« Amazing | Main | Comedy Imitates Life »

November 21, 2009

Music and Memory

When I was 11 or so we were stationed in Norfolk, Virginia. There wasn't much to do on the base we lived on - not many other kids my age. School hadn't begun yet, so the long summer days stretched out before me. To a young girl used to cool New England summers, the heat was oppressive, and anyway there wasn't anyone to go outside with. My older cousin Andy sent me two albums: Joni Mitchell and Judy Collins.

That was one of the best presents I ever received: I spent hours memorizing every word from every song. From there, it made perfect sense to teach myself to play the guitar so I could sing them myself, so again there were hours spent learning chords and then figuring out which key and which chords went with each song.

I think of this often when I hear children complain that there's nothing to do. Everything comes so easily these days: the sheer volume and variety of music today is stunning. But the manufactured and multi-tracked sounds never seem as wonderful as the songs I loved and labored over when I was young.

I thought it might be fun to go back and find some of the forgotten songs I loved then. It's been years - decades in some cases - since I've heard some of them. The original arrangement was more spare on this one, but it's still a lovely song:

You don't see melodies and lyrics so well crafted often these days. Or is it just that my memories make them seem more special than they are?

As my life spills into yours,
Changing with the hours
Filling up the world with time,
Turning time to flowers,
I can show you all the songs
That I never sang to one man before.

I was a wicked Neil Diamond fan. I used to save my babysitting money until I had enough to walk down to the Navy Exchange and plunk down my hard earned cash for a brand new, shiny 45. I still remember what a thrill it was when I brought home a new one. Must have driven my parents crazy hearing it played over and over again.

Even though I've heard this one millions of times on the radio, it has never lost its magic:

There are a whole category of songs that I can only describe as songs that mesmerized me. I can remember exactly where I was the first time I heard this one and the way I was feeling. It's kind of an interesting song because Stephen Stills did a version too. I always liked both of them, but it was the sound I loved more than the words.

I've always had a sneaking fondness for a cappella harmony, too. This song can transport me right back to the first time I heard it:

And then there are the guitar songs.

I've always thought this is one of Gordon Lightfoot's loveliest songs:

Haven't even scratched the surface - these are just a few of the ones I've loved. Feel free to add your own in the comments section.

Update: Obviously not one from my childhood, but Miss Ladybug reminded me of it. This song always makes me weak in the knees:

Another one I'd forgotten, thanks to Photon Courier. It was on Wildflowers (Judy Collins) but I prefer Brel's rendering. For some reason it is more affecting when sung by a man:

Here is a translation:

Of course, we have had our storms
Lovers for 20 years, it is a crazy love
A thousand times you have packed your bags
A thousand times, I have taken flight
And each piece of furniture remembers
in this room without a cradle
the claps of old thunderstorms
Nothing is the same anymore

You have even lost the taste for water
And me only the taste for conquest

But my love
My sweet, my tender, my marvelous love
from the clear dawn until the end of the day
I love you still, you know I love you

Me, I know all your sorceries
You know all my magic tricks
you have kept me safe from trap to trap
I have lost you from time to time
Of course, you have taken a few lovers
You surely have to pass the time
The body must know rapture
Finally finally
It took us a lot of talent
To become old without becoming adults

Oh, mon amour ,mon doux, mon tendre, mon merveilleux amour
De l`aube claire jusqu`à la fin du jour
Je t`aime encore, tu sais, je t`aime

And the more time marches on
The more time torments us
but isn't it the worst trap
for lovers to live in peace?
Of course you cry a little less easily
I tear myself apart a little more slowly
We protect our secrets less and less
We take fewer chances
we don't trust the stream of water
but it is always a tender war

I'd had a year of French in 4th grade and spent a lot of time looking up the words I didn't know. I didn't have the experience (obviously) to fully appreciate the lyrics back then.

Here's another translation, less literal but (I think) a bit closer to the spirit:

Of course we've weathered stormy places
Through this mad love of twenty years
A thousand times you've packed your cases
A thousand times I've disappeared
Though there's no cradle in this room
Each stick of furniture recalls
The thunderstorms' reverberations
Nothing resembles what it was
You've lost the taste for water now
And I for conquerors' sensations

Oh love of mine
Sweet marvelous and tender love of mine
From clearest dawn until the day's decline
I love you still, you know I love you

I've watched your witchcraft through the ages
You've memorized each trick of mine
You've guided me past snares and cages
Though I've lost you from time to time
Of course you've loved some others too
It must have helped to pass the time
The need for passion is enduring
And in the end, in the end
Such talent we've had to expend
To have grown old without maturing

The more time marches through these hallways
The more the time feels like a curse
And yet a love that's tranquil always
Surely must be the trap that's worse
You tear up less than in the past
I'm slow to tear myself apart
No more are we the great pretenders
We're both more guarded with our hearts
That stream of water may not last
Yet on it goes, this war so tender

