I often write here about the associations I have with certain pieces of music. As much as I love all sorts of music for its own sake, there are dozens hundreds thousands of songs that lodge in my memory not just for their melodies or lyrics or instrumentation, but also for the simple fact that they spark particular memories. Like a faint hint of perfume, a few notes of music is often enough to conjure up astonishingly vivid memories – some good, some bad.
For almost a year, a lack of free hard drive space brought to a halt my efforts to rip our CD collection. Christmas fixed that, so I have been trying to rip a few CDs a week since then. Old CDs and shuffle play on an iPod make for all sorts of unexpected combinations of music, much of which has gone neglected for far too long since I never listen to CDs anymore. (They’re just so nineties.)
One band that I’ve been very remiss in ripping is U2, but this week I am fixing that. I started with Achtung Baby. Although it was released in November 1991, its universal popularity across my college campus really fixes it in my mind in spring 1992, when everyone’s windows were open, and I would marvel at being able to walk from Funston to Park Place and never be out of earshot of someone playing this album. I even had a joke in my column in the paper suggesting that we all start the album at prescribed times to synchronize the listening experience across the campus.
Spring 1992 was the end of my Junior year of college, and while it had its share of accomplishments and satisfactions, it was also a time of frustration and transition. I went through my last awful round of adolescent betrayals that year, and like any adolescent rite of passage, I took them hard. So the dozen tracks on Achtung Baby serve as a bit of a touchstone for me. I have never been a hard core U2 fan, although my first album on casette was U2’s War from Bert’s Tape Factory. Instead, it was the record’s simple ubiquity that spring that wove it into my memories of a time when some important bonds dissolved and I shed some final youthful illusions. Trite stuff, to be sure, but nonetheless powerful as well.
With this background in mind, I have to say I had not been prepared for the impact of having my iPod randomly serve up songs like “So Cruel” and “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses.” Thoughts of long moonlit rambles and sullen sessions with the Bishop have come flooding back to me, reminding me how indelibly some episodes stamp themselves on one’s memory. They also remind me how glad I am to be grown up and, for the most part, beyond that kind of roller coaster. There’s plenty to worry about in my life these days, but there’s also so much more to anchor it, and the contrast between then and now is quite something to behold. And all of this triggered by 17 year old pop rock music. We find our Muses where they find us, I suppose.
On the flip side of the music coin, spring 1992 was when I was introduced to Joni Mitchell’s 1971 gem Blue for the first time, as well as to David Wilcox‘s beautiful songwriting. I still cannot hear Mitchell’s “Carey” without thinking of piling into my friend Jason’s slightly ratty ol’ Jetta and storming around the Connecticut countryside when both of us had more than enough things we should have been doing. Looking back, there’s no doubt in my mind we made the right decision then. Homework fades, but real friendship endures.