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  • Writer's pictureCW Johnston

Songs and Memories

Updated: Nov 3, 2020

I’ve seen lots of Facebook song and album challenges over the years. Top albums, top songs, best songs, etc. Recently, some friends have been participating in a 30-day album challenge. Albums that have, over the course of their lives, most influenced them. One title, each day, for thirty consecutive days. It’s been fun to watch as most of the album covers being posted, I soon realized I had actually owned at one time.

I started to think of my own tastes in music and realized I would never be able to narrow it down to thirty. Music is, and always has been, everything to me. Music was something that was a constant in my house growing up. My mother was an opera singer and gave piano and voice lessons to the streams of students that came to our home most mornings and evenings. To top it off, my dad was a chronic whistler as well, so there was rarely quiet in our house. Either someone was singing or humming a song, or blasting it from a stereo, or injecting it into their brains via headphones; music permeated my youth.

More importantly, music is a memory-maker for me. It allows me to place historical events in sequence. I have a horrible memory for most things, but music triggers something deep within me and allows me to remember where I first heard most songs. Songs are roadmaps for me. Signposts as I move through the decades.

They remain powerful moments for me.

By following the soundtrack of my life, I can piece together the memories. These vivid memories are snapshots or short videos. Some of the many examples are...

· Being sick at home as a toddler and listening to Skip to My Lou while my mother made me soup. I can still hear her singing along in the kitchen.

· As a nine-year-old, I can still see myself jumping around the basement as The Archies’ Sugar, Sugar blasted out of the transistor radio. Happy, carefree, and rebellious.

· I distinctly remember the sound of the needle being placed on the new vinyl record on the turntable when my cousin first brought home Zeppelin IV— I had never before heard anything like Black Dog; it transformed me.

· My buddy Dale buying me Diamond Dogs for my birthday—David Bowie was an alien—Nineteen Eighty-Four was other-worldly.

· Lying in the sunshine at Rattlesnake Point in Ontario when Bohemian Rhapsody first came on the radio—what was this I was listening to?

· Headphones, lights off, and Welcome to the Machine. Need I say more?

· I remember being at a stoplight when I first heard Born to Run, I don’t remember anything else about that drive after that—I was swept away by Springsteen’s story.

· Asking my parents to lie down on their bed so I could play them My Sharona by The Knack. They weren’t impressed. A year later I did the same thing with The B-52s Rock Lobster. I thought it was so cool. They didn’t. Then and there, I decided not to introduce them to Rush.

· Two in the morning, with my buddies fast asleep in the car, I drove through the mountains in Tennessee as the DJ on the radio introduced a new band from England called The Police. Roxanne came on and I was transported into the ether. The DJ played it every half hour, and I couldn’t wait until my friends woke up so they could hear it too.

· Sprawled across my bed in on a kibbutz in Israel, and hearing Kate Bush’s voice for the first time; her song Wowseemed mystical.

· Browsing through Millionaire Records in Toronto and hearing I Will Follow on the sound system and asking the man at the cashier who it was. I walked out with my first U2 album that day.

· Sitting at a bar on Yonge Street in Toronto and being captivated by the man singing on the speakers above me; I asked the bartender who it was. He told me it was actually a woman. I immediately walked out and purchased Tracy Chapman’s new single Fast Car.

· ...and so it goes through my entire life. Even this past year, writing in a café in Zurich and listening to Post Malone’s Hollywood’s Bleeding album. I texted my youngest daughter after hearing Take What You Want. I complained to her that I thought he was ripping off a poor Ozzie Osbourne impression. She texted me back, “LOL. It is Ozzie Osbourne, dad!”. I laughed out loud. The waiter looked at me.

Like many of you, I have a thousand of these vignettes stored away in my brain; useless, perhaps, but powerful, nonetheless. It is endless with me. I can recall very little about my life except where I was when I first heard a song. A soundtrack to my life to be sure.

Now as a writer of fiction, I’ve noticed these musical influences seeping into my writing. I’ve written five novels (most yet to be published) and all of them have some kind of music in the story—either front and center, or as a backdrop.

Perhaps I’m just laying down some more markers in my life.

BTW...Now that I'm in isolation, after ten years, the old band has gotten back together!

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