Note: I’m going to revisit some past writings every once in a while. This essay was originally written and published exactly eight years ago on Feb 10, 2013.
I often heard my mouth saying and saw my fingers typing this statement:
“I love music because of its memory.”
I’ve written it down again and though my memory has lessened over the years, there’s no doubt in this mind that my own love for musical artistry is rooted in its ability to capture and store entire memories within the confines of three to five minutes and that upon listening to several simple bars [I spend too much time // Chasing windmills] we are transported through time and space and sight and smell back to a state so vivid we can’t help but fall back in love with the song.
In the old days, I had a playlist of songs that moved me–that’s what I called it too, “Songs that Move Me”–and it consisted of what I thought were moody songs, often matched up with rainy days [and Mondays always get me down…] and melancholy. But more than tonality and mood, these songs tugged at my mind and brought to the surface people and places, scents and temperatures, and a gamut of feelings long since forgotten.
I closely tie, for instance, Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed American to hot summers in the desert [So come on Davey // Sing me something that I know] with friends. And those summers are tied to freedom and the thought of the unknown. The frivolous naiveté that became eternally fused to those brilliant tracks has stuck with me so that whenever I hear the record, I can’t help but throw my hands up, sing at the top of my lungs, and unabashedly rock out.
I wrote this narcissistic little number on 5 April 2007:
Do you remember how good Bleed American was? I listened to it today for the first time in forever – probably a year or two. I remember how cool I was coming to college with the music I listened to, and how no one else was into emo or indie, or underground music. Armed with an arsenal of CDs and a broad knowledge of how the emo and post-emo movements started, I felt great.
Do you remember when all of that ended? When everyone knew who Death Cab for Cutie was and when you weren’t cool if you hadn’t heard of Ryan Adams? Elitism is great because you can disregard all of these people if you can still bring up a band that no one’s heard of. But I miss the feeling of being included in a small group of people who know.
I’m on my feet, I’m on the floor, I’m good to go…
Just listen to that record again. Even before you dig out Clarity again. Put the disc in your car, crank up “A Praise Chorus,” and sing along like you used to.
When winter rolls around I most often think of Ghosts by Sleeping at Last. I remember listening to this record while sitting in my dorm room at college in Southern Illinois. The snow was just stopping… we had gotten nearly a foot and it was interterm which meant very few people were on campus. I grabbed my new digital camera and walked around campus with a friend of mine who had grown up in Germany. I got back to my room shortly after and turned up this album.
We could hold our breath forever // Or maybe for a while // The best will surely come // Until then you’ll feel nothing // Until then we’ll feel nothing at all
Next is Start Here by The Gloria Record. That album reminds me of cold and winter, but also of broken relationships and a little heartache. Time heals all wounds to the point where certain tracks [I was born in Omaha // To steal her skeptic heart // My piano fingers tugging at the chord] bring a faint memory and a healthy touch of warm melancholy to mind. I love that record for far more reasons that a little pain. Its incredibly deep and knowing songwriting makes me want to write and write well. I feel many songs are written in the vein of Mineral’s EndSerenading–and why shouldn’t they be since they both come from the brain of Chris Simpson—[Why am I so deaf at twenty-two // To the sound of the driving snow // that drives me home to you], a constant favorite in my collection of musical memories.
There was this night during the first semester of college where I had just put the finishing touches on a song called “9–27”. Several of my good friends at the time had collaborated with me on it. As all freshmen with guitars do, I played it for a few people. This night was strange. The muggy heat of the summer rolled back through town, it was around eleven at night. I emerged from my building to find the thickest layer of fog I’d ever stood in covering the campus.
A strong glow of orange enveloped me as the beams from the campus lighting refracted a million times through the thick blanket of water vapor. I sat down on the bench–an act which, a year later, would be coined ’stooping’–and sat in quiet warmth. Today I’m not even sure what it was I was thinking about though I remember being a little bit sad. Perhaps for me, it was due to a month of uncomfortable strain. I was a stranger when I stepped on campus and I was working hard to invent myself as who I wanted to be. That’s not to say I was playing a game or putting up a façade, not at all. I was trying to actually be the best version of me I could be. And maybe that’s why the song is the way it is. And maybe that’s why the memory sticks out so brilliantly in my mind.
