Way Back When: The Magical Power Of Music

daydreaming…but that’s just a lot of water
Underneath a bridge I burned…
And there’s no use in backtracking
Around corners I have turned…
Still I guess some things we bury
Are just bound to rise again…
For even if the whole world has forgotten
The song remembers when.   ~ Tricia Yearwood, “The Song Remembers When”

Several years ago, my now-deceased Sadge first husband and I were on a road trip when the 1977 Queen hit “We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions” began playing on a classic rock station.

“This song reminds me of a girl I liked in fourth grade,” he mused.

“Really?” I laughed. “How so?”

My Archer hubby chuckled. “I don’t know. I guess because I was hearing it so much at the time; it was a pretty new song then and it was on the radio all the time.”

I have yet to meet anyone who can’t relate to that. Music is enormously powerful. Personally, I have scores of songs which, every time I hear them, immediately stir powerful memories within me: happy ones, as well as ones from times in my life which were quite painful. Oftentimes, the song that elicits those memories don’t even have anything to do with the event or timeframe in question, as in the case with my late ex-husband. Whether it’s a song we heard just once during the event itself, or a song we heard frequently over a period of time in the past, it somehow becomes associated with a person or people, a specific situation, or simply the way we felt in our lives during that time.

I always find it incredibly uplifting when I hear a tune that reminds me of times when things weren’t so complicated; before life had a chance to start throwing curve balls at me. Memories of simple times, such as hanging around with the girl who lived next door to me when I was about six years old, listening to records such as the Bay City Rollers’ Saturday Night (come on, you know it’s catchy as hell; just admit it! S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y…NIGHT!), Summer Nights  (tell me more, tell me more, did ya get very far!) and every song from the Grease 1978 soundtrack album for that matter; or Yvonne Elliman’s If I Can’t Have You from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. Being at the skating rink as a second-grader and Magnet & Steel by Walter Egan playing as the lights on the skate floor dimmed and young roller skaters held hands during couple’s skate…hearing Cliff Richard sing We Don’t Talk Anymore on the stereo on Saturday mornings as my mom did her weekly dusting and vacuuming with upbeat music playing loudly in the background, along with Linda Ronstadt asserting her independence by telling her man to take a hike in her ball-busting You’re No Good and Have You Never Been Mellow by a young new artist by the name of Olivia Newton-John. Ah, yes, those were definitely the days…an era where I hadn’t yet felt the sting of unrequited love, the awkwardness of puberty, the stress of a job and stacks of bills piling up, or the heartbreak of losing a best friend or a husband to an untimely death. I still saw my world with a child’s wide-eyed innocence and naivety.

Some of my earliest childhood memories stem from my parents’ separation and ultimate divorce in 1975 when I was three years old. My mother played 8-track tapes in her Volkswagen Beetle all the time, usually rotating the same two or three tapes. One of those 8-tracks was an album of Elton John’s greatest hits. One particularly dreary, rainy morning she was playing that particular 8-track as she drove me to preschool. As we drove, I looked over at my mother and saw tears streaming down her cheeks. The song that was playing at that moment was Sorry (Seems to Be the Hardest Word).

“Why are you crying, mama?” I asked, concerned.sad

“I miss daddy,” she sniffed, her eyes glassy and bloodshot.

Make no mistake about it: I absolutely love Elton John. But to this very day, even just hearing the first few notes of it (believe you me, I can name that tune in exactly two notes), I cannot listen to it without crying…period. An almost-instantaneous lump forms in my throat and my eyes well up with tears as if I had a “cry switch” and someone came along and put it in the “on” position. The emotions with which I, somewhere along the line, managed to associate that song are indescribably powerful…and not in a good way. It always brings to mind an unbearably, overwhelming sense of loss and grief. However, it doesn’t cause me to (consciously) think of my parents’ divorce or even my mother’s sadness on that gloomy morning. Instead, it’s as if I’m being taken back to experiences of loss and grief I’ve lived through since then; sometimes, it even goes so far as to trigger unthinkable “what if’s” — imagining excruciatingly painful events that have never actually occurred, such as thoughts of loved ones passing away. Other times, it will bring to mind memories of when my children were small and I will become inexplicably overwhelmed by a wave of tremendous guilt, wondering if I was a good enough mother to them growing up. Or sometimes, it’ll trigger thoughts of people I miss, such as my daughter and her family, as well as my youngest son, all of whom live nearly 1,000 miles away. I know it sounds insane…and who knows; maybe it is! In any event, you know what I do if and when that song comes on? I don’t listen to it. I’ll practically knock myself out racing to the source of the music to cut it off as quickly as I can…unless I happen to be in a situation where I don’t have the option to do so. For example, a number of years ago, my sons were watching the movie Rush Hour 3 in the living room as I sat working at my computer in my adjacent home office, in a perfectly pleasant mood, apropos of anything…until I heard the all-too familiar piano melody followed by the desperately sad lyrics to the song, which — just my luck — is featured in that movie. Within seconds, my eyes filled with tears and I sat sobbing, literally until the song stopped playing. Also, one snowy afternoon this past February, and in a damn fine mood, I stopped at the grocery store on my way home from work to pick up a handful of items to make a spicy, steaming pot of chili for that night’s dinner…but lo and behold, as I was making my way through the freezer section, my ears perked up when I heard the opening piano notes of the song streaming through the store’s sound system, which simultaneously triggered aforementioned lump in my throat, and my eyes became blurred so that if I had blinked, tears would have immediately fallen. I couldn’t get out of that store fast enough. Yup. Elton’s ballad has that much of an emotional impact on me.

