Music and Time Travel

Nothing brings you back to a poignant memory as successfully as a familiar song. I cannot listen to the following without thinking about being a little kid, riding around in my dad’s black pickup truck: You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling, Hang on Sloopy, House of the Rising Sun, The Lion Sleeps Tonight, I Dig Rock and Roll Music, Brown Eyed Girl. He had a cassette tape with all of these songs (and some I don’t remember, although I am sure memories would flood if I heard them), and we listened to it on repeat when he and I ran Saturday morning errands. To the hardware store, to the dump, to the gas station. That cassette was the soundtrack to my young life. My favorite at the time was The Lion Sleeps Tonight. I even once convinced my best friend Katie Hurd that I was soprano that sang backup vocals in that song.

I don’t think it will embarrass my dad if I say that the man can’t sing. If he hits the right note in a song, it is purely coincidental. But boy is he passionate about music. I remember the first time I listened to the song Tea for the Tillerman by Cat Stevens. My dad put the record on and told me to listen for the climax. The song is probably less than 2 minutes long. But when Cat hits that climax, your heart about explodes.

When we would listen to the radio in my early years, it was always classic rock or oldies. My dad would ask “who sings it?” Initially, I almost never knew. He would say “listen to their voice. This is an easy one…” So I did listen. And eventually I got pretty good. Not good enough though. If I would guess the Beatles he would say, “Yeah, but which Beatle is singing?” Or “Yeah, but which one wrote it?” If I guessed Crosby Steels and Nash he would say “No. In this song it’s Crosby, Steels, and Nash AND Young”.

My very favorite movie as an eight-year-old was Dirty Dancing. I had an unnatural obsession with Johnny. Who didn’t? But being only eight, I was expressly prohibited from watching it… So of course every chance I got, I went to my friend Rachel Lee’s house. She owned the movie. We watched it ALL THE TIME. To be fair, being as young and naive as I was most of the content went straight over my head. Because we watched the movie on repeat for months straight, I was very familiar with the song I’ve Had the Time of My Life. It was my jam. During one Saturday morning errand run with my dad, the song came on the radio. My dad turned to me and said “Name the movie!” Now I was in a bit of a pickle. I tapped my little eight-year-old finger on my chin while saying “hmmm….” for what felt like an unreasonable amount of time, trying to decide my next move. Do I give the right answer, thus giving myself away, or do I lie and say I don’t know? Eventually, I stuck my finger up in the air, like a professor in a movie with an “a-ha” moment.. as though the answer had just occurred to me.. I said “Dirty Dancing?” My dad didn’t make me wait. He just said “That’s correct!” I like to believe he was proud. Despite the fact that this happened over 30 years ago, I remember it crystal clear. This is what music does.

When I was a junior in high school, we had a new house built. One of the great features of the new house was a food storage room. But it was unfinished. My dad, jack of all trades, finished it himself. With my limited help. We listened to the radio while we worked. Knocking on Heaven’s Door came on, and we had a full-on discussion about the song and it’s origins. To this day, when that song comes on my dad asks “what does this make you think of?” I can answer without hesitation, “finishing the food storage room in our old house.” I would not have remembered that project at all if it weren’t for that song.

My dad has great taste in music. I would listen to his playlist any time. Heck, I am listening to it right now. Along with the ones I have already mentioned, my dad loves Three Dog Night, Simon and Garfunkel, Joe Cocker, the Stones, Neil Young as a solo artist, and every other hippy band or singer from the late 60’s to early 70’s. It’s great music. But that’s all he listens to. He’s not too interested in broadening his horizons when it comes to the music he likes. As a young person, I found this to be confounding. There is so much great new music to explore! Why stick with what you know? I tried in my teenage years to get him to listen to the “new” music I was into. U2, Dave Matthews Band, Sublime… no go, although he was a good sport.

I am proud to say that as an old mom, I have become my father. A gal I work with asked me the other day what my current new favorite song was. I had nothing… See, I have a playlist too. It’s my own version of that cassette we used to listen to. And there is not much new on it. It holds all the songs I have grown to love over the past 30 years and that’s it. It has throwbacks to my childhood with plenty of Simon and Garfunkel, Cat Stevens, Elton John. But it also has music I discovered as a young mother. Lumineers, Gregory Alan Isaacov, Cold War Kids, Regina Spektor. All of the songs on that playlist have a nostalgic feel. Every last one brings me back to a specific period of my life. Listening to familiar songs is the closest to time travel that we will ever get. And there are a lot of moments I enjoy reliving.

My playlist is the soundtrack while I run errands with my own kids. I tell them stories about the music. I ask them questions like “who sings it?” and “what movie is it from?” There is a song by Dispatch on my playlist that I absolutely love. It’s called “Only the Wild Ones”. I put it on a few months back and told Emmy “listen for the climax”. I like to think she dug it.

My kids play music for me as well. New music. Music that means something to them. Music that makes them feel things. I am a good sport, just like my dad was. But I categorically hate it. I just want my familiar nostalgic tunes.

Though they roll their eyes at me, I have noticed something in the past couple of years that warms my heart. When I put my playlist on, my kids don’t really complain. More than that, I catch all of them singing along to the songs. They know the words. They know the artists. They know all the trivia. I would like to imagine that someday, when they are raising their own kids and living their own lives, they will refer back to the music I played on repeat while they were growing up. I hope they will have some great memories to share.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: