The sails of memory rip open in silence

Songbook, Nick Hornby’s collection of essays about music, is one of my favorite books. But I disagree with him on one thing: I don’t think associating favorite songs with a specific memory weakens the song’s power. “Life is Beautiful” takes me to fall 2008 (even though, yes, it came out years earlier) and the months I spent listening to little besides Ryan Adams’ Cold Roses. It still elicits a certain emotional response that’s difficult to describe, or explain, because I think it’s far from Ryan’s best work but it still gets me every time. “Raining at Sunset” reminds me most strongly of the day I decided not to go on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ, but it is also a song I turn to when I need to calm down. “The End” now takes me back to seeing Paul McCartney play in Nashville earlier this year, but it’s also my favorite song from my favorite album, and it captures my attention to the point that I can’t accomplish much when it’s playing. It demands my everything.

Maybe age is a factor; Hornby mentions songs that carry you through different stages of life, and he’s experienced more of those than I have. (As I near 30, I think I can look back and reflect on all I’ve learned during my adulthood. But I’m not so naive that I don’t realize there’s so much left to experience.)

For now, at least, songs take me back to the time when I initially heard them, and the events for which they served as soundtrack. Because my work allows me to spend so much time acquiring and listening to new music, each year develops a soundtrack of its own. Check back with me in 10 years and we’ll see if these songs have endured. My guess is that even as these songs become associated with different events, they’ll still bring me back to 2010.

Five from 10: Carla Jean Whitley (from Birmingham Box Set, the Birmingham magazine music blog)

And when I thought about why this should be so, why so few of the songs that are important to me come burdened with associative feelings or sensations, it occurred to me that the answer was obvious: If you love a song, love it enough for it to accompany you throughout the different stages of your life, then any specific memory is rubbed away by use. … One can only presume that the people who say that their very favorite record of all time reminds them of their honeymoon in Corsica, or of their family Chihuahua, don’t actually like music very much. –Nick Hornby, Songbook, “Your Love is the Place Where I Come From”

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