Thankfully, that is the only song to which I have that powerful of a negative reaction. Sure, there are other songs that will provoke painful or bittersweet memories, a few of which include Hemorrhage (In My Hands) by Fuel, Still by the Commodores, and November Rain by Guns ‘N’ Roses. But they don’t reduce me to tears, nor do I avoid listening to them. In fact, I love all three of those songs.

He drinks a whiskey drink, he drinks a vodka drinkimagesCAATX4V4
He drinks a lager drink, he drinks a cider drink
He sings the songs that remind him of the good times,
He sings the songs that remind him of the better times. ~ Chumbawamba, “Tubthumping”

Then there are the songs that make me wistful. Their fond memories always elicit warm feelings as I remember what once was. I know you know what I’m talking about; these are the songs that just make you feel good because they’re associated with a happy time, place, or situation/people. One such song for me is You’re Still the One by Shania Twain. In the summer of 1998, my then-husband — a Cancer who passed away earlier this year — had flown back to his hometown for a visit. As I stood at the gate, excitedly waiting to see him walking through the jetway, You’re Still the One streamed through the airport’s loudspeakers. Pantera’s Planet Caravan takes me back to a period of time in late 1994 while my first husband and I were still married; my Archer then-hubby had just purchased the CD it was featured on and he played it. A lot. Come Again by Damn Yankees brings to mind a Scrabble game with my first husband on a blustery November afternoon in 1991 as we awaited the birth of our second child: a baby girl who was already a week overdue, and wishing she’d hurry up already. When I Remember You by Skid Row begins to play, I’m instantly transported back to the summer of ’89, newly pregnant with my first child, basking in the sun at the pool. Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven was playing during my first makeout session as a teenager. As a sixteen year-old piled up in a truck full of friends as us girls sang along loudly and happily (okay, and drunkenly) to Deniece Williams’ dance hit from the soundtrack to the 1984 movie Footloose, Let’s Hear It For The Boy as we bounced along to the beat so much I’m surprised we didn’t bounce right outta the truck. Listening to Who Made Who by AC/DC takes me back to the summer of ’87 all over again, when my (now-deceased) lifelong best friend Shannon and I would cruise around in her ’79 Nova. Nursing a broken heart along to the tunes Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone) by major hair band Cinderella as well as Def Leppard’s power ballad Love Bites (and oh how it did!) Hearing the Red Hot Chili Peppers sing Scar Tissue and Otherside as well as Sublime’s Wrong Way (or anything from Sublime’s first album, for that matter) reminds me of a particularly happy period of time in late 1999 into mid-2000 when my Cancer ex-husband and I would drive out to the casino every Saturday evening, frequently alternating between those two CDs in the car, among others.

