Music and memory

One of the few moments I look forward to in my day is my walk to and from work. Not that I actually enjoy walking. The walk home can be particularly arduous on long days. My feet are, more often than no, in extreme pain and it’s only the thought of making it home that keeps me going.

But I still look forward to those two twenty-five minute spans for one specific reason: music. I put my earbuds in and, with my only responsibility being putting one foot in front of the other and keeping out of traffic, I let my mind wander with the song to some imagining or another.

Now you might think I can do this at home, and I do listen to music more often than not, but at home it’s not the same. At home I have other responsibilities and distractions. I have to do the dishes, cook the food, clean the bathroom, fold the laundry, and a million other little chores and tasks. At home I have movies and television and internet. There’s Tumblr and Pinterest and dozens of other web sites to suck my attention. The music, good as it may be, is generally just another in a large cloud of distractions.

Don’t get me wrong, music at  home is good. It keeps me in a positive mood, more often than not, and quite often inspires me to get things done. Right now I’m being inspired to write these words by Ray Lamontagne singing “You can bring me flowers”, which is a song full of soft jazz and soul and so many feels you might just drown:


This lovely tune also illustrates why I love the music of my walks so much – my head space expands and I’m walking through an entirely different world. Walking while listening to my music lets me listen to my music with more intent and depth than listening to my music anywhere else.

It doesn’t hurt that walking to work inspires my mind to escape, and walking home in pain inspires my mind to flee, so the music is a very welcome and ready diversion.

Today’s music reminded me a of a significant lesson in my past. An old, old tune from the very early eighties taught me that all important lesson: A song doesn’t have to be popular to be something meaningful to you.

I loved Men At Work when they released their initial album and still enjoy “Down Under” and “Who Can It Be Now”, although both tunes have been overplayed enough that I have to be in an open and receptive mood to enjoy them these days.

But today my phone dredged up another tune from that album: Down By the Sea. It was one of the first tunes I ever fell in love with that wasn’t loved by everyone else I knew. It would have fit perfectly on a “Headphones Only” playlist, something I plan on setting up on my phone gradually.

Another song of theirs that stuck in my head as one of “My” songs was Be Good Johnny. At the time it epitomized my interactions with most of the adults in my family. Being six feet tall and over 200 pounds it was a mystery to every one of them that I had no interest in sports whatsoever. Be Good Johnny, to me, told the story of a child more interested in imagination than football or cricket, and that was me all over. I would have been better suited to a smaller, bookish body.

Remembering Danny

Sitting here trying to create some new discs for the house stereo. I’m trying to find new stuff, music to set and change moods that we haven’t all heard a million times…

So naturally I download an entire Gary Numan retrospective.

“Down In The Park” still takes me to places I’ve never been, and probably never will see beyond my own imagination.

I had a very odd friend back in high school. Well, okay, I’ve always had a lot of odd friends. It’s funny to realize I’m generally the most normal person in my circle.

Danny was… indescribable. A bum, quite likely, yet also a fine conoiseur of alternative music before there ever was Alternative Music. Hell, he was a massive collector of alternative music before anyone ever coined the term New Wave. David Bowie at his most Ziggy was just standard background stuff for Danny’s tastes.

Danny used to be a roadie for Pat Benetar, if you cared to believe him, before he wrecked his back forever. It was hard to believe him, of course, but he did have his ear and nose on some of the weirdest stuff to ever escape the depths of New York.

He lived on welfare and worker’s comp because of his various injuries. He rented a room from a gay landlord who was constantly trying to sneak in to his bed at night. He would have loved to have moved out but the rent was the cheapest anywhere so he just kept his door shut tight and alarmed the stairs to his bedroom with a random scattering of boxes and foil wrappers that were impossible to get past without making some kind of sound.

He walked everywhere and ate the cheapest food possible. He was socially awkward to the point of eccentricity but managed to avoid the line that crossed into offensive. Being slight of frame he managed to clothe himself from whatever he could afford at the salvation army.

All in all I suspect he managed to survive on about 100 bucks a month, including rent.

The rest he spent on records and, occasionally, gaming material. His room was like a hobbit hole dug out of a strata of vinyl, cardboard and paper. There was just enough room for him to sit on the floor next to his bed and stereo so he could make mix tapes.

Living in the small town of Saskatoon (city of 150,000, sophistication of a town of 15) we’d never heard of any of the artists he collected, like Nina Hagen and many other German punk imports. He never bought the regular commercial stuff. If there were any bits he liked he’s just borrow it from the city library and tape it for himself. He reserved his hard scrounged cash for stuff you couldn’t find anywhere else.

By the time I’d heard Gary Numan’s “Cars” and gushed with boyish glee about it Danny already had a half dozen of the man’s albums. When he found out I like Gary’s single hit he mixed me a couple of tapes of his better stuff. I immediately fell in love with “Are Friends Electric?” and set about trying to find original copies for myself. I think I managed three tapes in all.

For a couple of years Murray and I gamed with Danny, gathering in Murray’s basement every weekend. We’d start sometime on Saturday afternoon and usually finished up around six in the morning. I’d spend most of Sunday just sleeping to recover in time for school.

Good times, good times.

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