Music is a Time Machine

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I am highly susceptible to suggestion.

A smell, the hue of the light can transport me. But nothing seems to relocate me like a song.

Knox Hamilton’s smooth, upbeat tune “Work It Out” plays, and zaps me back into my fear and determination of getting back into school to pursue my degree last year. My toddler grabs a particular toy that makes a rattle like the beginning of the Diamonds’ hit “Little Darlin,” and I’m back in the basement bedroom of an old girlfriend who had the song on a CD of oldies that she often played for me, knowing my affinity for the older tunes. Anything Billy Joel comes on, and I’m in the front seat of my old Cutlass Supreme, trying to not make a complete ass out of myself in front of the girl who’d eventually be my wife.

Speaking of my wife…

She loves the 90s. She loves the music of the 90s. This did not used to pose too much of a problem — there are songs from the 90s that I, too, enjoyed. Not many, but still.

Recently, a local radio station turned what was the occasional treat into a regular thing: the “Big 90s Weekend.” Every weekend, they dig up their playlists from about 20 years ago and broadcast them once more.

For her, these are just the pop hits of her adolescence. But I find myself clawing desperately at the present, trying to remain where I am (and who I am) while the Smashing Pumpkins and the Blessed Union of Souls try to drag me back through the years. Suddenly, I’m in the back seat of my mother’s two-door Pontiac, wondering how many of my grandfather’s “headache pills” she took before dragging me to her friend’s house (where I would be instructed to wait outside with the copy of “Goosebumps” I brought along with me), or walking across a high school parking lot toward my junker Plymouth with no radio while the music blasts from a passing Mustang that roars uncomfortably close to me because, why not?

I wonder if it’s a type of PTSD. There are sounds that I can’t stand because of things that happened before. I have to leave the room if someone breaks out an emery board.

Patsy Cline Maybe that’s why I enjoy listening to new music so much — music that has no meaning except what I’m experiencing right now. I wonder how these songs will be pressed into my mind in the years ahead. Some already are leaving their dents in my psyche. SomeKindaWonderful’s “Reverse” drags me back into the past summer, when my son was just a baby. Mumford and Sons’ “The Cave” reminds me of the economic collapse of recent years, and the uncertainty of so many. “Two Heads,” by Coleman Hell, is shaping up to be my song of this summer, with its banjo blowing in and out wistfully carrying the song, a bit like the muted banjo in Herman’s Hermits’ “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter.”

Time rolls, music flows. Miles Davis and Dexter Gordon pull me back into college, sitting in my best friend’s driveway in a folding camping chair, my feet propped on the back bumper of by Bonneville, alternating draws from my pipe and the straw of my QuikTrip cola. Garth Brooks is dark, off limits. Garth Brooks sends me to middle school. No well-adjusted individual has fond memories of middle school. “Big Bad John,” by Jimmy Dean, sends me back to my grandmother’s kitchen, listening to it play from the small radio on the counter while she baked a cake. Patsy Cline puts me in the front seat of my dad’s ’72 Eldorado, heading home from an evening at my cousin’s house where he played Risk with his brother for hours. “Fame,” by David Bowie, sends me driving through the hills of southern California, heading into Los Angeles.

I can go wherever I’ve been whenever I like. As long as I can find the CD.

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