Tuesday, October 18, 2011


I Remember California - R.E.M. (mp3)
Anna Begins - Counting Crows (mp3)

Almost every female in the history of my life has a theme song, even if they don’t know it. They usually don’t. These aren't the carefully-chosen songs to match a person's entire significance, but rather the instantaneous gut reaction that glues people to a specific and indelible moment, usually early in my memories with them.

My mother’s song, for example, is “Delta Dawn,” the Tanya Tucker version. If there’s lyrical significance to this connection, it’s happenstance and not intentional. I just think back to my earliest memories, and this is the song I think of.

We were sitting in a neighbor's living room, and I heard my mom sing along with Tanya on the radio, and I just knew I had to learn this song. I was four. 

I’ve never told my mother this, because I’m not sure what she’d think about it. Considering that I’ve often been a very intentional person when it comes to songs and lyrics, I’d have a tough time convincing her there wasn’t some secret motive or message behind it.

That’s true of most of the songs connected to most of the girls and women I have known. They would almost certainly read more into the connection than was intended.

With my first girlfriend of sorts, Amy, it was Rick Springfield’s “Affair of the Heart.” We had no affair, and we had young clueless hearts, but she gave me Living In Oz as an unexpected birthday present, and I never forgot it. I can even tell you the exact spot on the playground where I sat on a bench and unwrapped it, and the look on her face, of fear and trying not to care too much followed by that ecstasy of mere relief when I looked genuinely pleased.

Or take Daisy, the regular BOTG commentator I’ve known since high school.

Her song? “I Remember California” by R.E.M. I connect this specific album quite directly with Daisy, because I remember being with her at the record store -- was it Camelot Records? -- in the mall when I bought it. And I remember listening to it sitting on the floor in her bedroom.

I remember Daisy liking this song a lot, and I remember having no clue why. The song never did a damn thing for me. Which is precisely why I connect it with her. And the connection doesn’t go a centimeter deeper than that.

The way I remember it -- and I’m absolutely positive she’ll correct me if I get it wrong -- listening to this album was one of the first instances when I remember being in her room, and I remember being all excited and nervous that I had a female friend (whom, yeah, fine, I found attractive) who was willing to let me into her private life, her personal space.

People will do lots of wild and extreme things to be near people they’re attracted to, so listening to “I Remember California” a few dozen more times than I was inclined seemed a laughable toll for the opportunity.

The song I most immediately connect with my wife is “Anna Begins” by the Counting Crows.

“August & Everything After” was the first album we landed on when we started dating, a common ground between her background of Billy Joel and Elton John, and mine of... well, the rest.

In this rare case, the song was lyrically relevant and awkward and beautiful, and the words filled up the corners of my mind like a slow flood with each passing week. Indeed, when I met my wife, I had grown quite comfortable with the notion of being single and completely expected to remain that way until sometime far, far down the road. I’d tried the college relationship thing several times, had failed miserably for all of the trite reasons, and had accepted my fate with fading pity and increasing glee. While my friends were all smothering -- often uncomfortably -- under the weight of strange relationships, I was a non-slutty free agent, enjoying the occasional date, answerable to no one, and riding the wave of semi-popularity from my weekly newspaper column.

J insists on the whole love at first sight story. She knew I was the one the minute she met me. Yada yada.

I’m not saying the whole series of events wasn’t a weird thing. I’m not saying there wasn’t something extraordinary or at least suspicious and serendipitous about those initial encounters, how things worked out despite the obstacles that got in our way. And this song was part of that. Counting Crows had hit a different level of popularity by Spring Break, and we were on our third or fourth date shortly after that, and this became the cassette that played whenever we were in the car together.

And Adam Duritz kept insisting, through this song, that I was really going to regret it if I didn’t let this girl in. Other than Adam, I’ve only known one other white guy who could pull off dreadlocks. His name was Bozart. Bozart got pulled over driving our rented Winnebago in Key West because we were all passed out drunk. Bozart had a 15-minute conversation with the two police officers about how irresponsible and childish we were. It wasn’t the cops who kept the conversation going; Bozart just had to know how long he could pontificate with them without them ever getting suspicious about his state of mind. With dreads.

My point being, I respect the otherworldly wisdom of white men in dreads. I probably owe Adam a thank you card for my wife and my children. Maybe this post will suffice.


Daisy said...

Billy, you are absolutely right... in stating that I will correct you! My first memories of you in my bedroom floor are from the summer of 1988 and Green came out in November. Green might be my least favorite R.E.M album, but I loved that song because of who it represented to me and it was not Billy. It was the BBF who saved me from certain death in the 3rd grade and moved away the summer before 11th. My birthday gift that year was new lyrics she wrote to that tune so that I would not forget her and our friendship. I really don't remember Billy in regards to that song at all, but now that I think about it his friendship did sorta fill the void left when she moved.

I too randomly connect people to songs and sorry, Bob, but many of them are cheesy 80s tunes. Billy's song is "Red, Red Wine" as sung by UB40. I never really cared for that song and it would be years before that became my drink of choice. I have a clear memory of it playing while we were waiting in line at the Pizza Hut on Broad Street early into our friendship. I don’t know why, but I remember thinking this boy is different than all the rest. I think this one might be worth keeping around for more than five minutes. Seeing as that was 20 plus years ago I guess I was right.

troutking said...

This post reminds me of Shrevie from that movie Diner talking about his record collection. Great movie! Great post!

Billy said...

@Trout - Thanks. I gotta rewatch that film. I remember liking it a lot.

@Daisy - Ironic, no? That your driest and most innocent friend is connected to "Red Red Wine"? I actually remember the scenario you're talking about, although I wouldn't have remembered it being a Pizza Hut.

Your clarification of "I Remember California" makes sense, because I now recall you sharing those lyrics with me and explaining the song's significance. I had forgotten that.

My wife mocks me for being able to recognize my elementary school classmates, but your memory kicks my memory's ass.

Sara C said...

No fantastic story here, but agreed:

Anna Begins = One of the World's Perfect Songs.