45RPM: Both Hands Ani DiFranco

Where I match a song to specific memory

 It was perhaps inevitable that I would come across Ani DiFranco’s music in college.  It was the 90s, it was a women’s college, there were a bunch of girls from everywhere in the states, so DiFranco and I were fated to meet.  In this case, she showed up on a soundtrack of  a play my friend had written.  Our college was small and fostered the belief that we could do anything.  So when two women said, “Let’s each write and produce a one-act and then direct it” that’s exactly what happened.  Well, nearly.  The other women didn’t write her own one-act, but she directed an already written one.  My friend wrote and directed, because that’s the kind of woman she was.

I was enchanted by this friend: she was from Canada and had a father in the Air Force, so she had lived many different places.  She was intelligent and a strong feminist, and with a long-time boyfriend.  Strangely, she seemed just as interested in me.  Her play was the first time I saw the words of a person I knew come to life, and realized with a jolt how much of their own lives writers use in their work.  This song always reminds me of her, not only because it was used in the one-act, but also because after we left school, she disappeared, not answering the letters I wrote to her.  It turned out she had, without telling me, applied for the same full-ride scholarship to a transfer college and got it, leaving me high and dry.  I heard about her coup from a friend.  We never spoke after college.

45RPM: 59th St. Bridge Song

Where I match a song to a specific memory

Sometimes I fall in love with a song, associate that song with a person and then because that song is imprinted on the person, I have a special place in my heart for that person.  I think the first time this happened with with Simon and Garfunkel’s “59th St. Bridge Song”, also known as “Feeling Groovy”

I had never heard it until a talent show in fifth or sixth grade.  But B., a boy who was (and is) a really good singer, wanted to sing it for the show and he recruited four or five other girls to sing it with him.  I was not one of them, though I wanted to be.  I loved a lot about this song, the nonsense melody ending in “feelin’ Groovy”, I loved how simple it was, and sweet.  The group even did some choreography to fit the singing and it looked great.  When I hear this song today, or sing it myself, I can still picture some of the choreography.

B. has grown up to be an outstanding guy.  And I will always remember him as a 12-year-old boy singing, “slow down, you move too fast.”

45RPM: Runaway Train, Soul Asylum

Where I match a song to a specific memory.

My brother is two years younger than me and we inhabited different worlds for most of our growing up.  I was books, he was sports.  I was rules he was push.  I was lonely, he was surrounded.  I was nerdy, he was popular.  I was struggle, he was ease.  By the time we had both settled into attending the same high school (he a sophomore, I a senior) we had our routines down and our orbits really only crossed at the dinner table and on vacations as well as a random day now and then when we did something together.

Except for a few standouts, most of his friends have melded into one friend amalgam.  They were of the same time, the kind of hippy, kind of athletic popular kids, who did much more socially than I ever did in high school.  Our age difference seemed vast at that time, and I always felt a combination of bemused at their childish/grownup antics and kind of inferior to their social status.  I mostly left them alone, though we weren’t unfriendly to each other.

Some of them sought me out, for whatever reason.  I found a journal entry that described a party my brother hosted while my parents were out of town (the exact kind of party, in fact, that kept my parents from leaving town for nearly all of my high school experience) where two of his friends found me in my room and chatted me up.  I even printed out and saved what they wrote when they were messing around on my word processor.  They cracked me up, even twenty years later.

I have a clear memory of one friend–name lost to time–encountering me on the stairs as I was leaving for work.  He gripped the Soul Asylum album Grave Dancer’s Union in his hand and was giddy with delight over something.  “Look!” he said to me, pointing to the CD cover.

“Butt.” he indicated the naked girl on the right.

“Butt” he indicated the naked girl on the left.

“No butt.” all that was left was the girl in the middle.

I smiled and nodded and continued on my way, confused as always by my brother’s friends.  And I think of that encounter every time I think of this song.

45RPM: Romeo & Juliet (Indigo Girls and Dire Straits)

Where I match a song to a specific memory.

