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Tune Time Travel

Music strums the chord of our memory differently than other triggers like sight or regular sounds.

Music is more akin to scent, I think. Smell a certain smell and you close your eyes and you are immediately transported to a very specific moment or memory of the past. It’s like the olfactory trigger has a Fast Pass or a VIP badge on a lanyard, allowing it to skip the ordinary lines to get into our memory files stored in the warehouse of our mind. Music works the same way.

I can hear a certain song and close my eyes, and I am right there. I can even remember every lyric, even if I haven’t heard the song in over 20 years. And I am the same person who can’t remember names, where the hell I parked my car or what is on my grocery list, if I forget it on the kitchen counter. I don’t understand this. But I love it. It’s like Tune Time Travel.

Neil Diamond croons and I am a young girl, wearing a rumpled oversized t-shirt and scruffy bed hair, peeking around the corner to survey my parents’ noisy late night party that woke me up…cocktail glasses, ashtrays, laughter, and Neil on vinyl. Sweet Car-o-line, boom boom boom, good times never seemed so good.

Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Don Williams or Waylon Jennings sing, and I am always my Daddy’s little girl. We are sitting in the cabana at my grandparent’s lake house, and I can smell cigars and the lit coals of the barbecue grill. Or, we are on a road trip, and I am in the backseat of our gray Lincoln, the 8-track tape playing while I fight with my brother over who crossed the invisible line.

Anne Murray or the Carpenters play, and I am in my new house in San Francisco with brown shag carpet, playing with the intercom system that I thought was so freaking cool.

Journey’s "Open Arms" embraces me, and I am too tall and awkward in my middle school gym, slow dancing with a short kid named Chris whose face fit conveniently in the middle of my budding cleavage.

The Go-Go’s have the beat, and I am in Atlanta in my room over the garage, listening to my first album on my Sanyo record player. I have braces, and my friends and I dance like crazy all over my room.

The Outfield reminds me that Josie is on a vacation far away, and I am at a concert at Six Flags Over Georgia, no braces, kissing my boyfriend who tastes like love and peppermint schnapps.

Tesla’s "Love Song". College. Enough said.

The Verve’s "Bitter Sweet Symphony" transports me to an empty apartment in the south of France. My husband and I are sitting cross-legged on the kitchen floor, eating pasta and drinking wine.

"You Are My Sunshine", in my own scratchy, sleepless voice, and I can feel the weight of my infant son on my chest, his tiny head tucked softly against my neck, the whisper of his breath against my skin as we rock in a dimly lit room. I inhale his sweet scent into the cavern where my heart used to be, before he possessed it.

Fleetwood Mac’s "Landslide" plays, and I landslide back to 2003 and remember my broken heart, with the peace and perspective of knowing that it will heal.

AH-OOOOH Werewolves of London! Windows are down and three kids in car seats are singing at the top of their lungs. (Grace has trouble with “R’s” and “L’s.” Ah-oooh wewrwuhvs of wondon.)

Sheryl Crow sings in my car, Are you strong enough to be my man? I turn her up loud, and we belt out a duet while I drive. (Usually the answer is no.)

I got a peaceful, easy feelin’…Funny how this Eagles song always takes me right back to myself, wherever I am.

Today my kids take over DJ duties in the house and car, and I let them spin the tunes that will make their own life playlist. But when I’m driving alone, I time travel with tunes on XM radio, flipping channels and wandering through the archives of my mind.


Illustration by Joy Gallagher

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