The other night I stumbled across Simon and Garfunkel’s “America” streaming from my Amazon Echo (thanks, Mom and Dad, for inviting SkyNet into my home), which nuzzled my hippocampus, curled up licking my subconscious, and sent me on a nostalgia spin down memory lane. Fast forward two days and, after dinner, I’m sitting in the kitchen searching for Disturbed’s remake of “Sound of Silence.” Then it’s on to the concert in Central Park. What a show. I remember watching HBO on the couch with my mother, February 1982, and, even at fourteen, when I had trouble recognizing any artistic beauty- who didn’t at fourteen?-acknowledging the greatness of the music and being blown away by the poetry of those lyrics.
Sitting at my kitchen table tonight I was stirred by all of those memories as they unwound and stretched and took a turn around my brain. It’s funny what can strike you if you just let it. So I came up with a greatest hits, as it were, of music related connections that rattled my synapses tonight. Here they are, in no particular order.
It’s debating Phil Collins “In the air Tonight” with Cathy Dillon in high school. We shared a passion for Phil and, briefly, for each other, but, like so many high school crushes, it crashed and burned. My love for Genesis and the music of Phil Collins, though, didn’t.
It’s listening to my high school friends cranking out covers of “Running with the Devil” in Stephen Diacetis’ garage on those awesome summer nights, and then playing hide and seek all night (chasing Cheryl McCormick around back yards didn’t hurt. The picture of middle school innocence. It was 1980, after all.).
It’s scribing with the fervor of a novice the complete lyrics of Rush, “2112” in a hormone soaked tenth grade study hall. I can still sing that long, one whole side of a record (yes, an LP) rock opera, and all of “Moving Pictures” and “Subdivisions,” too. It’s having in-depth conversations with my friend Marc Bocain in college about the greatness of Neil Peart.
It’s turning down a joint sitting in the balcony of SPAC on August 27, 1984 because I was transfixed by Yes and “Roundabout.” My buddy Chris was sitting next to me and he also turned it down; he gave the best excuse ever, though. When the stranger handed him the joint he shook his head and shouted, over the music, “No thanks, we brought our own.” If you knew us then, or even looked at us then, you probably could have guessed that there was no way in hell we had any weed on us. Quick thinking, though. The other guy bought it, or just didn’t care.
It’s being in my room in 1985, crouching over my boombox at midnight, finger poised on the record button, getting ready to release it so I could capture Springsteen’s “Thunder Road,” still probably my favorite song. Poetry, that. “There were ghosts in the eyes of all the boys you sent away. They haunt this dusty beach road in the skeleton frames of burned out Chevrolets. They scream your name at night in the street, your graduation gown lies in rags at their feet, and in the lonely cool before dawn, you hear their engines roar on, but when you get to the porch they’re gone. On the wind.” I remember those words, and I remember sitting at the last two of the Boss’ concerts when he sang this each time as an encore and singing along with him and being almost in tears. Songs will do that to you, I guess.
It’s cruising home from yet another Friday night showing of “Rocky Horror” or “The Wall” in Andrew’s Saab rocking out to “Burning Down the House” or “Sunday, Bloody Sunday.” Heady times 1986, but at least there was no Flock of Seagulls.
It’s James Taylor “Fire and Rain” in a dorm room in 1987.
It’s being introduced to rap music in the early 90’s by Kent Baker at the College of Saint Rose, especially Run DMC (“Tougher Than Leather), Kool Moe Dee (”Wild, Wild, West“), and most importantly Public Enemy (”It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back,“ still one of the most influential albums of all time in my opinion). Because of Kent I can say to my classes with complete sincerity that I truly am the ”OG.” They never believe it, but what the hell.
It’s listening to Van Morrison’s “And It Stoned Me” sometime in the fall of 1992 with David Abrams in his little bungalow on Sparkill Avenue as a graduate student as we debated Piers the Plowman, Jung’s quaternity, and how we were going to get ready to present our papers at the 1992 ACTA Conference in front of all of those PhD.’s. It was being alive in the mind for the first time, and it was heady and addictive. I gave that paper in April, graduated in May, and got married in June. How’s that for stress? So it’s no wonder I remember the ethereal quality of Van Morrison’s lyrics. They mellowed me out then and still do now.
It’s playing “Werewolves of London” in the classroom I shared with Mark Diefendorf on Fridays because we were in a Friday mood, or later, when he was my principal, debating the pompatus of love, thank you Steve Miller, or what exactly Seals and Croft meant by “blowing through the jasmine in my mind.” People come and go. The memories live on.
It’s Peter Gabriel’s “Red Rain” whenever I sit down to write.
It’s dancing with my wife every time Etta James sings “At Last,” because I promised her that I would do that every time our wedding song comes on. Because it takes me to that day in October 2013 when we made it official at the river’s edge, and placed our warrior bands on our fingers and pledged to love each other forever. Music can do that, too. It can bind you in ways that mere words cannot. This is, perhaps, my most special musical connection. Music, it seems, can reach deeper than other media.
And so many more. I guess it’s a long, strange trip, but Simon and Garfunkel got it right. They were the ones who sang “Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.”
Wise words, indeed.
© 2017, Brian Stumbaugh. All rights reserved.