They say scent memories are the most overwhelming.
But they’re wrong.
Yes, when you smell bread baking it might toss you right back into your grandmother’s kitchen. Or the waft of skunk reminds you of that dreadful night. Or a certain perfume, caught on a breeze, delivers you to the small, embroidered bench of your mother’s vanity.
Music. Lyrics. Songs. We have more of those stuffed into our heads than all the odors combined. Well, I do anyway.
When our kids still lived at home, they found their way to our collection of vinyl records and our turntable, stored in the basement. Out of the blue, a song would sail upstairs. I hadn’t heard it for thirty years, yet I could stop what I was doing and sing every word as if I’d never left the floor of my bedroom where I sat cross-legged, solving for x in the Trapper Keeper resting on my lap.
So many songs in my head, each with a memory attached. Riding in a car, either snuggled next to my dad, or with my teenage friends, or driving my own children. Watching a movie musical. Sitting in the second pew of the church, the choir and organ or, later, the guitar resounding and triumphant, echoing in the space. But mostly music flitted in while I was doing something inconsequential, boring, routine.
And that’s still how it sneaks up on me.
When Glen Campbell died, all the tributes made me remember how much I liked his ballads but I realized I didn’t have any of his music. I placed a hold on his Greatest Hits CD at the library.
The library notified me it had arrived and I picked it up before I went to my recent MRI appointment. I popped the CD into the player in my car to listen to on the way.
The second song was “Wichita Lineman” and the tears began as soon as those sad strings swelled. I cried again during “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Galveston” and “Gentle On My Mind.” I had advanced to some seriously ugly crying when I heard “True Grit.”
These are such stupid songs. The lyrics are clichÃ©d and/or weird.
“I clean my gun and dream of Galveston.”
“…that keeps you in the back roads of the rivers of my memory…”
The stories they tell are mostly ridiculous.
“I am a lineman for the county, and I drive the main road, searching in the sun for another overload …. I know I need a small vacation but it don’t look like rain, and if it snows that stretch down south won’t ever stand the strain.”
But “These Days,” the very last song on the CD, is different. Jackson Browne wrote it when he was only about sixteen. I’d never heard it before. Just a guitar, some strings, and Glen Campbell’s sweet, smooth voice. Pure vocal molasses.
These days I seem to think a lot
About the things that I forgot to do
And all the times I had the chance to.
I had some time to ponder my reaction to this music while I was entombed in the MRI machine and later, driving home. Why did these songs, sung by this man I hadn’t thought of in years, affect me so?
The answer crept in gradually, a tide of understanding. Slow motion clarity, as usual.
Most of these songs are of my youth, 1968-1972. I was 10-ish. My parents were 40-ish. My world was small and safe, non-threatening. These songs were pretty. Glen Campbell was dreamy. “True Grit” was my favorite movie.
I’m not 10 anymore. My parents aren’t 40. My world isn’t small or safe.
But it was, once upon a time.
Some days, little girl
You’ll wonder what life’s about
But others have known
Few battles are won alone