Music and Memory

I enjoy music, but I’m definitely not a musician.  I can’t sing, and Jack used to tell me I even hummed off-key, although I seldom realized I was humming at all.  I guess I fall somewhere between my parents in this.  My dad played the saxophone and clarinet in high school and college (with a band that entertained at, he used to say, “bar mitzvahs and Polish weddings” in the Milwaukee area).  When I was a little girl, he bought and played a Hammond organ (I just looked that up on line, and it was quite a splurge back in the 1950s), and I learned to pick out a few simple pieces on it, but I had no musical talent.

However, unlike my mother, who had a tin ear and never understood any of the jokes in the recordings of P.D.Q. Bach, I do appreciate music, and I’m often surprised at the memories and emotions a song from the past can trigger.  Over the last week or ten days it’s been music from the 1960s, the decade I spent in high school and college.  I’m sure the music of that decade means much the same to me as Big Band Music (which I also like) meant to Jack, who was twenty years my senior.

A few weeks ago, some passing brainwave reminded me of the countless evenings my friends and I spent in the coffeehouses of Coconut Grove, Florida, in the mid-sixties, and I went looking on Amazon for my favorite album from that era, Tear Down the Walls, by Vince Martin and Fred Neil.  Somewhere in the house, I’m sure, I still have my battered copy of the original LP (remember those?  black vinyl discs about a foot across, in cardboard sleeves?), but it’s been many years since I had a functioning turntable (remember those?  I still have no idea why running a needle along a groove in the black plastic produces sound, but then I don’t actually know how a tape cassette or a CD works either.  Might as well call it magic.).

Anyway, I found the album reissued on CD at a ridiculously low price, and ordered it.  When it arrived a week or so ago, I hadn’t heard the songs, or the voices, in many years, but playing the disc  took me right back to those nights long ago, and sent me snooping around the Internet.  Fred Neil, who was probably the better known half of the team back in the day, died some years ago, but Vince Martin is still alive and (I hope) well, about ten years older than I am, which would have put him in his late twenties back when we thought he was–well, we were teenage girls.  You can imagine what we thought.

I’m no musicologist, but I think those years back in the 60s saw the transformation of old traditional folk music through protest songs into what would become folk rock.  Tear Down the Walls has some traditional songs and some protest tracks that seem, today, very rooted in the 60s, but I enjoyed them all.  Somewhere in that collection of moldering LPs, I have Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, Buffy Sainte Marie and Ian & Sylvia, but Martin & Neil were the ones I saw and heard live, and their album is special.

The 60s theme went on through this past week.  On the anniversary of the March on Washington the other day, I found myself brought nearly to tears by a story on PBS about the history of “We Shall Overcome.”  When I tried to sing along (in the privacy of my car), I choked up.

Today’s memory was happier: another PBS story about the recording of “Dancing in the Streets” by Martha and the Vandellas.  I was sure I had a copy of that somewhere, and when I got home I hunted through my CD collection.  Most of my CDs are stored in a tower in a darkish corner behind a closet door, mostly classical albums, some jazz and rock, and I was pretty sure I was looking for a two volume anthology of 1960s girl groups.  Even with a flashlight, I couldn’t find the discs, but there were more places to look: on a bookshelf (mostly classical), in a wooden box that once held computer floppy discs (mostly rock), in a box on the table (mostly jazz), a few near my computer, and another handful in my car (mostly rock anthologies, good road trip music).

I finally found the Girl Groups, in the Dark Tower, under a small stack of holiday music, and I played them through my computer this afternoon.  The music and beat are still fun, but I was mildly appalled by some of the lyrics (mostly variations on “oh, my world revolves around my boy friend”).  I enjoyed the retro-concert, but I never did find “Dancing in the Streets.”  I’d swear it’s here somewhere . . .


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. ellenO
    Sep 02, 2013 @ 13:02:27

    Thanks for this post. It’s healing to meet another of the music-impaired among us. I sang to my infant all the time…. and talked to him just as all the enlightened baby books said was best for him. Well, in truth I’d have been completely unable to NOT do it. But I’ll never forget the day my little guy, at about 11 months, tapped his fingers gently on my mouth and said: “Mommy please don’t sing.” Now I know, and knew, that I do not have a voice for singing, having been one of those who was directed to “lip” sing in the class choir at Christmas pagents. But I had read that a Mother’s voice is precious and perfect to a baby and important in their development. It was a big “owie” for a bit. But it didn’t keep me down long. That Christmas I belted out all my favorite carols more loudly than ever before and if anyone commented, rather than joined in, I found the breath to singer yet louder! It’s not the quality of the song, it’s the quality of the love and happiness you are projecting into the spaces around you, and at that, I excel.



  2. Cheryl Bolen
    Sep 02, 2013 @ 21:08:52

    Funny how we went to high school and college in the same decade, Kay, but the later 60s to me pretty much centered around Mick Jagger! “And that man comes on to tell me
    How white my shirts can be
    But he can’t be a man ’cause he doesn’t smoke
    The same cigarettes as me.” Why, that’s almost as good as Dylan’s “You don’t need to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” My husband and No. 2 Son both say the best and most versatile music ever was the 60s. (Personally, I’m stuck in the music of my childhood, rather than teen years.)



    • Kay Hudson
      Sep 02, 2013 @ 23:40:37

      Jagger and the Stones were never my favorites–I preferred the Doors, the Doobie Brothers, and Credence Clearwater Revival. And, of course, the Beatles.

      While searching for “Dancing in the Streets” the other day, I found a whole set of 60s anthologies (Time/Life, I’m sure), with three or four discs for each year from 1964 through 1969. Still no “Dancing,” but I knew I had it somewhere. Finally found it tonight–on the soundtrack from The Big Chill, of all places. A lot of great tracks on that one (with some extras that weren’t in the movie).



  3. E.E. Burke
    Sep 03, 2013 @ 09:20:05

    Ah, Kay, you took me back. My dad also played the sax. He was in a small jazz quartet and I grew up listening to Dixieland Jazz. Then my older neighbor brought over one of her new records, a cool British group called The Beatles, and I was hooked forever. Longtime favorites (other than those you mentioned, that I also love) include: Dylan, Hendrix, Led Zeppelin…the Southern rockers: Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers Band…Elton John (early to mid seventies)…the list goes on and on…

    Music has always been a huge part of my life, whether singing (which I still do in the church choir) or play the piano, the guitar, the sax or flute, or writing songs (which will never see the light of day) or just plugging in my new and old favorites.

    I have stacks of vinyl in my basement. Every now and then I go through the albums and look at the covers. I loved to look at covers when new albums came out. Album covers were an art form.

    Most of my books have songs associated with them. I take inspiration from music in my writing because music speaks to my soul.

    Thanks for this post. Now I’m going to plug in my earphones and jam.



    • Kay Hudson
      Sep 03, 2013 @ 12:19:51

      I remember all of those. I think I was in Junior High (what the heck, I’ve long since dated myself) when the Beatles arrived on our shores. I really need to exercise my CD collection more. I have a tendency to put the smooth jazz Music Choice channel on the TV for background music.



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