Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Musical Memories

I play this imaginary game where I pretend I had a house fire and lose every single CD I own and then I ask myself which ones I would replace. I suppose these days I'd just download the tracks from iTunes... but I've had this little game in my head for years so I still think in terms of physical CDs.

My obvious choices are always "greatest hits" albums because they tend to have a lot of great songs.  I own a ton of greatest hits albums from various bands that were big in the 80's like Foreigner, Toto, Chicago, and Journey.  Most of them I would likely replace because they are the CDs I listen to most often.  Then there are a few other CDs where I actually like every song on the album. Keep in mind this is rare for me since most of my CDs probably only contain one or two "good songs", but there are a few where I like the whole album and would replace it.

These albums include Journey - Escape, Fiona Apple - Tidal, Crash Test Dummies - God Shuffled His Feet, Peter Cetera - World Falling Down, and a handful of others including Tom Petty, Patty Symth... I can't remember off the top of my head, but basically out of the 250 CDs I own (give or take) and not counting greatest hits CDs, I would probably only replace about ten of them.  I sometimes think I should probably replace Michael Jackson - Thriller just for the importance of the album, but to be honest I'm not even sure I still have it so it probably isn't all that important.

The thing is, I have a lot of memories tied to these albums which may have more to do with why I would want to replace them than the actual music.  As I think about why I pick certain albums over others, it often has less to do with the music but more to do with the memories associated with a specific album.  Of course it goes without saying that I do actually like this music... but it is much more than merely enjoying a melody or thinking the lyrics were clever.  Often the memory makes the difference - case in point:

Fiona Apple - I have her first album (Tidal) which I think almost everyone had back in the 90s. Love it. I lost the CD once but still had the case so I went out and downloaded all of the songs and burned myself a new copy.  I was too cheap to actually buy it again so I thought this was fair.  Then I found the original in another CD case a few years later.  I kept the burned copy just in case - and therefore I've had two copies of this CD for over a decade. 

The strange thing is even though I like EVERY. SINGLE. SONG. on that first album, I never bought any of her newer albums.  I'm so guilty of that... I find an artist I really like and I don't follow their careers.  I will admit there was a period where I basically shelved her album and didn't listen to it for perhaps a year, and then a girl I was dating at the time made a comment about liking her so I brought out the album and listened to it from start to finish.  I'm not sure why I ever stopped listening to it because the music was as good as it ever was.  Oddly enough that girl re-introducing me to Fiona Apple was probably the one good thing that ever came from that relationship.

I've had a lot of time with this album.  I've listened to it alone and continually copied several of the songs to the various portable music players I've owned over the years including to my phone and most recently my iPad.  I can't say what it is about this album, but I can say that the song "Never Is A Promise" is simply amazing to me... I'd put that song in my top 20 songs of all time.

Crash Test Dummies - I believe I bought their God Shuffled His Feet album because of their hit song "Mmmm, Mmmm, Mmmm, Mmmm", but I'd have to say "Afternoons and Coffeespoons" quickly became my favorite song.  I like the entire album as well as a few of their other songs that have been on movie soundtracks etc, but I never bought any of their follow-up albums so I suppose I might like them if I ever heard them.  I'm not sure what it is about their music, but it just has a signature sound that I find appealing.  It also reminds me of my freshmen year in college yet I have no idea why.  I can't say as I have any specific memories tied to the album itself, but it just seems that it has been with me for so long I feel a connection.  Like an old pair of jeans that have a few paint stains on them but you can't bring yourself to throw them away.  Sure you might not wear them in public, but they sure feel comfortable around the house.

Peter Cetera - This goes back to a memory I have from 1992 or so where I was working at Shopko and a guy called to ask if we had the new Peter Cetera album. I had no idea who Peter Cetera was at the time, so I had to read off the song list to this guy over the phone so he could tell me if it was the right CD.  He asked me to hold a copy of it for him which I did, and he came in an hour or two later to pick it up. The guy was so happy we had the album - he acted like it meant the world to him, and I just couldn't help but be interested based upon his reaction. So I listened to the CD and was hooked from that point. 

It might have had something to do with the duet he did with Chaka Khan since it was getting some radio play at the time, but I think part of it stems from a memory I had when I was young and my brothers were tossing a bunch of cassette tapes they didn't want. I went through a cardboard box of their old tapes and found "Chicago 16". That album was released in 1982 so this was probably a few years later...  I was probably 9 or 10 at the time.  When I listened to that tape I just loved it... I remember playing it over and over and over again.  Of course back when tapes were the pinnacle of music technology fast-forwarding or rewinding was a huge hassle so I just played the tape from start to finish time and time again.  Maybe had I grown up with CDs I would have skipped around and never appreciate the songs that were never heard on the radio.