rememberingIt’s virtually impossible for me to listen to Ebony and Ivory by Paul McCartney & Stevie Wonder without recalling the summer of ’82 between fourth and fifth grade, nor would I ever be able to sing along to the INXS song New Sensation and not reminisce about the sultry summer days spent lounging with Shannon on the beach in South Padre Island when I was sixteen. ABBA’s 1976 hit Dancing Queen takes me back to my fifth birthday, which we celebrated on my uncle’s houseboat at Table Rock Lake, south of Springfield, Missouri. It suddenly becomes the autumn of 1997 and in turn, the earlier days of my relationship with my second husband all over again every time I hear Tubthumping by Chumbawamba, and Cake’s The Distance turns the calendar back one year further to when we first met. Likewise, the song Plateau, which Nirvana covered on MTV’s Unplugged, instantly brings back the warm feelings from the beginning of my relationship with my current Cancer cusp man, and Pets by Porno for Pyros spurs memories from the summer of ’93, around the time we first met and became friends. Counting Blue Cars by Dishwalla enjoyed quite a bit of radio play in early summer of 1996; therefore, it brings to mind the birth of my youngest child in late May of the same year. The song Roses by OutKast takes me back to an exciting time in my life in early spring 2004, just after my children and I moved to Kansas, while Youth of the Nation by P.O.D. takes me back a bit further, to the summer of 2003, after separating from my Cancer ex-husband and just prior to that move. My daughter, who was just four at the time, won a karaoke contest at our community’s swimming pool in July 1996 when she sang Aeroplane by Red Hot Chili Peppers. Radio stations played Eminem’s song The Way I Am  into the ground in late 2000, which meant I would hear it a number of times as I drove my three children to see their father — my first husband — as he neared the end of his life. The song — which I love — still has a connotation to those hospital visits today, nearly thirteen years later.

imagesCA8OB09XWhenever I hear Chris Isaak’s dreamy ’90s ballad Wicked Game, it’s as if I’m once again reclined in the passenger seat of my car late at night, eyes closed, loosely holding hands with my Cancer ex-husband as we’re driving through the moonlit darkness of western Tennessee toward Hot Springs, Arkansas where we made a short-lived attempt at a reconciliation, after having separated nearly nine years prior. As we cruised down the highway, this song played…and it felt incredibly suited to that fleeting moment in time. That memory brings me so much peace and warmth now particularly because, little did we know, he would depart this life just over a year later.

Motley Crue’s Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away) makes me laugh because it reminds me of the times my Crab ex-husband would spontaneously break into the chorus whenever we’d argue, in an attempt to lighten the mood. The MTV Unplugged version of Dumb by Nirvana also reminds me of him because, ironically, he once said it reminded him of me because it was my phone’s ringback tone, which meant he would hear it every time he called me. And Metallica’s One reminds me of the time when he came home, high as a kite, and proceeded to sing the entire song in acapella perfectly, from start to finish. Enjoy the Silence by Depeche Mode takes me back to the night he and I were driving around Oklahoma City many years ago, and when this song came on, he chuckled as he told me he thought the lyrics in the song’s chorus sounded more like “all I ever wanted, all I ever needed is him in my arms,” though the actual lyrics are “…is here in my arms.”

Forever etched in my memory is the evening my Cancer-cusp man and I lounged in each other’s arms and the pure love and contentment which washed over me as we watched an episode of HBO’s Eastbound and Down which contained a montage set to Kenny Rogers’ Love Will Turn You Around. My Cancer-cusp love is also the person I automatically think of when Lynyrd Skynyrd launches into Simple Man because of the time we arrived home as the song’s first verse was playing, so we sat in the driveway until it ended. I’ll never forget hearing Reminiscing by the Little River Band in the car on the way to my first day of first grade, listening to Boston’s More Than A Feeling in the car on the way to my grandparents’ house in the mid-’70s, hanging out at my great-aunt’s swimming pool in the summertime as Air Supply sang Lost In Love, or as a wee tot bouncing around the back seat of the family car whenever I’d hear Rock the Boat by Hues Corporation…I could go on and on.

Come to think of it, I pretty much already have. My apologies. I’ll place the blame on a hypersentimental Pisces Ascendant.

To make a short story long (yeah…again, sorry about that) and to reiterate what I stated toward the beginning of this post, music is an incredibly powerful medium.imagesCAL8MT2X Like the scent of your grandmother’s perfume or the delicious aroma of mom’s pot roast wafting from your mother’s kitchen, it too has the amazing capability to serve as a sort of time machine, allowing us to re-live days gone by. Hearing certain songs, getting a whiff of particular smells…in an instant, we can seemingly travel to places from long ago, seeing around us what we once saw, feeling again what we felt way back when, be it our best day ever or the worst day of our lives. One song can literally affect our entire mood, our whole outlook in that moment. It has the power to lift us up or bring us to our knees. It can inspire us to get up and move, or lay down and die. It can cut us like a knife, or it can soothe our pain. It can empower us, or it can validate our despair. Music is so much more than random words and melodies that are simply pleasing to the ear. Over time, songs become the soundtracks to our lives.

Which songs bring out your deepest emotions; your most vivid memories? Which songs make you smile, give you goosebumps, really take you back to a special time and place? I would love to hear about them!

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