By Brooks Hall
Like most music lovers I have built relationships with many different songs over the course of my life. Not all of these relationships are intentional like my sorted affair with Vance Joy’s “Riptide.” Some of these songs are like close family friends as they seem to be in the background of every childhood memory of mine (like Jimmy Buffett’s “Pencil Thin Mustache,” Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Sangria Wine,” and The Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers”). Other songs did some of the raising themselves as they taught me valuable life lessons (Like Blink 182’s “Family Reunion,” Tenacious D’s assorted catalog, and The Black Eyed Peas’ “Where is the Love?”).
But there are some songs that I share more than a relationship with. These songs are so connected to specific visual memories or significant points in my life that they act as portals to transport me back in my personal history every time I listen to them. I will describe one particularly strong example of this phenomena in an attempt to help explore why some music memories are so vivid and so powerful.
I was 12 years old when my grandma died. I was right in the throes of adolescence, trying to figure out who I was, how to be cool, how to get girls to like me, and pretty much everything else under the sun. I had just gotten an iPod shuffle to keep me busy during the cross-country plane ride for the funeral on Cape Cod. I knew I loved music, but I wasn’t quite sure yet which type I liked yet. The most obvious solution to that problem was to taste every flavor in the shop. The advent of LimeWire made that solution easier, but the shuffle added unexpected consequences.
From Disney love song duets (that my sister downloaded, I swear) to hardcore rap and Rage Against the Machine; I was getting sick of the constant mood shifting. So one night as I was going to bed in a sleeping bag on the covered porch of my Aunt Christina’s bungalow, I decided to forgo the shuffle option and put a song on repeat. The song I chose was from this underground hip-hop group from the Northwest that the new kid at school showed me. They were so cool that you even sounded cool saying their name, “LifeSavas.”
I must have listened to “Hello HI Hey” over thirty times that night. All of my grief for my grandma and self-conscious, adolescent energy was diffused by Vursatyl’s smooth flow as he had conversations with his different selves. I related to the cocky upstart in the song as much as the wise veteran. I was also speaking with my ego. I memorized every word that night, and pieces of the lyrics floated through my head the entire weekend.
Almost 15 years later, I can still vividly see in my brain’s eye the long, white MP3 player sitting on the forest green sleeping bag. I can smell the muggy air of the cape as I look out into the moonlit grassy field and forest of Aunt Christina’s yard. I can feel the music slowly fade from consciousness to become the soundtrack of my dreams.
Every time I hear “Hello Hi Hey,” I am transported to Christina’s porch. And if I let myself dwell there for just a second, the memory of the weekend transforms into memories of my grandma, BB. I can think of absolutely no similarities between BB in her pink pantsuit and Vursatyl with his double XL tee and gold chain. But those two have a strong connection in my memory banks.
I have spent hours pining over the reason why this song and others like it are so powerfully tied to visual and emotional memories. One obvious reason is repetition, and another is the significance of the moment. But there is also something I can’t put my finger on. It is that magical feeling that allows the song to become something more than a song and more than a memory. It exists somewhere in between almost as a portal to a moment in our past.