It was some time later that I finally figured out the band was actually called Chicago - I originally thought they were Chicago 16 and had no idea the "16" was their sixteenth album. I'm not sure what happened to that original tape - and for years I've told myself I was going to buy Chicago 16 on CD but I never have.  I suppose now I may not even remember most of the songs on that album, but when I think back I can still remember exactly where I was in our basement as I pulled that tape from the bottom of that cardboard box as if it was covered in gold.  That memory is more vivid that most of what I did last week, and I dare say unless I'm a victim of serious head trauma at some point, that memory will be with me until the day I die.

So with that memory of Chicago I clearly liked their sound, and the biggest influence upon their sound in my view was the lead singer which was Peter Cetera at that point.  When I heard his solo stuff years later all those memories flooded back and there I was.  I bought the album in 1992 and a full 20 years later I still play it all the time. In fact that CD has been in every car I have owned for years. It is CD number one in the disc changer in my current vehicle at this very moment. Back in 2003 or so I bought a VW Jetta and I put that CD in the CD changer and never took it out until I sold the car. It is just one of those CDs I really love and I wish I could get Peter Cetera to sign it because there are so many memories tied to his music and his voice.

Avril Lavigne - This is probably guilty pleasure of mine. I remember liking her first album (Let Go) because a few of her songs were unconventional. You would listen to the song and think she was going to drop down a key or slow down and she would do the exact opposite. It wasn't predictable pop... yet it was still pop. I still like a lot of her stuff although I only own her first album (a trend of mine I guess).  I think she is one of those artists that I was able to watch grow because she was so young when she released that album, and to some degree I grew with her.

I fully understand most guys won't admit to liking that style of music, but I guess I'm not ashamed to admit it.  She is a talented artist and she has a unique sound.  The fact she writes or co-writes all of her own music is amazing to me and the music is that much more credible because it is her singing her own story as opposed to an artist who just picks songs to sing from a catalog.

Gin Blossoms - I have two of their albums I really like (Hey Jealousy and Congratulations, I'm Sorry), but I don't like every song on them. Although I tend to like their hits, I sometimes wonder if I like their music because of the time I was listening to it. There are a lot of memories tied to them, and I was upset when they broke up. I was really pissed.  I felt like I missed an opportunity to see them live even though I rarely go to live concerts, and I thought it was horrible that they would never produce any more music.

Yet when they got back together a few years later I didn't really care and have never listened to any of their newer stuff.  As far as I'm concerned they are still a 1990s band with a 1990s sound and that is all they ever need to be.  I know a lot of my feelings towards them surround my time in Vermillion and my time with certain friends etc, so part of me likes to pretend they are still the same band they were in the mid 90s because there is a point in time that I'd like to keep as is.  If there was a soundtrack to my life... it is safe to say Gin Blossoms would be playing as soon as I hit the Vermillion city limits.

Screamin' Cheetah Wheelies - I don't think I have ever listened to a complete album by them, but I do know I like several of their songs.  They are one of those bands I associate with college-aged kids in a college town because that is where I heard of them and nobody outside of that lifestyle had any clue.  To this day when I mention them most people have never heard of them, so I guess they were never all that commercially successful.  I can still remember when my brother and I were living in Vermillion and he bought a new stereo system... Screamin' Cheetah Wheelies were one of the first CDs he put in and to this day when I hear that song played all I can think about is standing in the basement of a run-down house in a college town listening to a stereo that sounded amazing all the while being unaware that on paper that room probably had the worst acoustics humanly possible. 

It didn't matter.  The music overshadowed everything else.  It was just that strong that the walls and floor just seemed to blur away into the distance as the music surrounded me.  Part of it was the timing, part of it was the experience of that entire house and the good times we had while there.  Part of it was just the moment and how no matter how hard I try I could never relive it.  The genie was out of the bottle, yet I wonder if that memory would be just as powerful had it been any other CD.

I'm not a musician.  I can't carry a tune if you handed it to me in a brown paper sack. Yet music - perhaps more than anything else - has specific feelings, emotions, and memories tied to it deep within me.  I wonder if this is true for everyone or if this is just something music lovers feel. 

I guess I'll never know, but I do know there are times when I would like nothing better than to sit in a recliner with a nice set of over-the-ear headphones on and listen to some incredible music.  Let it seep into me and just think about everything it means whether it be trying to interpret the words, remember an event tied to that particular song, album, or artist... or just appreciating a moment for what it is without the need to be actively engaged outside of my brain.

I doubt any two people can ever share the same feeling when it comes to music, and to be quite honest I have never really known anyone who is the type of person to sit at a record store and have conversations about music for hours.  I have had lengthy discussions about equipment such as tube amplifiers, record players, the inflated price of some high-end equipment, and the snakeoil that is ultra high end speaker cables... but that comes with the territory when you are an "electronics guy" and when you work with technology and with technical people. 

I wonder if I'm alone in this regard.  Do most people just like music because of what it means right now, or do others form relationships with the tracks as I do?  Can someone have a deep love of music if they aren't a true music snob, or is this one of those things that each person has to determine for themselves?  Maybe to some degree (almost) everyone feels they love music but merely in varying degrees.

As a wise man once said... "turn up the radio, I need some music, gimme some more".  Well ok technically that was the band Autograph, but you get the point.

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