Thursday, January 27, 2011


by Brendan Cavanagh

I'm only nineteen years old, but I get about as nostalgic as an eighty year-old man sometimes.  And not just about the good times, but about the bad times, too.  I don't know why.  Do I wish I could go back and relive certain experiences in order to relive their value?  Do I wish I could correct past behavior?  Or am I dissatisfied with the present?  All of the above?  Yeah.

What causes my reminiscent behavior?  I believe a big factor is my indulgent pastime of listening to way too much music, and aligning my experiences with specific songs or albums.  Of the 7,000+ songs I've amassed so far in my iTunes, record and CD collection, almost every one relates to a particular period of my life.

Let's take The Band, for instance.  In the summer of 2009 I was faced with the task of completing six large novels for my AP English class, not to mention as many volumes of Harry Potter I could squeeze in between.  That summer I was infatuated with my mother's old portable turntable and my then-growing record collection, so certain favored records were played frequently as soundtracks to the books I was reading.  I had had a copy of The Band's 1969 eponymous album (jokingly referred to as the Brown Album, a take on the Beatles' eponymous White Album) since the previous Christmas, but before June I had really only acquainted myself with Side A, erroneously assuming off limited exposure that the album was front-loaded.  As I progressed through the first few novels, I simultaneously grew to appreciate all aspects of the Brown Album, which surprisingly displayed no wear-and-tear after so many revolutions.  By the time I worked my way into William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, The Band had quickly become one of my favorite albums of all time, and so much so that the visage of each member of the group became assimilated into my envisioning of the novel.  For example, my favorite character, Darl, was portrayed by the Band's drummer, Levon Helm, and his brother Jewel was played by Garth Hudson, the stellar organist (to name a few).  Now, whenever I listen to that album, which is drenched in deep-South Americana, all I can conjure up in my mind are scenes from As I Lay Dying, but more significantly my exhilaration from spending each day that summer poring over six incredible novels (make it five, I hated Toni Morrison's Beloved).  I haven't been able to recreate those circumstances since then, since no summer is ever the same, and then again, what kind of favorable situation is ever the same twice?

The Band has also found its way into another one of my most recalled memories.  The summer of 2009 was my last summer running with Sacred-Heart Griffin's cross country team, one of the few organizations I've been affiliated with in which I've felt I truly belong.  After practice each morning I'd come home, drink a glass of grapefruit juice with a multivitamin as the main course, take a shower and jump into bed at about 9:30 a.m., iPod in tow.  I'd usually listen to one song on the album ("Look Out Cleveland," for instance) and then follow that up by "Whispering Pines", which would knock me out for a couple hours (but I may have passed out each day from the gripping turmoil of the abominable combination of an empty stomach and a multivitamin).  That was something I looked forward to each day.  Feeling productive for running the most amount of mileage I had ever done and being rewarded by laying in bed in a dark and cool bedroom, listening to music that had a certain resonance at the time.

Cross country is probably what I'm most nostalgic about these days.  There was something about growing as a runner and a person as I matured and progressed through each season.  Nothing makes me happier to think about than warm, soft, sleepy summer light streaming down through trees in bloom along Feldkamp, heading towards Washington Park.  Running with my friends, or even running alone (because if I ran alone, I allowed myself to stop short and take a bathroom break in the veritable sauna that is Washington Park's bathroom).  The memories are strong enough to recall on their own, but what really helps is listening to the music I listened to at that time each year.  For instance, when I listen to the Kingston Trio's Greatest Hits or Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited I imagine myself sleepily driving my sister and myself to and from practice, as those CDs were played heavily in the family minivan at the time.

And like the summer of 2009, each summer meant a new set of novels to complete for school, though from freshman-junior year I was only required two texts.  I'd come home from practice in 2006 and cruise through Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer or George Orwell's 1984 on my mattress which was then placed groovily on my bedroom floor rather than on a frame.  I believe the soundtrack that summer was Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" and Willie Nelson's album Stardust.  Sophomore year I'd curl up on the couch every morning after practice and read Alan Paton's Cry, the Beloved Country or Linda Sue Park's When My Name Was Keoko (a wild card; this book was purely juvenile) while jamming to the latest Harry Potter soundtrack- the Order of the Phoenix in particular.  Then I'd sprawl out and watch episodes of Monty Python's Flying Circus while munching on this awesome white pasta dish my mommy would make specially for me when I asked for it.  Junior year was a bit different- I recall trying to replicate what I had done the previous summer by reading John Knowle's A Separate Peace on the couch with my iPod, but unfortunately I was unable to evoke the same feelings I felt when I'd fondly recollect the previous summer.  And when it came time to read Cormac McCarthy's The Road (my least favorite book ever), I was all over the place- on the road, in fact, touring colleges with my cousin, which turned out to be a highly memorable, now nostalgia-inducing vacation.  As you can see, no summer is ever the same, but each has some facet about itself that cause me to look back and miss it.

A short list of songs/albums and their corresponding, recent memories:
1. Richard Pryor's Anthology 1968-1992
 - Late school nights hanging out downstairs in deep winter of 2009
2. Kid Cudi's Man on the Moon
- First good high school parties on late winter nights in 2009
3. "Santa-Fe" by Bob Dylan and "Ragged Wood" by Fleet Foxes
- A week's stay at my cousin's in St. Louis in Summer 2009
4. "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" by Wilco
- Driving down MacArthur Blvd. in snowy weather
5. MGMT's Congratulations
-Driving through Leland Grove aimlessly at 6:30 a.m. the morning after Springfield High's Prom/morning of my graduation (same day), looking for someone's house (never made it) in spring 2010.  Also reminds me of the entirety of 2010 from April on, as I listened to it every day (I just want to link this song, it's been stuck in my head for a few days because it's awesome)
6. "Dance Yrself Clean" by LCD Soundsystem - Summer nights of 2010

I realize nothing in this post is applicable to anyone who reads it besides me (and maybe I'm the only one reading it, therefore YEAH! 100% applicable blog post).  What I hope I impart to you is that this is the modus operandi of my mind; this is how I go about most of the time- not only hearkening back on past experiences, but relating them to the present, problem-solving and all that jazz.  At the very least, I hope I've made it clear that music and how it ties into my life is very important to me.  If anything, you've got a number of solid links.  But my point is that I'm the kind of guy who will detect the unmistakable scent of a certain shampoo and immediately be drawn to winter of freshman year when I was reading the abridged version of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations for my English class, which further makes me remember that I supplemented that reading with the Essential Dean Martin.  Maybe it's simply some sort of idiot-savant, audiographic or scenographic memory, but these are memories that are somewhat comforting to me, which is ironic because they only make me pine after the past and momentarily fail to acknowledge the current pleasures of the present.  But as a matter of fact, I've actually gotten better at living in the present lately.  Well, not entirely.  I'm still unbelievably nostalgic, but I don't let it bother me.  I just realized that what's happening to me in the present is something that I will indubitably will become nostalgic about in the future.  If I immediately look back fondly on classes I used to despise the moment I begin the next school year, then yeah, I'll probably enjoy my present situation sometime in the future.


  1. I was listening to CuDi's Man on the Moon while reading this, so from now on it will remind me of nostalgia.


  2. I did not notice that your face had been added to the album cover until my third time looking at it.

  3. I didn't know George Clooney was in The Band.

  4. I didn't know Harry Potter was in The Band.