I am in my pajamas, sitting at the computer with the best intentions of writing – something, anything. But iTunes pops up, and I find myself scrolling through thousands and thousands of songs. And then I had this epiphany, about mid-way on the Richter-or-whatever scale for epiphanies: I can throw aside the scrap books with all those cherished mementos--like the piece of school bus seat stuffing-fuzz that B. gave me in fifth grade as a sure sign of his unwavering love. I can lock away the photo albums that bear witness to all the me's I have created, not to mention my ever-evolving sense of style and fashion. Instead, I can put together a playlist of my life. It beats cleaning out my sock drawer. Again.
Here's part of my playlist:
Best of Bread, side two: freshman year of high school, the Friday night parties at B's house (yes, the bus-seat-fuzz. But no longer a romantic interest; my fickleness is long-practiced.) Inside, couples mugging in chairs and corners to "Baby I’m a Want You,"and outside on the street, “Cat Scratch Fever” and the clink of empty beer cans rolling against the curb.
“Uptown Girl”: my crazy college roommate, now suburban housewife, mother of two and kitchen product demonstrator, on our way to yet another frat party.
“Take it to the Limit”: my junior high gymnastics team on the way to the regional meet, the Eagles eight-track blaring hypnotically from the coach’s van like a mantra.
Rick Astley: 1988. I’ve finally finished seven years of higher education. A real apartment. A real job. A fun, rowdy group of single-but-dating girlfriends all piled in one friend’s Jetta (before the radio was stolen for the third and final time) on the way to somewhere or anywhere singing “Together forever, together with you” in wine-induced harmony.
Laura Branigan (RIP, Laura): two-thirds of the way through the eight-hour drive from home to college, three-fourths of the way to graduation.
The Bangles. “Walk like an Egyptian”: Aerobics class in the old, cavernous ivy league gymnasium my last year of law school with a classmate, daughter of an immigrant plumbing-store owner on Long Island, first in her family to graduate college and venting the family pressure through bulimia. (Facebook tells me she’s retired from a lucrative Wall Street practice, happily living in Westchester County with a husband and children.)
Then there is the quadruple-threat memory of that last, forced family car trip, before my Mom and Dad finally accepted the fact that teenagers would rather die than partake of parental bonding. Driving for hours and hours and hours across the vast wasteland we call the Midwest, twisting the radio dial from one backwater scritchy station to the next. And every single one of them had just four songs on the play list: the ever-popular “Afternoon Delight”, “I’ve Got a Brand New Pair of Roller Skates”, “Muskrat Love” and the record holder for the song with the fewest lyrics, “Dog, Dog, Dog Eat Dog.” Indelibly burned in my mind is the absolute hysteria of my sister and me when we walk into the hotel lobby bar to find our tragically-uncool father requesting “Afternoon Delight” from the smarmy piano player.
And of course, no soundtrack could be complete without the “our songs.
Soul Asylum, “I can feel you tremble when we touch”: first year of law school, renting a car to drive to the city for the funeral of a classmate’s father with the most romantic, attentive, ode-to-me writing, soon-to-be politician I never loved.
Phil Collins, “Groovy Kind of Love”: the one I thought I would marry (but am now relieved I didn’t). I remember him laughing when I described Phil Collins as some old washed up singer trying to make a come-back (no offense, Phil. I’ve never been particularly good at keeping artists straight). And then hearing the original version of the song on a red, beat up juke box in a small-town diner on the way to some weekend getaway. Then Phil’s version, our version, coming on the radio just as he came to pick me up for our first reunion date after we had broken up for the second time.
The rebound guy (the one I maybe should have married), who tenderly he tried to make me love him while I insisted on living out a good-time-girl phase. He was Guns & Rose; I was Jimmy Buffet, but Barry Manilow’s sappy “Somewhere down the Road” makes me think of him still.
“Colour My World”: I know I'mnot alone in flashing back to balloons and streamers hanging from the school gym. A young couple clenched in an earnest embrace. My head on his shoulder as we struggled to avoid each other’s feet and other body parts, swaying, barely moving in an awkward square to the Last Song of the Homecoming Dance.
I can go back even farther, to pre-B fifth grade choir. Cherubs in a half moon, me at one end on the first row, Mike at the other end of the back row. Singing “Today” like our lives (or at least recess) depended on it, our eyes meeting from across the music room. I will ever think of my very first, sweet kiss, a flustered peck beside a sand trap on the golf course between school and home, when I hear about those blossoms and sweet wine.
Any Seal song sends me back to one living room and that first forty-eight-hour-togetherness marathon. Playing cards with his house guests, who had brought the CD of “a new group” for him to hear. How we laughed when he put on his much-played copy and how we joked together for months after, pretending each time to hear Seal for the first time.
"Fly me to the Moon": a champagne-and-cobalt-sky ski day, carving a trail through the trees.
I’m sure, too, that I will travel across the world to an island in the south of Thailand and a table on a beach, hurriedly carried under a surf-side outcropping of a shadowy cliff, a minor concession to the warm, torrential rain that arrived in synchronicity with a bottle of champagne. Grilled lobster, crashing waves and masterful lightning creating silhouettes of the cliffs along the bay in flawless tempo with the strains of a Thai lounge singer crooning Air Supply’s “Lost in Love.” Too perfect to be true. And it was.
So many tunes, so many times. My life’s playlist is long and varied. Music may be more interwoven with memory than scent is. And it's all grist for the writer's mill. If I ever stop scanning the iTunes catalogues long enough to actually write. Or at least change into fresh pajamas.
(As an aside, I read recently that the mappers of the human brain had located that continuous loop that causes a song to get stuck in a person's head. Funny how, for me, the meaningful songs rarely get put on perpetual replay. No, it is the random ones, pulled from some dark cobwebby corner of my mind. I'd like those mappers to explain why my loop plays"Great big gobs of greasy grimy gopher guts" or "Zip a dee do dah")