Thursday, September 13, 2012

Where Were You When This Song Was Playing on the Radio?

Who hasn’t felt that weird slippage of time that occurs when a song comes on the radio and, all of a sudden, you’re in a whole other time—in a car, your teenage bedroom, a classroom; at a dance or football game; on a picnic blanket, making out by a lake—and that song is playing, the person you were then is listening to it. The jolt of pure emotion you feel is so real, so visceral that you feel disoriented when the song is over, not quite certain who you are now. If music is in a novel, the reader hears the song as it played in her own life at the same time she’s hearing play it in the characters' lives, and this triggers memories and emotions that complicate and deepen the novel’s effect in a way that the author could never predict or hope to understand.

Novels trigger all kinds of time travel, connecting us to moments in our own past and coloring our impression of the story on the page. In fact, all things being equal, the nature and quality of time travel a novel evokes in us may explain why we fall in love with some books and only admire others.

Of course, I didn’t know it then, but An American Tune began on September 12, 1965, the day I arrived in Bloomington to begin my freshman year at Indiana University. That evening, I walked to the Union with a bunch of girls I’d just me. We got Cokes, then sat down in the Commons to check out the scene. A friend from my hometown came through the revolving door with some of his fraternity brothers, and they stopped at our table. We chatted. One of them invited me to a party the next night—the guy I would eventually marry.

I don’t remember what song was playing on the jukebox, but the song that takes me right back to that moment is “1-2-3,” by Len Barry, one of those goofy, before-the-revolution songs of the early sixties. Maybe because it was the song that always seemed to be playing on the jukebox that fall when I hung out at the Commons or just passed through it on my way to class and I couldn’t get it out of my head. Maybe because Steve fairly quickly confessed that he had fallen in love with me at first sight and persisted in assuming that I would fall in love with him, too—until I did.

“One two three/Oh, that's how element'ry/It's gonna be/Come on let's fall in love/It's easy (it's so easy)/Like takin' candy (like takin' candy) from a baby.”

Oh, my God, I thought, typing them. They’re so sappy. It’s embarrassing. Nonetheless, here I am again, that girl walking through a door, into the rest of her life.

Today, the 47th anniversary of our first date, seems a good time to launch a series of blog posts about the music in An American Tune—little meditations about how my own American tune morphed into the American tune of a girl I might have been.

When you read these meditations (and the book, please!), I hope they’ll transport you to moments when the same songs songs were playing in your life. If they do, it would be so cool if you would share those memories here.



faithcohen said...

I love this idea, Barb. And of course you know how much I agree. For some reason, whenever I hear "Idiot Wind", or the album "Hard Rain", I am right back at NCHS high school, in a tiny room, doing some project about Malcolm X. I think we watched that Dylan concert at the same time as I had the assignment Go figure. Love to you, dear teacher and friend. ( and I didn't mention the _ _ _ _ _ _ _ once.)

Barbara Schindler said...

Every time I hear a Frank Zappa song it takes me back to a summer night when I leapt off of a parked car where we were all hangin' out and stopped a new guy who was bee-boppin' down the street. "Stay away from him, he's mine," I told all the other girls. This was 40 years ago next June 9th. And through all the years and complications in between it turns out that he is. Still mine.