One of my earliest realizations about being human was the idea that what surrounded me was good. So good that my next realization was, it wasn’t going to last forever. For some reason, my very young mind became painfully aware of my mortality before I knew what to do about it, and, not only in the sense that I would die someday, like everyone, but that I might forget someday. I decided I would do what I could to remember all that I could, as I went along.
Yet sometimes in life, answers come to us just when we need them (or just before the question is formed). My friend Kevin told me in college that if it weren’t for Kurt Cobain, he would never have found his way beyond heavy metal. That Nirvana had essentially saved him from a musical life of L.A.-based hair bands, grunge relieving glam.
In the early days of my hamster-wheel multitasking, I was never without the radio on in the background. Sometimes TV, but mostly the radio, as it accompanied activities such as working on my dollhouse, drawing with friends, hanging out discussing what to do next while sitting in my bedroom. Being the youngest of four siblings all of whom are ten+ years older, I grew up listening to all that 1978 and beyond had to offer in the way of pop , classic rock, the end of disco, and post-beginning New Wave music.
Engrained in my brain became melodies and lyrics, constantly. Memorized and mixed up, associated with good and annoying, I sang them all, repeatedly.
Some time around 3rd grade; maybe the summer before, I had a scary thought: what if I never heard a particular song again? I might not even know who sang it, but I knew one thing: I liked what I liked, and had to remember why. Some songs reminded me of my sister, some of my brothers, others of cousins, places where I’d been, but mostly people close to me, and mostly songs that weren’t played as often, once I’d realized this. Scroll up to recall my human realization that I could very possibly forget those lyrics, or that moment. I realized I had no choice but to begin writing down song lyrics, along with some reference of who and/or why they resonated with me.
And so I did. Copying down the words to songs like Steve Perry’s “Oh Sherrie” (Katie I carefully wrote on loose leaf paper) Jackson Browne’s “Somebody’s Baby” (someplace near school in Danbury) OMD’s “If you leave” (Cape Cod…Mary, John and Kevin) began to take an important role in my free time. If I had no paper on hand, I made do with what was around, evidenced by the lyrics written in the front cover of Just as Long as We’re Together by Judy Blume. (Which song was I referencing? Must find book) Even in the shower once, I distinctly remember writing REO SPEEDWAGON hastily into the steam on the tiled wall as the DJ spoke through the ending of a song that came through the tiny clock radio. I needed to prepare for the possibility of the unfortunate event I should lose my memory before the end of my regulation less-than-five minute allotment, so I could hold onto evidence of that moment’s answer to the eternal question in my head, “Who sings this?!”
I would have carried on like this as long as I needed to, I suppose. Yet it was the summer before 5th grade that I noticed something I hadn’t seen before. I had been listening to cassettes since 3rd grade (U2’s Rattle & Hum, Robert Palmer’s Heavy Nova, and INXS Kick being my top three) but somehow missed seeing the “record” button on my modest boombox until then. Sitting in my living room, realizing, somewhat dumbfounded, that I could record songs off the radio rather than just having the ability to record voices from the room was like getting pushed off of what had been a very limiting cliff. I dove head first into a world of relief, possibility and best of all, the chance of holding onto, if only for a little bit longer, what would remind me.