 The Indigo Girls “Rites of Passage” came out when I was refusing to get over my first boyfriend breaking up with me.  This song was the last song on side one of the cassette, and the amount of power and hurt in Amy Ray’s voice sent me quickly unfolding the lyrics sheet in the case to read the words along with her.  There was only a title and songwriters’ names and no lyrics.  Blast!  It was a cover!  No matter, through repeated play, I had them down in no time and could belt them out right along with Ms. Ray.  It was an excellent song for encapsulating my scab-picking-of-the-broken-heart mental state, and I loved it.  At one point it was playing when my friend April was around.  “Hey, this is Dire Straits.  My parents have the album.”  So then I knew who wrote it.  But I never heard the original until…

…I was leaving for college early that morning.  To be more precise, my entire family was leaving to drive me to college several states away.  I had spent the last few days/weeks/an entire year saying goodbye to people, packing, sorting things, planning.  I served my last two weeks at Pizza Hut, an ex-boyfriend stopped by to give me a good-luck card, I dreaded leaving my cat.  It was incredibly early–possibly even five o’clock in the morning–and I stumbled awake and into the bathroom, flipped on the radio and went about my getting ready duties for the last time as a regular resident of the house.  And there, right in the middle of washing my face, I realized the song I was hearing, the song with the simple guitar accompaniment and the quiet lyrics, was Dire Straights “Romeo and Juliet.”  Mark Knopfler’s song was a sadder, more accepting version of loss and it fit perfectly with the many goodbyes I had just given.  To this day, I love both versions for different reasons.

45RPM: Only the Good Die Young

Where I match a song to a specific memory

Boston is a bar town.  I realize the case could be made for many other cities being “a bar town” but Boston has the Irish heritage, a compact and walkable city, a ton of colleges and–if I have to pull out the big guns–the city is the setting for the longest-running TV series ever to take place in a bar.  So take that, other bar towns.

There is a bar for everyone in Boston.  You’ve got your posh bar, your intellectual bar, your hip bar, your sports bar, your college bar, your dance music club bar, your local band bar, your neighborhood bar, your punk rock bar, your dive.  I’m sure I’m forgetting a few categories.  But let me tell you, in any of the bars in Boston that played music, this song was beloved at the turn of the millennium.  I can’t tell you how many times I was chatting with friends over a beer on a Friday or Saturday night and felt the transformation.  Before Billy Joel gets through the first line, “Come out Virginia, don’t even wait,” a cheer of joy went up from the women in the crowd.  I think it had to do with  the vast numbers of (possibly formerly) Catholic (definitely formerly) Girls in the crowd–Joel’s next line is “you Catholic girls start much too late”–but I think it also has to do with being out with friends and being reminded of that not-quite-appropriate guy who wants you to experience things you haven’t yet experienced, but wouldn’t mind doing.  There’s a gleeful freedom in this song that just beckons.

Second place in the beloved Boston bar songs at the turn of the millennium:  “Come On Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners.  It has one of the most honest lyrics every sung by a man:  Come on Eileen, I swear on my knees/at this moment, you mean everything.

45RPM: Laid by James

Where I match a song to a specific memory.

I lose songs sometimes.  I will hear them once or twice, think, “that song is awesome, what is it?” and then, poof, it is gone.  If I have no snippits of lyrics there is no way to find the song again and I have to wait until it comes to me.

This song came back to me in a bar in Medford, Massachusetts.  I came to be in said bar because of a guy who I met working for Whole Foods.  He was short and charming.  The Boston Metro Area is chock full of short, and charming guys, thanks to the combined immigrant past of the Irish and Italian.  The guy’s hair line was receding at an alarming rate for his age, he wasn’t much to look at, but man, could he flirt.  He was also a musician–guitar player–and the son of Italian immigrants which meant he had a classic Italian name that rolled off the tongue.  We will say it was something like Donatello Gribiasi.  At the point I came to be sitting in the bar with him, we had both quit Whole Foods, but I called him up to see if he wanted to go out before I moved away.  He did, and that’s how we came to be sitting together bar when this song came back to me.  “Who is this?” I exclaimed as the song amped up. Donatello Gribiasi, being a musician, knew the title and the artist and, just like that, I had the song again.

45RPM: Wagon Wheel

Where I match a song to a specific memory.

I first heard this song at a friend’s singing party and experienced that weird feeling I get when everyone is singing along to an awesome song I’ve not heard before.  It was forgotten in the crush of songs that night but found again in a tiny Hawaiian restaurant in a mountain town in Colorado.