Posted by Cassandra at November 21, 2009 08:02 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Almost a year ago, I purchased a turntable to connect to my computer. Since I got the display (last one), I discovered the needle was defective, so had to order one, and only more recently got around to it. One of the first vinyl records I converted to mp3 was Elvis' Golden Records. It was purchased for me shortly after The King's death, so I would have been about 7. I loved Love Me Tender, and still do. While not the classics you grew up with (heck, comes with growing up in a different era), they are pieces of music that meant something to me. So far, I've only converted 3 albums. Glass Tiger's The Thin Red Line was added to my collection about the time I was reading all the Madeline L'Engle books, and them seemed to go well with them. And, what teenaged girl at the time didn't have a thing for George Michael and Faith?

Waiting in the queue? Wham's Music from the Edge of Heaven & Fantastic, Richard Marx, Randy Travis' Old 8x10, Storms of Life & Always & Forever, Andy Taylor's Thunder, Arcadia's So Red the Rose, INXS Listen Like Thieves, Bryan Adams' Into the Fire, Breathe's All That Jazz, all of Duran Duran (I think I have the complete collection...), several soundtracks (Cocktail & Footloose, though I previously found, at a bargain price, the 2 Dirty Dancing albums, A-ha's Hunting High & Low & Scoundrel Days, Huey Lewis & The News' Sports, Small World & Fore!, Cutting Crew Broadcast, Charlie Sexton Pictures for Pleasure, Genesis' Invisible Touch (got to see that tour live, in the Olympic Stadium in Munich!), and a few more (I've got my vinyl close to the computer at the moment). When I'm done with mine, I'll take a look at what my parents have...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at November 21, 2009 10:07 PM

Ah... Judy Collins -- Someday Soon, In My Life, Marat/Sade.

Leonard Cohen -- Suzanne, That's No Way to Say Goodbye, Sisters of Mercy, So Long Marianne,

Gordon Lightfoot -- If You Could Read My Mind, Sundown, and of course, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,

Dolly Parton -- Down From Dover, Jolene... so many more

Willie Nelson -- Crazy, Hello Walls (is that a teardrop I see in the corner of your pane?) Whisky River, Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain, Mama's Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys, Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground, On the Road Again, (not sure Willie wrote all of these, but it's most often his version I remember.)

Joni Mitchell -- Both Sides Now

James Taylor -- Fire and Rain

Kris Kristofferson -- Me and Bobby McGee, Help Me Make It Through the Night, Sunday Morning Coming Down,

Simon & Garfunkel -- The Sound of Silence, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Homeward Bound, Cecilia, The Boxer, El Condor Pasa, 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,

Bob Dylan -- The Walls of Red Wing, though the version I best loved was by Joan Baez.

And... The Beatles (early), The Rolling Stones, The Troggs, oh... so many memories you've triggered with this post.

Just to seriously "date" myself, "Love Is All Around" by The Troggs was playing on the car radio when I had experienced my first real kiss.

Posted by: Donna B. at November 22, 2009 05:37 AM

Another great Judy Collins song is "Albatross"..

The lady comes to the gate dressed in lavender and leather
Looking North to the sea she finds the weather fine
She hears the steeple bells ringing through the orchard
All the way from town
She watches seagulls fly
Silver on the ocean stitching through the waves
The edges of the sky

...never really figured out exactly what it was about, though.

Posted by: david foster at November 22, 2009 08:16 AM

Albatross was the first song I worked out the chords for on that album :)

I'm surprised (and pleased) to find someone else remembers it.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 22, 2009 09:20 AM

There *are* still people writing & singing good songs...one I particularly like is Tom Russell, who is usually categorized as either Folk or Texas Country, with a lot of other influences.
One of his best pieces of work is "The Man From God Knows Where," a song-cycle about the American immigrant experience, based largely on the experiences of his own Irish and Norwegian ancestors. Here are some lines from "Mary Clare Malloy," about a "picture bride" from Ireland who came to the Midwest via Ellis Island:

We disembarked and stood in line with chalk marks on our coats
X for mental illness, if E back on the boat
They asked us what our breeding was, could we read or write
The sound of women weeping swept the dormitories at night
My best friend was deported back to a poor Killea home
Another sent to Swinburne Isle died of cholera alone
The rest of us were shipped to trains bound for Midwest states
To wild and stormy prairie lands and our prospective mates

He's American primitive man In an American primitive land
Irish eyes and calloused hands American primitive man

Posted by: david foster at November 22, 2009 10:00 AM

Carole King's album, 'Tapestry.'

Posted by: Cricket at November 22, 2009 09:58 PM

Gordon Lightfoot's 'If You Could Read My Mind.'
Also Jim Croce. Buddy Holly and Richie Valenzuela. John Denver and Rick Nelson.

