Listening

Music Inspires Memories

Four short memories of youth inspired by music randomly selected from the Hype Machine’s most popular tracks, January 10, 2007:

“Black Wave, Bad Vibrations,” the Arcade Fire
I left for college determined to be a new person: smarter and more interesting. Behind me I’d leave the corpse of an Eagle Scout who played in marching band, ahead of me would be poetry classes, beer, and girls.

I think it was a relative who mailed me a copy of The Celestine Prophecy to include in my studies. The book was a best seller that year, a thin, new-age “spirituality” manual. I read it one night after finishing studying; I went cover to cover without ever leaving my library chair. One chapter provided practical instructions on how to detect the soul in other things. I stared at a potted lime tree near my carrel and was convinced it was vibrating.

Within a month, my dorm manager was explaining to me why her hand-blown glass bong was worth over $200, and I agreed, it was a fair assessment.

» Listen to “Black Wave, Bad Vibrations” at Side One: Track One


“My Sweet Thing,” Nancy Wilson
A winter morning in central Maine. A hungover pile of us were on the floor where we’d slept. It was snowing outside, heavy gray sleet falling on chest-high packed snow. One guy put on an Ella Fitzgerald CD. “I love Ella,” he said. “Those songs with Ella and Louis? Man, just incredible.”

He’d recently finished a jazz history class in the music department. But, Ella? Louis? Starting when I was 12, I’d been a jazz fanatic with rare Yusef Lateef LPs and a secret fantasy of being Charlie Parker or Mose Allison. Not for 50 bucks would I have referred to John Coltrane as “Trane” to anyone. Now this guy goes to a couple lectures one semester and he feels entitled to appraise “Bird’s” career? My head was exploding. I’m still outraged, thinking about it.

» Listen to “My Sweet Thing” at Sugartown


“Breezin,’” Cornelius
I played in two bands in college: a jam band and, in my senior year, a dub-techno duo. Studying abroad in South Africa, I’d discovered drum and bass and also learned from a roommate in Cape Town that shampooing your hair removed its natural oils. Both my findings came back with me to Maine where I tried to spread the word.

My music partner in the electronica duo was a hip-hop snob who looked like Keanu Reeves. We only “performed” once, in a tiny coffeehouse with a slideshow of Franz Kline and de Kooning paintings playing behind us in the dark. I remember pressing the button that cued a sample I’d made from a Nature Company soundtrack—Natural Awakenings: Volume III—and thinking, “I don’t want to live in Maine anymore.”

» Listen to “Breezin’” at Obscuresound


“You’re the One for Me, Fatty,” Morrissey
After college, I spent a few summers abroad teaching writing to high school students. In Oxford, we stayed at St. Hilda’s College, an all-girls school on the outskirts of town. The only benefit to that location, besides being down the road from where Gaz Coombes supposedly lived, was a Jamaican bar around the corner where we gathered once the kids were in bed.

One night, the history teacher on our program pulled me into conversation. She’d recently graduated with a first, but for some reason was nervous around Americans. “Have you read Portnoy’s Complaint?” she said timidly. Why? I asked. “Well,” she whispered, “one of my students gave it to me to read. He said I wouldn’t understand American Jewish boys otherwise. You know him, Daniel Cohen.” “Did you like it?” I asked. “But you have, you’ve actually read it?!” she cried, appalled, and almost stood up. “Didn’t you find it disgusting? Crans, listen to me, my student gave this to me. It’s his copy. Don’t you understand?”

She stared at me. I didn’t know what she was getting at. “Don’t you like liver?” I asked.

» Listen to “You’re the One for Me, Fatty” at Hate Something Beautiful

biopic

Rosecrans Baldwin co-founded TMN with publisher Andrew Womack in 1999. He is the author of three books, including his latest novel The Last Kid Left (NPR’s Best Books of the Year). His nonfiction appears in a variety of magazines, mostly GQ. More information can be found at rosecransbaldwin.com. More by Rosecrans Baldwin

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