I just came upon my album of Carly Simon’s No Secrets. Talk about a soundtrack from your past. This one is in the top three. It immediately takes me to New Delhi, India. I’m nine years old. We play this album so often, it’s like the McCloy family album of 1973.
It brings me back to early evenings in the living room, my parents sipping cocktails. Then, to sitting at our old piano while listening to “Embrace Me, You Child.” I played that song over and over when I was alone one day. I was trying to learn how to play the piano by striking the keys as I listened, keeping in tune, while singing along with the words:
“Then one night Daddy died and went to heaven
And God came down to earth and slipped away
I pretended not to notice I’d been abandoned
But no-one sang the night into the day
And later night time songs came back again
But the singers don’t compare with those I knew
And I never figured out where god and daddy went
But there was nothing those two couldn’t do.”
I imagined what that would be like, my Daddy dying. The emotions. The loss. Little did I know that he would die when I was still relatively young; 21 years old.
That album holds a particular context based on the time when it became imprinted. The correlation of tone and lyrics to the mood it created. Carly was with us there. Our little bubble of life at Friends Colony West, New Delhi.
My brother and his wife named their daughter Carly. I fondly think it has to do with the influence Ms. Simon had on us, the family bonds she helped create. It sounds corny, but we all have music that sticks with us like that. We may not always remember certain artists or songs, but when we hear an impactful song from the past, boy, do the floodgates of sense memory open up and remind us!
We might have intellectual disconnects in the present and poo-poo an artist who once brought us joy, because they are no longer hip or heard or popular or understood. But you can’t take the memories away or the happiness that songs brought you. The impact of certain songs during pivotal times in your life will never go away.
KC and the Sunshine Band’s “That’s the Way (I Like It)”? For me, that’s Ithaca, New York, 1975. My one year of living in the U.S between birth and college. A house band played that song every night in the lounge of the Holiday Inn, where we stayed while my parents looked for a house rental.
Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall”? That’s Tokyo, 1979. Dancing in the crowded discos of Roppongi every Saturday night, sipping silly drinks like blue Hawaiians or violet fizzes.
Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House”? That’s Durham, North Carolina, 1983. Definitely the soundtrack of the house I lived in off Duke’s east campus with my sister and housemates from all over the world. (Friends say this album was playing every time they came over. They are probably right.)
Fine Young Cannibals’ “The Raw and the Cooked”? That’s Bequia, West Indies, July, 1989. I was in this oasis of a place with 20 other actors, taking an intensive acting course with Sandy Meisner for the month. Someone had a boombox, and this album became like the soundtrack of the month.
My friend Ilse is a musician and she describes her need for music like a drug. I get that. I think music can certainly act like a drug. After all, it alters our mood and can bring us up or bring us down. We use it to party, to meditate, to exercise, to escape, or to reminisce. When you play music, how do you decide on your selection? The question might be; how do you want to feel?
Ilse, like many other musicians I know, is prone to slipping away mentally whenever music is played. Her mind wandering to other places. Well, I just did that tonight when I got lost in No Secrets. I was in New Delhi and Berkeley. In 1973 and 2007.
Music can do that.