It had to be one-hit-wonder Spacehog’s song In the Meantime last Friday night. I needed it, just like I need that first sip of coffee in the morning—and I refuse to let anyone or any cat stand between me and my salvation. Sorry, no time to clean up kitty vomit, my mind is on one track and I only know one speed. Please clear all crossings, I’m coming through.
The urgency to hear that song erupted from a romp through my teenage past. It was an off-white Volvo with brown leather seats, my two guy friends crooning “Whoooaooo ooo oo ooo” in the front as we bobbled down Wisteria Drive. I swear the tires of that Volvo never made contact with the road but instead were suspended by an air-particle conveyor belt. It always felt like it would be so easy to slip to one side and careen out of control. The last sounds I would hear would be lyrics I couldn’t even understand. At least I’d be rockin’.
That memory of my daytime trek to god knows where could only be affirmed by rediscovering In the Meantime. I know the event happened; I can even recall the feeling of the leather seats on my palms. It’s all so precise and tangible. What is far more murky is what happened before and after that moment in the car. Lacking a soundtrack, those periods of time become insignificant. They aren’t memorable enough to stand on their own, and I have no emotional ties to them that can assist me in remembering. It was likely a normal day and we were likely on our way to TQ’s Subs for lunch. I don’t need to know that; it wasn’t important. If I held onto the entire day and committed it to memory along with other days such as that, my brain would hemorrhage from teenage-doldrums overload.
I only need one memory to remind me what it was like to ride in that Volvo with my friends on our way to do underage, suburban white kid activities. I’d rather selectively remember myself with a smile on my face as the sun warms my cheeks and the wind from the cracked windows tousles my hair—ahh, the freedom of privileged-youth and little responsibility besides making sure to be home before 11 p.m. Yes, I would prefer to think of my younger self as a happy dreamer just going with the flow, man instead of the uptight, homework-obsessed, prude who burst Catholic guilt like a popped pimple when squeezed between peer pressure and making bad decisions.
Music validates my past—the parts that I would like to recall and shutters closed those memories that confirms anything but the fact that I was really interesting. And similarly, music helps me to mold my future, the one that will cast me as the heroic and compassionate leader of the resistance. I’m trying to figure out what the best songs are for that one.
So, with friends or alone (it doesn’t matter) when I’m feeling extra special, I shuffle through my memories, selecting that perfect one to play. My brain is the best jukebox. Unfortunately, not everyone has the same associations with certain songs as I do. That can be quite the buzz kill at a party when I decide to bring myself back to an era of underage drinking and Betty Davis Eyes.
A defiant broken heart riding in my blue 1986 Ford Mustang convertible in West Virgina during April: it’s David Gray’s Please Forgive Me. Rowdy, fuck authority teenage rebels riding in my friend’s black Volkswagen Jetta as we exit my high school parking lot: it’s Rage Against the Machine People of the Sun. Dancing with my sister on my bedroom’s wooden floors during a most warm summer in Vermont, letting loose and being a girl for once: it’s Belinda Carlisle and Heaven is a Place on Earth. Late Saturday evening after a night of drinks and sushi dinner, sockless in my parlor and head on my husband’s shoulder, it’s Meiko’s Reason’s to Love You. Working my ass off during grad school at a tea room in Savannah, Georgia: She’s Losing It by Belle and Sebastian. Elliott Smith’s Pitselah when I was in the mood to write something important and meaningful. Juno Reactor’s God is God when I speedily cleaned my house before having friends over.
I can navigate my past through music. Sure it’s selective memory, but whose isn’t? We choose to remember the people, events, and stories that contributed to defining who we are today. That’s our narrative, our script to our biographical movie. Shouldn’t all great movies have a superb soundtrack? I want mine to.