Friday, April 14, 2023

Insight: Songs that jog the memory

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

Singer Stevie Wonder once said that music, at its essence, is what gives us memories and the longer that a song has existed in our lives, the more memories we have of it. When I first heard that, I began to connect songs to important memories in my life and found it to be an accurate statement.

I discovered that the way my brain works, I tend to remember certain songs with memorable times I have experienced. Some of these songs provoke strong emotions in me or others I associate with aspects of life I overlook or are buried in the past.

In some instances, I can recall where I was or what I was doing when I first heard a particular song.

Here are some examples of what I came up with, what I happened to be doing or why a song is relevant even today in my memories:

I first heard one tune many people are familiar with when I was driving through New York City with my father in the summer of 1969. He was working as an engineer for a startup computer company in Stamford, Connecticut and was commuting home to Rochester, New York on weekends. One weekend he asked me if I wanted to spend the week with him in Stamford and I leaped at the opportunity. It was a short drive to New York City, and he wanted to give me a tour one night when I was visiting. We drove into the city, and I found myself immersed in another world. It was incredible to me that even at 10 p.m., some streets were lighted bright as day for shoppers and pedestrian traffic even at night was heavy there. I got to see Chinatown, the Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan and despite a green light, some drivers stopped at an intersection and got out of their cars to purchase ice cream from the Good Humor truck. As we drove past Central Park, the harmonious refrains of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” came on my father’s car radio, and it was the first time I had ever heard it. Therefore, for me, I do not associate “Sweet Caroline” with the seventh inning stretch of Red Sox games at Fenway Park in Boston, rather I remember it for a great time spent with my father driving through New York City. I’ll always associate that tune with my father.

When my wife Nancy and I were first dating, we spent a Saturday morning driving around to various neighborhood garage sales in Florida. A song came on the radio that we both liked. I had not heard it before, and I asked Nancy if she knew what the name of the song was and who performed it. She told me that she had heard the song before, and it was called “Collide” by Howie Day. Whenever I listen to that song today, I am instantly transported back in time to that moment years ago and we both fondly think of it as “our song.”

In January 1972, after spending Christmas at home in Rochester with my family, my college roommate, Craig, picked me up a few days before New Year’s Eve and we drove in his Volkswagen Beetle across the country. We stopped at his brother’s house in Ohio and to visit a friend in Oklahoma City and we were back on the road on Jan. 3 bound for our college in New Mexico. To get there, we had to drive through the Panhandle of Texas and the weather was deteriorating as a massive snowstorm rolled across the plains bearing down on us as we drove along Route 66. To distract us as the storm approached, Craig turned on the car radio and we happened to catch the debut of a new song, “You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon. I had never heard of her before, so through the years, I have always associated “You’re So Vain” and Carly Simon with riding on Route 66 in the Panhandle of Texas while trying to outrun a dangerous snowstorm.

One of the experiences I came to enjoy about serving in the U.S Air Force in Germany was that the Base Exchange store would have record albums available soon after their public release back home in the states at a discounted price. I amassed quite a collection of performers just breaking out or on the cusp of stardom. It was fun to introduce my friends and co-workers to new music and new artists on a regular basis. Some of these new artists at that time included Nicolette Larson, Van Halen, and The Cars. I can remember picking up and looking at a new album in June 1978 and I paid $5.95 for it without ever hearing a cut from the album or knowing what the band’s music sounded like. That album was “Dire Straits” by Dire Straits, and it remains one of my favorites of all-time, especially the song “Sultans of Swing” from the album. Now nearing some 45 years later, when I think of my time stationed in Germany, I can still hear the song “Sultans of Swing” playing in my head.

What songs jog your memory?

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