Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Where Were You When Songs

While we're on the topic of music: What are the songs that you remember hearing for the first time? As in you remember where you were, what you were doing, who you were with, what you were feeling? Here are a few of mine:

"She Has No Time" by Keane - Pip just sang a song from Keane's first album on The Voice (hosing it, really, and getting himself rightly eliminated), reminded me it existed and prompting me to listen to it (on CD!) while making dinner tonight (kimchi fried rice, BTW, which I hadn't made since Boston; I'd been having trouble locating kimchi without shrimp; John is allergic). I'm not usually one to feel guilt or shame about my taste, but for some reason I have always felt a little weird about liking this choir-boy pop record full of the musical-theater equivalent of power ballads. Anyway, I distinctly remember hearing this song for the first time at the MIT gym, and memorizing the lyrics so I could Google them at home later. I almost mistook it for Radiohead, because the soaring falsetto vocals are rather Thom Yorkian, though of course the style is different.

"How It Ends" by Devotchka - I heard this song the first time I got high. I held out for decades (not that anyone was trying to sell me drugs on the playground, at least to my knowledge), but my friend Chris Starkey finally convinced me to try smoking pot when I was about yea 25. We were at his apartment in JP on a warm night, with the windows open, lounging around on the couch listening to music. He warned me that most people don't feel anything the first time. But when "How It Ends" came on, I distinctly remember thinking, This is the best song I've ever heard. (I think that was the weed talking.)

"Pictures of You" by The Cure - OK, this is a stretch. I'm sure I heard this song in the '80s, in the background or whatever, and at parties in the '90s and so on. But I never really heard it until I was 19, and I went with some friends to New Orleans for the weekend. We were visiting a kid named Antoine Pedeaux, who was planning to go to Rice the next year; Rice has this thing called "Owl Weekend" (our mascot is the Owls, it's so nerdy you can't handle it) where accepted students visit the campus and get drunk. Anyway, Antoine was this really adorable man-child who wore Harry Potter glasses before Harry Potter glasses were a thing, and who was probably gay but had a crush on me anyway. And he loved The Cure, and it was nighttime and we (me and Kate) were in the backseat of his friend's car (his friend's kitchen had black & white checkered tile on the floor, this has been a lifelong dream of mine), and this song came on sounding so crisp and gorgeous. Such clarity! Again, the windows were open. There will never be a better setting for that song. Whatever happened to Antoine Pedeaux?

I must have dozens of these, but I can't remember any more right now...


  1. Seriously, the only one I can think of is Nine Inch Nails "From the Inside", which came on the local rock station while my brother, two stepsisters and I were all in the same room, and my younger stepsister and I who never had much in common were both like, "wait. what did he say?" and we turned up the radio and the four of us were dumbfounded. We must've been in... 3rd-8th grade (with me, then, in 6th or 7th). We were equally mesmerized and horrified.

    1. That just reminded me of about 10 other song-experiences. I TOTALLY remember the first time I heard "Two Princes" -- I was in my bedroom (I think this was 7th grade) at night and it came on the radio and I was like, HOLD UP! This is JAMMING!

    2. Also, I got really embarrassed when "I Want Your Sex" came on the radio or was on MTV and my mom was anywhere in the vicinity .. that song is DIRTY! It also took me like 20 years to be able to remotely handle the word "lover."

  2. I think I usually need a few listens for any given song to sink in and make an impression deep enough to create a lasting memory.

    I do remember one first hearing, though. The Beastie Boys' "So What'cha Want", the video of which we watched on MTV during a break at basketball day camp when I was 10. I didn't know who the Beastie Boys were and I just thought it was really dumb. (Things have changed.) But I just remember associating it with all those basketball guys and being intimidated by the masculinity of it.

    I first got high when I was nearly 29. I've done it once since then (with the same person) and have no particular desire to do it again. The last time, it made my vision go all white for a minute, which really freaked me out.

    1. Hearing Mary Hopkin, fall 1968, singing "Those Were the Days" on the Ed Sullivan show one Sunday evening. (*Not the theme song from "All in the Family" -- a different song with the same title, with a tune based more or less on a popular Russian tune.) The song transports me to every teenage crush I had during those years. Oh the longing, the longing...

      And Mason Williams (with orchestra) performing "Classical Gas") one summer evening, on the "Summer Brothers Smothers Show" [sic], which was the summer replacement show for the Smothers Brothers one summer. The music (instumental only, no vocals) was accompanied by a video hyper-rapid photo montage, several images per second flying by during the last half of the song (news photos, paintings, historical photos, etc.). Pretty primitive video by today's standards, but it was quite stunning at the time. "Classical Gas" invariably transports me to other worlds.

      And, the Beatles singing "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," which I caught almost randomly in some T.V. documentary ca. 1970, looking back on the decade of the 1960's. I heard the song once and I knew all the stories were true. (The joke says that if you remember the '60's you weren't really there. The reality is that all the stories are true, and they're just the tip of the iceberg.) :)

      "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" (among other things) corrupted me in my youth, in all the best ways possible. :)

      And I have to mention, at least briefly, hearing Jimi Hendrix play "The Star-Spangled Banner" in the movie "Woodstock," surely the greatest cover of any song ever done by anybody. (I saw the movie during the summer of 1970 at one of the low-price neighborhood movie theaters that have all but disappeared from the landscape.)

