Right before we started dating, I and my wife took a drive up to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. We were already good friends and heavily flirting so we decided to take the day off one morning, leave at the crack of dawn, and take the 3 hour drive from El Paso, Texas to Carlsbad Caverns.
We spent all morning and much of the afternoon out there and I drove her green Honda Civic with the Smashing Pumpkins decal on the back window back to El Paso. I remember her dozing on the passenger seat while I was listening to a CD I brought. I was already a Beatles fanatic and had bought the Anthology 2 CD back when people still bought those. It included a track off the sessions for Revolver—“And Your Bird Can Sing.” The version on Anthology 2 is an earlier take with much laughter from the band throughout the singing of the song. The official version on Revolver is already quite merry and has that driving rhythm and crazy guitar riff. The take on the Anthology is even crazier and merrier with all the stoned-seeming laughter throughout the track. Perfect driving music.
My wife was lying on the seat. The sun was pouring down on her beatific face. I was driving along down the highway in time to the Beatles. A very nice little memory. Now every time I hear that particular version of the song I’m brought back to that specific moment in time (changed by nostalgia I’m sure but precise in the essentials). It’s hard to listen to that song and think of anything else.
There are many songs I hear that evoke moments in time. And whether those memories are good or bad I’m always slightly uneasy and sad. If the memory evoked is painful, I remember the painful times and re-experience, if even only slightly, that feeling. Now when I hear “It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin’” by Johnny Tillotson (and many other permutations) I’m reminded of my aunt telling me she used to cry to this song after my father died. Or if I hear “Amor Eterno” (Juan Gabriel’s song) I can feel the sun beating down on me at the cemetery when a Mexican trio were singing this at my grandfather’s funeral.
But I also feel a little melancholy in remembering good things. The Doors’ songs make me wish I was back gallivanting around the desert at night with my buddies under the influence of various interesting and amazing substances. Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring makes me want to be back climbing Mt. Cristo Rey in my zarape as if I were going to some sacrificial slaughter. Or listening to the Smashing Pumpkins fills me with an urge to be dating my wife again, in the halcyon days, before I got older and fatter and more responsible….
Maybe it’s just my own disposition to turn melancholic and nostalgic when listening to music. I don’t suppose I always do that. I really do enjoy music and if it always brought some feelings of loss I wouldn’t enjoy it too much. I wonder if those melancholic feelings are actually pleasurable. Maybe there’s something in the human psyche that seeks out a feeling of wistfulness and a glorification of our past. It’s almost as if I’m recreating a past whenever I listen to these songs. I can view events from a distance and observe and contemplate the passage of time. Maybe it’s my mythologizing of myself.
Something about music seems to bring the past, my own past, vividly alive. And although I appreciate the present and still have hope for the future, it is hard not to seek some meaning or nourishment from that past. And although I’m excited about moving on to new career opportunities and seeing my child grow up and making new life decisions with my wife as we get older and try to get wiser, sometimes I just want to be driving down a desert highway with my beautiful and close friend with whom I just finished having an amazing walk under the earth and flirting all morning with, listening to an early take of the Beatles’ “And Your Bird Can Sing”. Maybe I’ll go hear the song now.