Memory and the Screaming Trees.
January 26, 2015 § 4 Comments
Memory works in odd ways. So this course on space, place, landscape & memory. Last Thursday, in addition to that article on Western Mass, we read Doreen Massey’s article “Places and Their Pasts,” from way ‘back in 1995. And, this got me thinking. About music. I’m currently in a hard rock phase, where everything I’m listening to has loud, very loud guitars. And inevitably, when I am in one of these phases, I come back to the Screaming Trees’ 1992 album, “Sweet Oblivion.” My favourite Trees’ song, “Nearly Lost You” is on this album. But, the album as a whole is one of my favourites of all-time. I first bought it on cassette tape, back when it came out in the fall of 1992. I bought it at the Record Runner, a legendary record store on Rideau Street in Ottawa, that closed in January 2006, after 31 years in business due to gentrification and condofication. When I moved back to Vancouver the following spring, 1993, my best friend, Mike, had the album on CD.
We spent a lot of time driving around the Vancouver region that summer and fall, in his 1982 Mercury Lynx, which I had dubbed the Mikemobile. Mike had a Sony Discman, which he plugged into the cassette player of his car to listen to CDs. It was incredibly moody and jumped when the car hit bumps. Nonetheless, “Sweet Oblivion” was in constant rotation that year. There is, however, a difference between the cassette and CD (and now, digital) versions of the album, however. Track 6, “For Celebrations Past” was not on the cassette version. I listened to the cassette version of the album a lot, but I’ve listened to the CD and digital versions of the album even more. I’ve listened to this album hundreds of times, and I’d estimate at least 80% of those plays are either the CD or digital version. And yet, every time I hear “For Celebrations Past,” it feels like a rude interlude into a classic album of my youth, even though I like this song, too.
I find it interesting that my initial memories of this album trump the memories of the version of the album I’ve heard many more times over the years. I’m not sure what to make of this, really. My memories of Ottawa in 1992-3 are not all that happy, though there was the diversion of Montreal and the Habs’ last Stanley Cup victory, but by the time Guy Carbonneau lifted Lord Stanley’s mug that spring, I was back in Vancouver. So it is bizarre, I think that, my initial memories of the album trump the happier ones, back in Vancouver. And yet, listening to the album, as I did last night, doesn’t transport me back the sub-Arctic cold of Ottawa anymore than it puts me back in the passenger seat of the Mikemobile. Unlike a lot of the music of the early 90s, it’s not evocative of that time and place. Maybe because I’ve continued to listen to the album in the years since. Yet, for me, the proper version of the album lacks “For Celebrations Past” and goes straight from the organs and guitars of “Butterfly” into the vicious punk-inflected “The Secret Kind.”
I’ve had a similar experience with the Beatles. In my childhood, I heard them on the Capitol LPs issued in the U.S.; but it’s the U.K. albums, which had different songs in (perforce) a different order that are the basis for the CDs I have. I still find it odd that some of the songs I remember from albums are on the compilation-of-singles CDs.
As for a memory/song link, at least two are etched in my mind.
Around 1970, I was riding in the family car when my mother lost control and skidded into the median strip, doing at least a 630-degree turn. Shaken, we got back on the road and went onto a HoJos, where the song “Easy Come, Easy Go” was playing. It seemed singularly appropriate, and I broke out laughing.
And the year I entered college, Heart’s “Magic Man” was on the FM dial constantly. I can distinctly remember hearing it while sitting on the fire escape outside the back window of my 18th-century dorm room.
Given the way popular music works in our society, it’s not surprising that both these moments date from my second decade of life.
I grew up on the Beatles, but on vinyl, and when I eventually bought some on CD in the 90s, there was also the same issue. But, it didn’t seem as unwelcome as in the case of this Screaming Trees’ album.
But in terms of music etched in memory, definitely. A lot of music has the power to transport me right back to where I was when I first heard it, or first noticed it. Mike, as in the Mike in this blog, and I had this concept of a “car crash song”, a song so good in whatever way, that you couldn’t focus on what you were doing and you crash the car. THose ones stick with me, like the first time I heard Swervedriver’s track “Mescal Head,” on the #9 bus on Broadway in Vancouver in 1993.
Commodore Ballroom and tripping out to “Julie Paradise” – I can still smell the stale beer and taste the cigarettes. I found myself actually listening to Swervedriver last week, specifically, “Rave Down” and was trying to remember “that Swervedriver song from the album that you had and I didn’t”, and here it gets a mention in your blog: “Mescal Head”. Nice! Another album that is very visceral for me is Ride – Nowhere. I can close my eyes whilst listening to that album and I’m immediately transported onto the #17 Oak going across the Cambie Street Bridge (it was your copy of the tape of course). I also find that certain songs that were a part of a mixed tape sound completely out of place when you hear it in sequence on its original album. Great stuff!
Well, see, there you go. That’ s the weird thing about this Trees’ album, I’m not right back there. But. That other stuff, yeah. Ride. That was the album I didn’t stop listening to in high school Grade 12.