Posted by: Cricket at November 22, 2009 10:04 PM

As an erstwhile piano player, I remain impressed by the skill required to play a Willie Nelson, Kris Kristoferson, Elton John song... while others seem so 'easy'.

Easy doesn't mean bad, it just means a lack of complexity that SOUNDS easy. Maybe it doesn't even mean that... as easy for me might not be for others.

Posted by: Donna B. at November 22, 2009 11:50 PM

I spent a lot of time trying to work out various Elton John songs too, so I can relate!

Posted by: Cassandra at November 23, 2009 12:16 AM

Talk about driving parents crazy....mine had to endure my figuring out Stairway to Heaven, Sweet Home Alabama, Gimme Three Steps, Dust In The Wind, Blue Jean Blues and House of the Rising Sun.....at first with the guitar my SIL left at my folk's place temporarily when they moved -- which, rather inconveniently, was missing the sixth string. I must have gotten at least a note or three right, though, because they bought me a new acoustic guitar for my 16th birthday.
A guitar I still have to this day including it's original hard shell.

Posted by: DL Sly at November 23, 2009 01:27 AM

I was more of a progressive-rock guy as a teenager. Yes, Pink Floyd, ELP, Genesis, Kansas, and leaning toward the hard-rock side, Rush, Deep Purple and Black Sabbeth. Every garage band in town learned "Smoke on the Water" as its first song -- it was a rite of passage. I still remember how pleased I was the day I managed to get through the first part of "Close to the Edge" on a friend's bass.

Posted by: Cousin Dave at November 23, 2009 10:59 AM

Oh, I haven't even gotten into electric guitar! But this post started off as more musing about acoustic music than anything else :)

Posted by: Cassandra at November 23, 2009 12:55 PM

Ian and Sylvia, Gordon Lightfoot, the New Christie Minstrels, and "Songs of the Cowboys," along with the 1812 Overture, Bach's Goldberg Variations, misc. Mozart, Odetta, Judy Collins, Makem and Clancy, and the Weavers and Limelighters.
"Four Strong Winds," "Edmund Fitzgerald," "Pussywillows, Cattails" and "Canadian Railroad Trilogy." "John Riley," "In the Hills of Shiloh," "Pretty Little Horses," "All my Sorrows." "Day of the Clipper," "Santy Anno (Heave Away)," "All Among the Wool," "Limejuice Tub," and "Dandelion Wine." And just because it raised eyebrows, 'The Tattooed Lady:"

"Over her left kidney was a bird's eye view of Sidney
But what I liked best, there upon her chest was my home in Waikiki!" [Dad taught my brother and I that one, why do you ask?]

I didn't listen to rock/pop until I was 13 or so, and them I imprinted on Fleetwood Mac, Genesis, Mr.Mr., Depeche Mode. It had to have a harmony part and not too much screaming guitar or distortion. Now I'm back to folk music, Western a la Ian Tyson, New Age and soundtracks.

Posted by: LittleRed1 at November 23, 2009 01:31 PM

I never learned to play guitar, but I spent a summer sitting on a porch swing reading a (Time-Life, maybe?) series of art history books--learned a whole lot about great art, and the lives of the artists.

Posted by: April at November 23, 2009 04:56 PM

The Brel song is one of the best ever, IMHO - truly great on the Judy Collins album; truly great on Brel's album. You have (the same kind of) good taste (that I do, in some things, anyway). After 28+ years of marriage, the lyrics ring true.

Posted by: I Call BS at November 24, 2009 11:35 AM

I am glad you liked it :)

Posted by: Cassandra at November 24, 2009 11:47 AM

Damned kids:) Anything done after 1966 was CRAP!


Talk about "dating" yourself, Donna?

Posted by: Bruce at November 24, 2009 12:42 PM

Hi there,

Thank you very much for publishing my recent translation of Jacques Brel's La Chanson des Vieux Amants here. I just wanted to add a comment crediting myself for it! If possible, perhaps you could even edit the original post to add my name so people don't miss it down here? If anyone finds it here and wants to perform it, PLEASE credit the translation to me! Also, I've made a few minor edits that improve the piece, so please email me for the latest version!!!

My name's Jeff Rosenberg, I'm a singer-songwriter and music journalist in Portland, Oregon. I was looking for translations of the song one night last year and found a good literal one but two awful other ones. Decided if I wanted it done right I had to do it myself! Took me about three hours I think, but then I've known the song forever - Judy Collins' Wildflowers was one of the first three albums I remember hearing as a child.

Thanks again, Cassandra, it's very exciting to me to find the translation getting out there into the world and I'm so glad you appreciated it. Speaking as a fan of the song, not as the author of this version, I honestly think it's the best translation available, the only one that preserves most of Brel's meaning while also maintaining the rhyme scheme and making sense in English.


Posted by: Jeff Rosenberg at April 3, 2010 07:11 PM