I love how music can bring you right back to not only a specific time, but a specific moment, or a specific feeling. Even when the memory or the feeling is painful, it becomes therapeutic, listening to a song, revisiting it.
It’s like how I can’t hear Norah Jones’s first album, “Come Away With Me,” without immediately being in the back seat of my brother’s car the day after my mom died. We were driving to Bloomington to get clothes from my dorm. Funeral clothes. I think I was in the back because our cousin Micaela had rode with us. I don’t know. Certain details, you lose. But what I know is this: I pressed my forehead against the tiny window of Jay’s Cavalier, and lyrics like, “My heart is drenched in wine/You’ll be on my mind forever,” burned into my brain. I felt too empty to cry. I loved it. I hated it. I knew my mom would love it, and that she would never, never hear it. The album was about her. She was in every line.
So even though hearing “Don’t Know Why” or “The Long Day is Over” doesn’t send a searing pain through me like it did on that first listen, I still think about it. And now, it’s soothing. Maybe, somewhere, somehow, my mom can hear it. Mostly, I think about that heartbroken girl in the backseat, and I wish I could tell her everything was going to be okay.
Then there’s Ben Harper’s “Diamonds on the Inside” album. I promise you, every time I listen to that title track, suddenly it’s the summer of 2003, and I’m back at home after my first year at IU, sweeping the kitchen floor while Dad worked in the yard outside. 19, back at home, motherless and heartsick—I was quite a pill for my poor father to live with. But that evening, “Diamonds on the Inside” came on, and I swept the floor, singing under my breath, nodding my head. It was exactly what it needed to be.
And don’t even get me started on the following song, “Touch From Your Lust”—that just brings up all sorts of 19-year-old angst. I didn’t know what the hell Ben Harper meant when he sang “I’ll be your country gentleman/ if you will be my Mason-Dixon queen” but I knew it spoke to whatever I was feeling, right at that moment.
What the hell? Why do I remember sweeping the kitchen floor and listening to Ben Harper?
That’s music for you. I could go on. And on. And on. (I’ll try to refrain, though.)
Tonight, maybe because I sorta sound like Tom Waits with my ridiculous raspy bronchitis voice (hot, right? gross), I suddenly had this urge to listen to his album “Closing Time,” an album I haven’t listened to in years.
The cd was somewhere in my apartment, I knew it. But I also knew that if I dug around to look for it, I was going to have a coughing fit, and I’m getting a little tired of coughing fits. Luckily for me, there’s this magical device called the Internet.
As soon as I heard the opening of “I Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love With You,” I was back in London, circa 2005. Ryan, an ex who had still remained a friend of sorts, had sent me a random care package from Indiana. It consisted of cds, a letter, and Blow Pops. It was perfect.
I remember opening the package with a huge grin on my face. I then immediately retreated to my closet of a dorm room, unwrapped one of those suckers, popped the cd into my Discman (and yes, I really was still using a Discman in the spring of 2005), and listened to “Closing Time” start to finish, staring at the ceiling and feeling like I was in love.
To be clear: I wasn’t feeling in love with Ryan. But in a weird way, I was. In London, I was in love with everything. Right then, I was in love with listening to Tom Waits (a musician I’d never heard of, gasp) through my headphones. In love with the idea that this boy had sent me music from all the way across the ocean—music he might never have given me had I still only been living across campus. In love with listening to a great album start to finish, and knowing it would always make me think of Ryan, and London, and that moment.
What were the other cds in the care package? I have no idea.
When I hear them, I’ll remember.