We had traveled to the cool breezes of the summer mountains to see my boyfriend’s brother get married.  It was a fun wedding on a ranch where we rode horses and every morning ate a good breakfast.  Our last night there we drove into town to see (follow this chain if you can) my boyfriend’s mother’s partner’s son Jon play a set at local restaurant.  I’d met the player in question at a different family wedding and found him full of good humor and easy conversation.  That he also lived in Colorado and played the guitar was a revelation for this trip.  It was sunset when we arrived and as the light faded we sang along as Jon played many songs I know.  His set lasted longer than we did and as we packed up to leave he launched into this song.  We walked to our car, we could still hear his singing drifting across a creek that ran through town.  I sang along with the chorus, “Rock me mama like a wagon wheel,” but the next line was interrupted when John spotted us across the way, “Rock me mama–goodbye Dad!” he called mid-line.  We laughed as we found our car and sped off into the night.

45RPM: “Dreams to Remember” “Breathe,”

Where I match the song to a specific memory

In a corner of my living room are two objects that hold what remain of my once-extensive cassette tape collection.  The sliding drawer fake-wood holders contain several cassingles (the inferior replacement for the 45RPM record) and the many mix tapes I can’t bear to part with. Most of the tapes I made myself, culling songs from friends collections, dubbing them from my own tapes and even, when desperate, recording them off of the radio.  A few are from friends who also specialized in the magic of mix tapes.  Two of them are from boyfriend #4.  He was the only one of my boyfriends who ever made me mix tapes* and they were good, mostly because his taste in music was more sophisticated than my own.  There’s a bit too much Frank Zappa, it’s true, but there are some real gems on those tapes, two of which are above and still hit me just the way they did when I first hear them:  straight in the gut, weakening the knees.

Boyfriend #4 was a summer thing between freshman and sophomore years of college.  He didn’t want to do the long-distance thing, so we broke up when I went back to school and he moved on to a woman named after a mountain in California, or–as I preferred to think of it–a brand of soda.  That was rough on me, and I pined a bit, listening to the songs he had given me on a fairly regular basis.  It occurs to me now that these two songs are perfect breakup songs, and I delight in how the object of my affection supplied me with the musical sustenance to get over him, right from the beginning of our relationship.

*Current boyfriend made me a mix CD at the beginning of our relationship, but in my mind, the mix CD is a completely different beast.

45RPM: “Misunderstood” by Wilco.

Where I match a song to a specific memory.

I did well in college, but had a terrible transition to full-fledged adulthood.  There were so many missteps in the years after college; bad job choices, bad “boy” (and “bad boy”) choices, bad substance intake choices, bad mental health in general.  This album, “Being There” hit me just right during that time, and this song probably best captures the sturm und drang of that period.  At the time, I worked for Whole Foods and was house-sitting for a coworker.  I could walk to his house from work, which was much better than the hour train ride it usually took me to get home.  One night after work, I had yet another crappy encounter with one of my not-good boy choices, walked home in the Cambridge darkness, ranting all the way, and blew in the house full of fury. Slamming this into the CD player helped, but not as much as moving across town–which I would do later that month–or moving across the country, which wouldn’t happen for a few years, but was on the horizon.

45RPM: TMBG Birdhouse in Your Soul.

Where I match a song to a specific memory.

Theme from Flood

Birdhouse in Your Soul
There are periods of respite in the high school band schedule.  One of them is the point before winter break after the holiday concert is done.  It was senior year Drum Corps and we were counting down to the break.  In the fall semester, Drum Corps had their own class, separate from the rest of the band, so the drummers could work on their very important drum things.  Secretly, I always thought it was because it was easier to work with the rest of the band when the drummers weren’t always rat-a-tat-tating away on their drums, because they never shut up.  But no matter! It was nearly break and we had an entire class of nothing to do.  We brought in music and played it while we gossiped, did homework and played cards.  At one point during the hour, someone changed the music and the glorious intro of Flood played, followed swiftly by the opening notes of the “Birdhouse in Your Soul.”  Soon the syncopated rhythms and odd tonal qualities that are They Might Be Giants were filling the room.  Our band director paused in what he was doing, and his eyebrows wrinkled together, listening.  “Who isthis?” he asked incredulously, befuddled and amused once again at the quirky nature of the adolescents he was charged to shepherd through life.  We laughed, delighted to introduce him to the magic of They Might Be Giants.