It would be good if life actually had warning signs like this, wouldn't it? Instead, we get stupid ones like "Don't Walk" or "Danger: Cliff", which actually, now that I think of it, are pretty good warning signs.
They say that the sense you use the most when you're remembering things is your sense of smell (now, who "they" are and why they keep saying things that we take at face value, I don't know) -- and certainly nothing brings back a sense of BEING in a memory like a smell. It's not like looking at the picture of my mom and I hand in hand in the driveway of our old townhouse; I look at the picture and it jogs faint impressions, of the babysitter I had when we lived there who let me watch Happy Days and the movie "Bloodsport" which I claimed for a long time was my favorite movie because I was nine years old and my hippie mother had never let me see anything with violence in it before so I naturally assumed that anything forbidden was AWESOME and I still vaguely believe Jean-Claude van Damme is sort of cool just for that reason.
But let me get a particular smell and it SMACKS me back into my grandmother's driveway in August, in Hartford, CT, in my little-girl clothes, when I decided I was going to be altruistic and give all my toys away to the neighborhood kids, so I left them all on everybody's doorsteps and then instantly regretted it, and went crying to my mom so we could go get them back. I liked those bears. Or a dry sandy smell places me on a rooftop in Morocco in 1999, desperately in love with Wolf and the newness of everything.
Music, and particular songs, do that for me as well. Now, I am kind of a musical weirdo. I rarely buy or download new music, even by bands I really like, and happily allow my iPod to shuffle its way through the 17 days of music I already have loaded into it, skipping the approximately 6 days of which are bellydancing music. The kind of music I like leans towards clever or monstrously sad lyrics, acoustic guitar, and Canadian lesbian acts (that's you, Tegan and Sara!), and I happily accept recommendations from people who are cooler and more vastly connected with music than me: like my ex-crush who used to be a radio DJ, and Arlette, who is just cooler in general than basically everyone on earth, and also funnier.
But every now and then, a particular song swims up on my iPod and it just brings me right back to a place, or a person.
I was massively ambivalent about leaving LA: on the one hand, I was finally allowed to LEAVE LA, which gnawed metaphorically on my heart like an apathetic, laidback zombie. On the other, I was going away from some very good friends, and a boyfriend (which actually turned out to be a pretty good move). But I was torn, and on my last night before flying out of the country, I found myself at home alone for a short time, while packing the gigantic piles of stuff I had strewn over the living room (have you ever tried to pack to move to another country where you can only take what fits into your checked luggage on a trip to Thailand?).
And while I was at home, I found myself playing The Weakerthans "Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure" over and over again. Now, this is The Saddest Song Ever, but sad in a satisfying way, and the lyrics are just heartbreaking, so of course I LOVE IT and I found myself singing along to it over and over again, with tears in my eyes. Hearing that song now brings me back to the tiny office room and living room of that pool house in the San Fernando Valley, which I can picture almost exactly, with every decoration intact, and the empty dusty shelves that used to hold my clothes.
Similarly, They Might Be Giants "We Want A Rock" ("Everybody wants prosthetic foreheads on their real heads...") immediately plops me into Colleen's tiny Smarte car convertible, driving down Highway 1 to the Pacific Coast Highway from Camarillo, under a cloudy sky, with the top down. She and Peter were crazy enough to get me to housesit for them while they went to Australia for their honeymoon, and I totally had a wild party every night and sold drugs and made pornography movies and snorted cocaine through a hundred dollar bill. But when I wasn't doing that, I fed their cats and drive Colleen's car to the beach and enjoyed being alone in a remote area, and actually felt the first smidgeon of affection for California as a location, rather than a movie set.
The Magnetic Field's "All My Little Words", despite having been given to me as part of an attentively-constructed song playlist by an elegant paleontologist I had a giant affection for, actually reminds me of driving again: driving between Christy's house in the hills above Boulder, CO and town itself, passing along the winding roads in the sun, with the trees surrounding me, and the music blasting from the speakers of my old Honda Accord (sold for $750 to a teenager who I think was stoned, bumper stickers and all). I was excited because I was helping a camp get ready for Burning Man, and because mountains are awesome, and because I got to sleep in the tiny cottage with the gigantic Tempurpedic bed ALL BY MYSELF.
"La Famiglia" by Mirah, a light-hearted and delicate song about boning, reminds me of staying at Reed's house in the Presidio, sunset lowering over San Francisco. James Blunt's "You're Beautiful" brings back both the heady rush of loving someone that turned out to be a self-centred egotistical asshole and the tears that trickled down my face as I remembered him, flying home from Biloxi, MS with Beth after teaching a dance workshop, looking out into the dark mile high air so she wouldn't see me crying and ask what was wrong.
What are your songs? The soundtrack of your lives?