning of T and my relationship, so not an entire waste of time.
We got married five days after I emigrated to America, so I could get my green card, and we were going to have a wedding later on, when we had money. But then we had children, so we decided we should just exchange rings at some point. Four years ago, Steve Earle gave a concert at the Paramount Theater here in Austin. We went, and in the dark, during this song, we exchanged rings.
It had been a big hit in 1998, and on January 1, 1999, B was born. This is our song–mine and my babies. When I hear this song I think of breastfeeding them in bed, and then watching and feeling them sleep up against me, and literally not wanting to close my eyes, never getting enough of watching them, even if it exhausted me. It’s a good thing this is the last one, because I need a tissue.
What are some songs or records that trigger strong memories for you?