Sunday, September 7, 2014

October Magic -- or so it seems to me

I can't make my way out of a straight jacket. Truth is, I sometimes struggle to get a shirt on and buttoned right. I don't do card tricks and I've never sawed anyone in half---at least not on purpose. But in the course of the last two or three days I have been reminded that something as simple as the first few notes of a long unheard song can literally transport me to a different time and place. That strikes me as a form of October magic.

The two of us went driving---from Oregon to Kansas---and are now ready to follow what remains of the Oregon Trail back to Oregon City. It is a long-awaited trip that was set aside last year when my few steps up a ladder put me in the hospital. This year, however, I am good to go, so we are off to retrace the journey Roma's ancestors endured on their way to Oregon. (My family, being the practical ones we are, waited until the railroads were up and running.)

Among other things I intended to set my modest blogging efforts aside for a couple weeks, to concentrate on seeing the western half of our country from the road instead of the sky. I was quite  surprised to find that it took just one day for an unexpected aspect of modern-day sightseeing to reveal what seemed to me an October insight worth exploring.

There is nothing like a long trip over straight and sterile interstate highways to renew old acquaintances---friendships that had not crossed my mind in a very long time. You see, to help pass the hours we listened to The Fabulous Fifties---an eight-disc set of CDs that OPB had gifted us in return for a pledge---classic tunes from that well-remembered time. There we were, driving down the highway, listening to old friends, probably the same ones you knew in the March and April years of your life. 

If you are a pop music person (not everyone is) that is quite a list of friends. Perry Como, Nat King Cole, The Four Aces, Four Lads, Fats Domino, Frankie Laine, Guy Mitchell, Johnny Ray---and on and on. Everyone has their own favorites. I had to chuckle a bit when I found Les Baxter's name on the play list. He's the one who nearly got  me fired from my DJ job on the college radio station when I introduced him as Lex Bastard.

But now, as I listened to those songs and the soaked up the memories they evoked, I was struck by their inexplicable power to connect me to my past. What is there about music---which in one sense is nothing more than melodic noise---that grabs us the way it does? What allows the ethereal reality of it to remain in some seldom-visited corner of our mind for decades? Yet the unexpected sound of a few introductory notes can unleash a flood of powerful emotions and warm recollections---hints of the very real (and oh so youthful) persons we were then, living out very real experiences. How can those connections remain after all that time? What magic is at work?

Perhaps like me there are certain songs or tunes that create an instant link for you to a particular time, place, or person. Other bits of that adolescent music may lack a specific connection, yet still reinforce the mood and mindset of an era---perhaps a special school year, or the social connections that were part of that moment. 

How many times have I been forced to admit that I sometimes march to a different drummer? I know very well that not everyone maintains mental files of the music, lyrics, and performers that they have endowed with the magical ability to resurrect bits of our personal history---the special moments, events, and persons we have carried with us all the way into our October and November years. On an allied note---do today's young couples have "their song" like we used to have? Having heard some of their music that seems unlikely---though I  suppose that might be a sign of October judgment bubbling to the surface.

For me it is the music of the Fifties that I've given that power. For you it may be the tunes of the Sixties or the Seventies that work the same magic. If you are living out your November years the war-time tunes of the Forties may take you to a place you don't visit every day. As near as I can remember the attraction began early for me. I can recall a vivid "Shrimp Bots" moment from the eighth grade---a bit that would eventually show up in my Best Friends and Promises story. 

It is quite remarkable to consider all the places a few hours spent with The Fabulous Fifties have taken me. But of course, I had other options. I could have packed my "Country Music Favorites" and spent long hours of driving along to the sounds of George Strait, Alan Jackson, and Travis Tritt. (Don't you love that name?"

I could have done that, and perhaps would have---except Roma made it clear I would be traveling alone if I did. You see, she has a thing about "twang." Rather than risk a solitary visit to the Oregon Trail I settled instead for The Fabulous Fifties, and I'm glad I did.

It is tempting to end this bit of nonsense by assuring myself that everyone has their own mental library of March and April musical recollections. But in fact I'm not sure that is true. Though I am not  the only one who gets swept up in those "memories set to music," perhaps most October folks have outgrown such childish behavior. I would like to know what you think. Have you ever felt the magic---a few bars of an old favorite transporting you to another time and place? If so, I hope you'll take a moment to use the "Post a Comment" option below. I'd like to know what or whom had the power to work that magic for you.

Now we're off to relive a very different kind of travel, to a time and place where folks lived out their dreams and memories around camp fires, to music of their own making. 

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