There’s such raw emotion in those songs I love to listen to… or, at the very least, these tracks each pull out of me an emotional twinge that I sometimes forget I ever had. And that may be the point of this musing: I’m afraid I will forget the pain, the joy, the incredible times I have had with friends old and new. At the end of the year, I’m always a little annoyed that I am expected to have listened to all of the new music that has come out during the past three hundred and sixty-five days. I like nostalgia. I find comfort in seeing and feeling the friends I have missed for the past few years just by putting needle to groove or pressing play in iTunes. Why must I hear the new drivel some supposedly cool band has released? And if I’m honest, I know it’s because I will miss out on some great music.
During the summer I pull out Ryan Adams’ Rock n Roll and roll down my windows. [Everybody’s cool playing rock n roll // everybody’s cool playing rock n roll // I don’t feel cool, feel cool at all]. Despite its dismal critical reviews and the fact that it had several radio singles, I think the album is just raucous fun.
I remember one summer of working at OfficeMax. This particular evening we finished setting the shelves late and got out of the store around ten at night. I immediately jumped in my ’96 Ford Windstar [And everybody knows the way I walk // And knows the way I talk // And knows the way I feel about you], rolled every possible window down–albeit in that car it was only two from windows that retracted–and turned up “Wish You Were Here” on the drive home.
Fall time comes [And I guess my little bird can sing] and I immediately reach for Love Is Hell (parts I and II). First, because it’s such a perfectly fluid and deep record sonically, and second, because it fits wet weather so well. The cover of “Wonderwall” on that record is so hauntingly beautiful… it’s one of the greatest tributes to Oasis and that most famous of famous tunes. Ryan’s voice drips with overtones of Morrissey throughout the record, and I think that’s a great thing.
But before Love is Hell can play, those few days between the end of Summer and the beginning of Autumn, On a Wire by The Get Up Kids must be spun repeatedly. The album is set up so perfectly to transition out of the heat and excitement of summer into the more rational and controlled chill of fall. The romanticism of it all… [The sun will set, the stars would shine // The trees would shake, we’d all feel fine // Let’s take the moon and make it shine for everyone] this record feeds into my favorite time of year and remains one of my favorite albums of all time thus far. It reminds me of pulling into Greenville the summer before my senior year and walking into the house I was sharing with my buddy Dan. He was the one who got me into The Get Up Kids.
Music has always been central to the way I relate to people and to the world. I remember John and I talking about pre-ordering Transatlanticism around the same time we got Mae’s destination:beautiful and Copeland’s Beneath Medicine Tree. Those two albums were way more formative to me than Death Cab for Cutie’s lame offering. [Take the map and point to anywhere // I don’t care] I listened to those records non-stop. The summer before my senior year of college I even got an internship at Copeland’s record label, The Militia Group—now shuttered, but no less inspiring–and made some of the most lasting connections and friendships I ever have. [You know I won’t mind if you // monopolize all of my time // I won’t say a thing at all].
That summer at Militia taught me a lot, even if it was only 20 or so hours a week. We were doing social media marketing before it was even a real thing. We were selling out shows and merch first-runs because of Myspace posts. We were asked for input about the next Rocket Summer music video. And Chad Pearson fueled my love for alt.country by handing me a demo from The Light Wires.
I’ll send a letter // addressed to you // It says you’re my California brown and blue
Even in this town, I have three friends who are all Militia connections. [The only music // I want to hear // Is the sound of the last light that disappears] (Denison Witmer)
It’s that strange thread of musical connection and memory that continues to find me in life—connected to my wife, to old friends, to new friends. Today it reaches over wires and packets and pixels to connect me to people I’ve never met in person and keep me connected to those I don’t often get to see. I hope that I am always able to recall life through song. And I hope to create new music-memories with those I live around and alongside today.
Stands on shifting sands // The scales held in her hands // The wind it just whips her away // And fills up her brigantine sails She’ll carry on through it all // She’s a waterfall