On our Delhi FB site, my home town, I just saw a nearly ancient picture of Caffries Hardware store. Ancient, because I remember walking along its oiled hardwood floors, when all of a sudden someone turned up the radio, and the singer yelled out, “You shake my nerves and you rattle my brain…”. it was 1957.
My Dad stopped in his tracks, looking up, “Good Lord, what is that?”
Nobody responded, as they were all riveted listening to Jerry Lee Lewis pound out his iconic symptoms. I too was transfixed, because I had never heard anything like it, and it changed my view and love for music forever. Studying the floor, I noticed that Caffries had hammered straight lines of nails one foot apart from the back door to the front, for the purpose of measuring out lines and ropes.
While Lewis beat a bass line with his left hand and scampered on the high keys like a runaway flywheel, I stared at the ceiling, and back at the radio which was high up on a shelf, strategically placed there for audibility and security against moving the dial.
Why do I remember this so vividly?
There are reams of web pages with articles explaining the rush of dopamine, our reward hormone, Oxytocin a social/love brain spurt, and ramblings among different parts of the noggin, all feasting on music, a satisfying meal for memory.
They say that music may be a soothing and regenerative aid to dementia and Alzheimers sufferers. I hope it is. But on that day, Jerry Lee and Caffries were permanently bonded in my head.
I had a similar experience the first time I heard Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone. 1965, working on Monteyne’s farm, our kiln hanger, Rob Hewson had hung his mighty transistor radio on the side of the kiln. Above the endless clatter of the tying machine, and the grind of the conveyor lifting the sticks up to Rob, Dylan’s piano sadly rambles away among the guitars, all the while he asks the riveting question, over and over again, “how does it feel?” I am taking sticks off the tying machine while smoking an Old Gold plain tip. I had never bought Old Golds before, and never did again, but I remember on that day, listening to Dylan while I dragged on one from the corner of my mouth. When I hear the song today, Old Golds still come to mind.
Where we grew up, radio was pretty tame and choices limited. The parents listened to CFRB for news sports and gab. CBL had Elwood Glover. The kids listened to CHUM or CKEY.
For whatever reason, our house wouldn’t tune into 1050AM for CHUM, but late at night we could get CKEY–when it was 580AM on the dial. Sitting at an elaborate study cabinet in my brother’s room, I would tune in quietly to CKEY, and Norm Perry as he ran the turn table. There was a time when gimmick songs were profuse, but none more than Monster Mash. That was 1962, and again pushed the listeners’ ears even further out of whack as the story unfolded, ‘working in the lab late one night’.
Monster Mash creates an indelible mark, a gauzy multi-sensory image of me sitting at a large gray study cabinet, designed by Popular Mechanics, and unstintingly assembled by my Dad. It was modular, arriving from the basement in two pieces, painted battleship gray on the outside, and dark red on the inside. Shelves to the left, it had a chained, drop down desk, and cabinets with locks to the right. It smelled of paint and plywood, smooth at the sanded edges, with small pock marks from a student’s compass point jamming the grain endlessly.
But in the corner was a dandy little cream-colored plastic radio with two dialing knobs shaped like bullets that managed volume and tuning. I surreptitiously listened to that radio every night while shuffling papers for homework, chewing the end off a pencil, and staring at a small fluorescent light in the cabinet. I listened to hundreds of songs, but it’s Monster Mash that brings back the cabinet, every time.
Is there a time when the ‘music-evoked autobiographical memory’ goes away? That’s what they call it: a MEAM. I am not sure, but it has been years since I have experienced a new MEAM. The last I remember was sitting in our 71 Chevelle listening to a country station outside Port Hope on highway 401. My parents were staring ahead, and randomly twirling the FM dial, probably looking for Elwood Glover. Instead, they hit Loretta Lynn as she spun a tale about herself, “When You’re Looking At Me, You’re Looking At Country”.
That was my first intense audit of country music, in 1971, and I was hooked. The Chevy was a Super Sports, two-door, racing green with a black vinyl roof, parabolic rear windows, and a beautiful chromed gear shift in the center with black bucket seats. It drove like a dream, and drank gas like a demon. It was the perfect vessel for delivering Loretta Lynn, which I remember vividly, crystal clear, today.
I have a soundtrack running in my head every waking and sleeping hour. Tunes loop continuously. I am thankful still, as a few songs come up, that I have those visual memories to accompany them; it’s good entertainment.