I have a very clear memory of my first impression of popular music. I was still mainly listening to the oldies station in the back of my mother’s car in those days and was just starting to listen to music on my own. It would be years before I would seriously evaluate the music I was listening to, let alone figure out my own tastes. Being only a child of seven or eight flipping through stations on my tiny little boom box, I summed up main stream radio in very simple terms: Music is about love and longing. Either you’re wishing you were with someone new or wishing you could get back with someone old. I had no idea what longing was in those days, but everyone sounded so earnest that I figured it must be something important. And when you think about it, 8-year-old me stumbled on a grain of truth in there. Most music, popular music in particular, revolves around this one concept. Obviously there are many exceptions to this, but we’ll be exploring that sort of thing on another day.
It has been a very strange week around here. I was recently contacted by my one-and-only ex-boyfriend. We hadn’t had any contact for about 10 years and our history is really starting to get a bit ancient. I won’t go into all the gory details, but he was seeking some closure and hoping to grant me some as well. We’re both now happily married to other people and agree that things turned out for the best. But for a bit there, my mind was boiling. Our parting was as tragic and angst-filled as any emo teenager could ever hope for. And I thought my memories of that relationship had faded away, that the past had lost its sting. But it turned out I was wrong. I don’t want to go back and I wouldn’t change anything now. I’m in a loving long-term relationship with the man of my dreams. And the lessons I learned in my failed relationship all played a part in making me the person I am today. But my reaction to this whole experience has truly caught me by surprise. Things I hadn’t thought about in years started floating to the surface and I was amazed by the strong emotions they still sparked in me.
What really got me was the music that kept creeping into my head. I spent a lot of time lost in thought when I should have been doing other things, and there was always a song running in the background of my inner-monologue. Every now and then I’d kind of come to and finally listen to what was running through my head. Every time the song turned out to be strangely appropriate. Most of them were songs from those days, but some were new songs that suddenly took on new meanings. The list grew so fast that I had to start writing the songs down. There are many more than I want or need to go into. But to give you an idea of what was happening in my head earlier this week, here are three of the most appropriate ones: one bitter, one wistful, and one chaotic. All three were around when I was originally dealing with the break-up, and all three represent aspects of what I was going through then.
You’re So Vain by Carly Simon (specifically the 2nd verse)
Name by the Goo-Goo Dolls
Medication by Garbage
So now you’ve been reading for quite some time and you’re probably wondering what this has to do with The Counting Crows. Well, let me explain. When the relationship ended, I didn’t listen to music for several days. It seemed like every song I heard reminded me of what I had lost or literally said things I wasn’t ready to acknowledge. But this didn’t last and after acquiring several CDs from my sister and a dear friend, I started listening to music again in like it was water in a desert. It was around this time I picked up The Counting Crows first major album August & Everything After. Already seven years old when I bought it, it was new to me. And every song mirrored the turmoil I was experiencing inside. I listened to it constantly for a month or more and found some kind of respite with it. Like most of us have experienced at some point in our lives, I realized that what I was going through wasn’t new. I wasn’t the first to be hurt and I took a little bit of comfort in knowing that someone else had felt the same way. I loved that album. But I listened to it so much that it is now inextricably linked to that time in my life and to my memories of that relationship. I can’t listen to it, even after all these years. It’s not because I dislike the band and it isn’t because the music is bad. It doesn’t matter that I have/am/will make peace with my past. I just don’t have the heart to listen to it. It’s a bit like visiting a grave.
Despite my constant repetitive listening to this album, there was one song I always skipped. It hit home in ways none of the others ever did and I could never get past the first few lines without crying. I guess time does heal a lot of things because (thankfully) that is no longer a problem.
I want to end this entry with some amazing philosophical statement that summed up the importance of music and dealing with the things that life throws at us. But whatever I say will probably be trite and inadequate. The interplay between music and memory can sometimes be a painful experience, but in the end I know that it is useful. The Counting Crows played a big part in helping me to sort out my emotions and to move on with my life, but in the process they became a play list casualty.
The radio program This American Life has a wonderful exploration of the importance of the break-up song, which is definitely worth a listen to. Sorry for the link, but I can’t get WordPress and their embed code to play nicely together. Just trust me and follow the link. It is a great story and probably says somethings more eloquently than I can.