    2. I first heard the Beastie Boys either on a tape my brother had or on MTV ("Fight for Your Right to Party").

      I first heard the Ryan Adams cover of "Wonderwall" in John's car (at night).

      I first heard "Psycho Killer" around a campfire (some kids with a guitar).

  3. My mother played Puff the Magic Dragon (Peter, Paul & Mary) over and over on one of those portable record players of the time. Not certain of personal awareness -- I was three or four years old -- beyond knowing the sadness of the song and the period impacted me pretty greatly, drug references notwithstanding.

    USA 1963 was probably not the best year for a child to be in her/his formative stages.

    It can lead to all kinds of eventual hard feelings and discomfort when you finally grow up, and leave one pining for analog in the digital versus analog wars. I miss good old wow and flutter, wow especially. Best,


    1. Oh man, P the MD was major for me as well. (Though I think the famous "drug references" are actually a myth.) I remember it was on an album called Peter, Paul, and Mommy. I don't remember the other songs, but I wonder if I heard the album again today I would undergo a Proustian rush...

    2. I went through a phase, when I was about 12 I think, of being obsessed with "the 60s" (bleeding over into the 70s I think) and listening to my parents' old records, like Simon & Garfunkel and the Hair soundtrack. For several years in a row I was a hippie for Halloween. I'm not sure what the obsession was about since I had no real interest in drug culture.

    3. Oh yeah, absolutely Simon and Garfunkel, and yeah the Hair soundtrack (i.e. the original Broadway cast recording). I remember listening, one evening at home, to the Hair cast recording for the first time. It rocked my world.

      The Simon and Garfunkel song I remember hearing first is "Mrs. Robinson." I was sitting at home listening to 45 singles.

      I also totally remember Puff the Magic Dragon from childhood (I would have been 7 or 8, ca. 1962-63). The song was played a number of times on "Lunch with Casey," a locally produced (in Minneapolis) T.V. show for kids. This was back when it was common for kids to walk home from school for lunch and then walk back to school for the afternoon. Everybody I knew watched "Lunch with Casey" at lunchtime.

      I've also always assumed that the purported "drug references" in the song are bogus. It was a song for children about a gentle friendly dragon. (Barney the Dinosaur, anyone?)

      I'm also persuaded that John Lennon and the other Beatles were telling the truth when they said that "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" was not written as a song about LSD. Lennon always insisted that the title came from something one of his sons said as a child (I forget which son offhand) -- as John told it, he came home one day, and found his son drawing a picture on paper with crayons. His son had a young friend at school name Lucy something; he had drawn a picture of a girl flying around in a sky full of colorful objects. John saw the picture, asked his son about it, and his son said, "That's Lucy in the sky with diamonds."

      Having said that, Lennon and the other Beatles apparently also acknowledged that the coincidence of the letters "LSD" struck them right away. So although the song may not have originated as a song about drugs, they weren't necessarily ignoring drugs when they wrote the song.

      (Somewhere in the Snopes website I once saw what purported to be an image of the original picture that John Lennon's son had made, that started all the fuss. I have no idea if it was in fact the original picture, though it looked yellowy-brown enough with age that it could have been.)

  4. The first time I heard "Paper Planes" was when calling my then girlfriend on a snowy night in Fargo. I think it was the ring on her phone, but what I heard on my end was the chorus of the song (the end of the loop was the part where the gunshots came in).

  5. I remember hearing countless pieces of music for the first time, but almost none of those occasions is worth describing. Being an introverted lone wolf, I was immured in some dumbwaiter-sized apartment, deliberately making a foray into uncharted musical territory.

    The first time I heard Black Sabbath's Master of Reality album, I was sitting in a parked car with my then girlfriend. It was a summer night, and the dirty windshield was smearing the halloweeny glare of sodium vapor streetlamps. I'd gotten high with her a couple times, but we weren't smoking pot to "Sweet Leaf." We were smoking very cheap hand-rolled tobacco cigarettes and drinking little bottles of J├Ągermeister. We talked about a bad trip she'd had at Michigan State and a creepy Arab who had designs on her.

    I'd heard almost no Sabbath before that because, at the time, I didn't care for metal. I like it now, v. much, but it was an acquired taste.

    1. There's something about cars at night...

  6. zomfg Elise it's Antoine! I think a friend of mine was googling me and this blog came up and he linked it to me.

    I was dozing under the oak tree by the water at Jazzfest just this Sunday and thought of that year ya'll came down to visit. Owl weekend will always remain one of my fondest memories, you guys were awesome!

    You still talk to Will Wray? He was one of my favorite people ever, I wish I could get in touch with him.

    I'm back in New Orleans living in the middle of the French Quarter. Give me a shout if you or any of those Rice kids ever head this way!

    I'll check back later to hear from you. Good job find me!


    PS I'm pretty sure you had a crush on me too ;)

    1. Oops sorry, misspelled your name, which is pretty inexcusable considering you got mine perfect ;)

    2. Antoine!!!!! I was hoping you had a Google alert or something.

      Will Wray is one of my favorite people ever too, but I have not heard from him in years. I'm planning to go to my 10-year reunion at Rice this fall -- maybe he will be there? You should come too! And I need to make it back down to New Orleans at some point as well.

      And of course I did!!!

  7. 1999--M n M's "My Name Is" (is that the title?): passenger seat of friend's car, while she and I were at a stoplight on the Sunset Strip, the chic L A-ite (her) with, lol, me the Ky yahoo.

    adam strauss