Aural History

I’m not one to steep myself in nostalgia. I don’t believe the “better” times are in the past. Sure, I like to dig up semi-embarrassing artifacts from the past and revel in their ridiculousness, but for the most part, I try to live in the moment, however terrifying it might be.

But this isn’t to say I’m not sometimes wistful about my personal history. And typically, such wistfulness is most strongly triggered by two senses in particular: smell and sound. The former is subtle and infrequent, such as when I walked the dogs this morning, passing a neighbor’s freshly mowed lawn, and was taken back to my childhood in Philadelphia, when the aroma of cut grass everywhere was the sign that spring was finally here. The latter, however, is much more potent.

Suicidal TendenciesI saw a guy wearing a Danzig shirt at a Social Distortion concert last week (me to him: “Nice shirt.”), which made me realize I hadn’t listened to Danzig in years despite it being one of those bands I listened to voraciously in high school (thanks, Jason). So I hopped on Spotify the next day, searched for Danzig, and started playing the top tracks by the blues-metal purveyors. I skipped over “Mother,” because fuck that song, but as soon as the opening riff of “Twist of Cain” started playing, I immediately had to stop the player. Why? Because a rush of irrational emotion overcame me as I was abruptly sucked back to 1993, and would not be able to function like a normal person.

My brain heavily associates specific music with specific eras or events in my life. For the most part, music that I’ve listened to over and over for years does not have this effect, even if I do associate said songs with a memory. “With or Without You” by U2 used to be one of these, but I’ve heard it enough over the years that my emotional reaction has been diminished (also, it’s associated falsely with a certain time period, which is confusing in and of itself). Same for “Don’t Dream It’s Over” by Crowded House. For a long time, I couldn’t listen to Oasis’ “Wonderwall,” not because it was terribly overplayed, but because it was terribly overplayed at a party once while a dude was puking, so my gag reflex would kick in whenever I’d hear it. Thankfully, that passed, too.

But then there are songs or full albums I can’t listen to unless I’m in a place where it’s OK for me to scream, cry or physically exert myself. And it’s fairly irrational, I know. Especially for a dude who tries to keep his emotions in check all the damn time (I fail more often than I’d like to admit). Maybe that’s the reason–because I do stay wound up so tightly that hearing certain music just tugs at the right thread. Here is an incomplete list of music I can’t casually listen to without turning into a mass of ugly feelings:

  • She Wants Revenge, This Is Forever
  • Most of The Cure’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, but particularly “How Beautiful You Are” and “Catch.”
  • Suicidal Tendencies’ S/T album
  • “Captain of Her Heart” by Double

There’s more, but those are the ones that I know explicitly are triggers in a bad way. And then there are songs I listen to that are also triggers, but not quite as strongly. Like, say, Prince’s “Diamonds and Pearls,” which is playing right now on Pandora. Even though the song came out in 1991, takes me back to the late 1990s, when I was super obsessed with Prince and dissecting a lot of his work to figure out how the hell to make music even a fraction as good. I’m not gonna tear up, but I am gonna think of that time, and then move along with my day. Which, um, I’m gonna do right now.

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