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Sing Me Those Memories

There are many opinions about what makes a song great. Sometimes a song makes you move your body, and sometimes a song moves your soul. It can make you happy or sad. Sometimes what makes a song great can change over time. You'll notice complexities you overlooked before. Or just the passage of time itself can lend layers of greatness to a song. It can be just a silly little love song (to quote someone who wrote more than his fair share of great songs) when you first hear it, but after the years have gone by it has become more. The song has become a time machine of sorts, taking you back to a specific time and place. When you hear the song you can see where you were when you listened to it in bygone days. More, you can hear other sounds that were in the background, smell whatever aromas permeated the air, taste whatever you may have been ingesting at the time. Most importantly, you feel what you were feeling. That's what makes this particular brand of time machine so powerful. Here are some songs that take me back.

One song that definitely is a memory bomb for me is You Give Love a Bad Name by Bon Jovi. The summer when that song was all over the radio I was very involved with my church. I rode a bus every Sunday that took us to Sunday school. After that we went to the regular service. Then we would stay for activities after that. Then home on the bus. In addition we did vacation Bible school for a week during the summer where we stayed at the church for 7 days. My church also had a "scout" program that I took part in on Wednesdays (as someone who hasn't set foot in a church in well over a decade I am sometimes surprised to remember how much time I spent there as a kid), which was modeled on Boy Scouts but in addition to badges for cooking and setting up a tent we got badges for memorizing Bible verses and ministering. Now this may make me sound like some goody two shoes kid until I share that my memories that this song brings back are of being on the church bus with a girl named Althea. Althea was two years older than me, and at first all my advances toward her were rebuffed. But eventually she gave in either to my persistence or to her own boredom, and we spent one Sunday afternoon on the church bus riding home listening to the aforementioned Bon Jovi tune and making out. I know it wasn't my charm that won her over as I am self-aware enough to know that I had none at that age. Of course after this incident I was certain that it was true love and we would be together forever. So you can imagine how crushed I was when the following Wednesday she scoffed at me when I attempted to resume our tongue wrestling match. She denied anything had happened between us, and just like that my most torrid affair up to that time was over. But just a few notes of that song and I can remember how it felt when she was sitting in my lap, how her mouth felt and tasted on mine, what she smelled like. I remember thinking my heart was going to beat itself right out of my chest.

Another memory that got my heart beating, but for entirely different reasons, is related to a much heavier band of the era. My cousin had a little Ford Fiesta, and being that he was the oldest in our group of friends and the only one who had a license, never mind an actual car, we went everywhere in that thing. The Saturday night ritual was, we would go to the bowling alley, which was located in the back parking lot of the local mall, and hang out until we found out where the best party was that night. Then we'd load up in my cousin's car and drive out to said party for inappropriate underaged hijinks. This one particular night there were 5 or 6 of us crammed into this tiny car, and we were playing the single for Metallica's Creeping Death on the tape player. We were out on a dirt road in the middle of the woods somewhere. If not for the thrash metal being played at maximum volume I am sure we would have heard banjos in the distance, it was that kind of scene. We were all getting a little creeped out, there was a weird vibe in the air. My cousin stopped the car and we were discussing what we should do, turn around and head back for civilization or soldier on to the party. Suddenly the song became all garbled as for some reason the tape started to play backward. If you'd ever listened to a song backward I'm sure you know they all sound kind of creepy that way. As we all stopped talking and turned to stare at the tape player wondering what was going on, a giant dog appeared in front of the car barking and snarling. He was all white and his eyes glowed red in the headlights. We all screamed, my cousin threw the car in reverse and we barreled backward down this one lane dirt road. After a bit he turned the car around and we headed back to town, all of us in agreement at this point that we were no longer in the mood to party.

One song that has more general memories than a specific incident is Elvira by The Oak Ridge Boys. When I was just entering into pre-teendom the skating rink was THE place to be. This was before Jump On It was out, and hip hop was kind of a new thing, so there was more of a mix of genres being played than I have noticed at more recent forays to skating rinks. I grew up in the south, so while I was a heavy metal kid I have always had a love of country music as well. Also I was a big fan of horror movies and big busted ladies, so naturally I was infatuated with Elvira the Mistress of the Dark. So when I heard the song Elvira, by The Oak Ridge Boys (which I am almost certain had nothing to do with the horror host) it quickly became one of my favorite songs. And I heard it first and most often at the skating rink, where they played it multiple times a night. So that song brings back the feeling of skating very badly along the outside of the rink where I could grab the safety bar if needed. Of playing Ms. Pacman and Tron on the row of arcade games. Of shooting pool and thinking I was some kind of hustler if I managed to sink a bank shot. Of meeting a cute girl who had come over from the next town and sneaking off to a secluded corner to kiss. And mostly of my friends and I in a circle giggling as we sang together "Gitty up aoom boppa aoom boppa mow mow".

Sometimes a song gets so overplayed that no matter how good the song actually is you just get sick of it. Sweet Child O Mine is an example, one that I couldn't listen to for years after it's initial release. Another was Def Leppard's Pour Some Sugar on Me. You couldn't get away from that song that summer. Girls would create elaborate dance routines to it, and I heard it more than once referred to as a girl's "stripper song".  One night that summer several of us were gathered in of of my friends' apartment. I had sprung up and was bigger than most everyone, having already reached almost 6 feet tall at that point. I also did a lot of work with my dad, which made me stronger than most other kids my age. This isn't to brag, it's to help explain what happened. We were goofing around and wrestling, we were all bug WWF fans at the time. I picked up one kid and body slammed him on the couch. It didn't hurt him at all, but there were girls present so he felt he had to show them he was just as strong as me. Keep in mind I had over a foot and probably 50 or 60 pounds on this kid. He tried to pick me up to mimic what I had just done with him, and he dropped me right on my shoulder. The pain was immediate and excruciating. I thought I had popped the shoulder from it's socket, so I had him push it to try to pop it back in. It turned out I had broken my collar bone, so really I was just having him torture me. And the song that was playing during this little drama? Pour Some Sugar on Me, which may be why it took a decade longer for me to get over my antipathy toward it than the other overplayed hit pop songs of the era.

Now for those of you looking for some salacious details in my stories, you'll finally be rewarded with my memories of ZZ Top's Sharp Dressed Man. I was 16 and had been dating a cute little red head for some time. It was before school and we were sitting in my car in the parking lot. I had an old Pontiac that had bench seats in the front and back. We were making out and she decided she wanted to do something extra special for me. My radio was tuned to the classic rock station, and that is how I was listening to Sharp Dressed Man as I received my very first blowjob (well the first one that counts). I remember seeing other people walk past the car and look in the window at us and laugh when they saw what was happening. I would like to say I lasted long enough for another song to start, but that would be a lie. The bearded band was still playing when my girlfriend opened my car door to spit my load out on the ground in front of some startled students on their way to campus. I have always liked ZZ Top, but they were never my favorite band. However that particular song never fails to bring a smile to my face, even now over 30 years later.


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