…These are and have always been some of my most distinct and persistent memories of childhood, so it came as a disappointment to me when, one day as a teenager, I opened up a photo album and found pictures of each and every one of those memories. I didn’t have a single memory that didn’t belong to or somehow grow from pictures my parents had taken of me when I was growing up. Even the scenes I remember so clearly in my head are from the same angles as those photographs and I don’t really know what to make of it. I’m going to guess that I’d seen all these photographs at some point, forgotten they were just photographs, and over time made them into my most tangible memories. That’s scary to me in a way.
This leads me to something weird about the power that music has, its transportive ability. Any time I hear a song or record that meant a lot to me at a certain moment or I was listening to at a distinct time, I’m instantly taken back to that place in full detail. Whenever I hear “Feel Flows” by the Beach Boys, I’m taken straight to the back of my parents’ car on the way to my grandparents’ place, fourteen with Surf’s Up in my walkman and the Cascade Mountains going by in the window. Any song off Radiohead’s Kid A brings back the sounds and atmosphere of the airport near Seattle, from when we were on the way to Colorado for a wedding and Kid A was the only record I brought or wanted to bring. “Crayon Angels” by Judee Sill is the whole winter of last year, and Brian Wilson’s solo version of Surf’s Up will take me back to driving my parents’ car around town alone at the age of 16 with the windows down at night.
I can ascribe exact memories to songs by the Microphones, Joni Mitchell, Built to Spill, Dungen, Harry Nilsson, and so many others, and it’s a form of recall that I can actually trust. There’s no visual element to complicate things, no chance of a planted memory that wasn’t actually supposed to be there and that is reassuring to me. Maybe I should be concerned that I’m alone in almost all these memories, but I guess I was just a private kid and music was a private experience for me. I can even remember the certain kind of darkness my room would have when I was in there alone listening to records. I can read a good book cover to cover and never once forget I’m sitting in the middle of four slabs of drywall on a spring mattress in Seattle — same with movies and TV and anything else. I can listen to music and instantly be anywhere that song is trying to take me. Music activates a certain mental freedom in a way that nothing else can, and that is so empowering. You can call it escapism if you like, but I see it as connecting to a deeper human feeling than found in the day-to-day world.