Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Musical Memories

I'm sure everyone has experienced a sudden flashback when a particular song from your past pops up on the radio. Smells, too, can take you back to a point in your history, but music is a more common source of time travel for me.

I have been listening to a new album by Rosanne Cash called The List which are her covers of a list given her by her father Johnny of essential country music songs. It is a very well done album and well worth a listen. Nothing like good old-fashioned country music to take you back.

Thinking about Johnny Cash got me thinking about a song of his that will forever transport me to middle-Tennessee in the summer of 1969. A Boy Named Sue was hot on the charts as we took our annual road trip, visiting various Civil War historic sites and headed for the Great Smoky Mountains as our target destination. I never ever hear that song without flashing on a little motel somewhere in Tennessee where we stopped for the night very soon after hearing that song play on the radio.

This past week in a used book store I ran across a piece of sheet music that I purchased because it rang one of those distant memory bells the instant I saw it. When I was in 4th grade or maybe 5th grade, it came time for the annual piano recital and my teacher got the brilliant notion that some of us should sing as a break in the midst of all the tedious piano pieces. I don't sing. That is, I don't sing alone. I have a thready soprano that is supported by lungs scarred by childhood asthma. I have no volume and very little breath control. Nevertheless, it was decided that 3 of us girls in our grade would sing as a trio and each of us would have a line or two to sing as a solo. That was bad enough, but the song she chose for us was Red Roses for a Blue Lady which sounds completely weird coming from 3 pre-pubescent girls. We sang and our bored parents politely clapped, but I have hated that song ever since. Why, you may ask, did I feel compelled to buy the sheet music these many years later? I have no idea. Childhood trauma causes unpredictable actions in later life.

It was a year or two later that the same piano teacher got the idea that we should all get a song of our own to sing as a solo. My assigned song was Edelweiss, a sweet little song and very moving when Christopher Plummer sang it in Sound of Music, but it suffered greatly under my rendition. I can still remember the hot spring night, standing on the auditorium stage, my thin little voice reaching about 5 inches past the microphone, and being very relieved when it was all over. My teacher went to Europe that summer and brought me a little package of dried edelweiss as a remembrance of my connection to that song and which I still have. Thankfully that was the last year I had to sing anything solo. I think she finally realized that I had not inherited my father's vocal talent and gave up on my potential singing career.

Two songs forever connect me to the two years I played basketball, another activity for which I had absolutely no talent whatsoever, but I did try. One Saturday we traveled to some spot close to San Antonio to participate in a tournament. We got drummed out of that pretty fast and on the way home we stopped for hamburgers at some little joint that had a jukebox. 96 Tears by ? and the Mysterians and 98.6 by Keith got repeated play and every time I hear them now, I flash back to that little hamburger joint somewhere between San Antonio and home and I'm eating a greasy hamburger with a bunch of giggly teenaged girls.

El Paso by Marty Robbins takes me back to two places - the parsonage at Oak Hill and the little rental house where we lived in Victoria. We got our stereo while we lived in Oak Hill and one of the first records Daddy bought through the Columbia Record Club was More Greatest Hits by Marty Robbins. I loved Marty Robbins and I played that record a lot. When we were in Victoria, as I described in a previous post we did a lot of dressing up and play acting and I can remember acting out the story of El Paso as I listened to the record. I don't remember very much at all about that house, but I can remember the front room where the stereo lived and the green braided rug under my feet as I danced and sang along with Marty. Marty Robbins records taught me a lot about harmony. Dancing, not so much.

A George Strait song, All My Exes Live in Texas, will always remind me of Colorado. It was very popular one year when we headed out on our annual camping trip to Gunnison and it must have played at least once an hour every time we had the radio on. That's a long drive and by the time we got home, I did not think it was as great a song as I had thought on the way out of Texas. But I still like it and I still think about that drive to Colorado every time I hear it.

Another song that always brings Colorado to mind is Patty Loveless' I Try to Think About Elvis. The last time I went to Colorado, I drove by myself and spent two weeks wandering about Colorado on my own, just me and my dog Bebop. That was the popular song that summer. It always brings to mind me driving along that long stretch from Lubbock to Clayton, New Mexico, Bebop sleeping peacefully on a pillow beside me. That trip proved to me that I could travel by myself and get along just fine. I'm not sure I would try doing that again - oh, sure I would - but somehow I don't think Mojo or Coco would be such great traveling companions. Bebop had a great time. That trip is one of my fondest memories of him.

I always enjoy the little unexpected trips down musical memory lane when a song from my past is suddenly dredged up out of nowhere. Satellite radio gives you a lot more of these opportunities with their stations devoted to classic country and early rock and roll. Recently I tuned to the classic country station on my cable tv and realized that I was singing non-stop all morning as one memory after another rolled out of their archives. Today's country music just isn't the same as listening to Patsy, Hank, Marty, Johnny and Loretta.

Good music and good memories. Except for that Red Roses for a Blue Lady episode.


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