Travel Without Leaving Home

5 Feb


The nice thing about music is that sometimes it can bring up memories you didn’t even know you had. Things you’d either long ago forgotten or just haven’t had time in your busy life to think about can suddenly spring into your head, fresh as day, the second you turn on your iPod. Maybe those eggheads over at Apple have found a way to time travel. Whereas in the past you would have to search through dozens or hundreds of CDs, then find the right songs, you can now simply open up your iTunes library and have all of your thousands of songs easily available for the plucking.

Just a few hours ago I was sitting in my room here in Amherst, starting my homework and still thinking about the Patriots, which I won’t talk about, not now, not ever. Anyway, I always work with music, and I pretty much can’t work without it. Well, that’s not necessarily true. I can obviously work without it, but it really ruins the creativity. Think of having a plain piece of bread, not even toasted. Now think of a piece of toast with jam or butter or whatever else you like on it. Writing without some music is just bland.

Now I’d decided to put on some Built to Spill, one of my favorite bands. I got into them in Spain when my friends Dorothy and Elyse got me hooked, and since then life has been a bit nicer with that music in the background. Things were going smoothly, listening to their album “Keep It Like A Secret,” which I’d picked up just a couple of months ago. But then something crazy happened. The CD ended, and the next one came on. “You In Reverse” was the first album of theirs that I got while in Spain.

The first time I’d given the CD a listen through was on an overnight bus from Sevilla to Lisbon. I listened to it probably three times on that bus ride, coming in and out of consciousness as the bumps in the road rudely awakened me over and over. I was traveling alone, pretty much for the first time since I’d gotten to Spain, and was a bit tense. This album eased me. I would go on to listen to it over and over during those two days in Lisbon.

Anyway, this is all relevant because as I was sitting there writing in my room in Amherst and this album came on, I was suddenly back in Portugal, almost scarily real in my memory. First I was on the midnight bus, then I was in the hostel, then I was wandering around aimlessly through Lisbon, and on, and on. I’m not quite sure how it works, but music just has that power to open up all of these memories in you, and the things and places you’d thought you left a long time ago come out and you realize they never left you, that they’ve been there the whole time.

The walls might as well have melted and time stood still. I know that sounds cheesy, but for all I was concerned I was back there in Portugal. That country and that album will always be entwined for me now. I’m sure of it. Whenever I hear that music for some reason I’ll think and associate it with Portugal, traveling alone for the first time, and changing quick enough to notice it.

It’s an amazing thing to do. You should try it some time. Wherever you go, take some music with you. On a long bus ride, on a day in the country, whenever you get a chance, listen to some music. And if you don’t think you’ll ever get a chance to get back there, or you think you’re forgetting it, just pop on that music, and you too can be back there. Memories will fade, pictures won’t recall it all, but the music will never change. It might not sound the same after a while, but if it meant enough to you, it will always bring up that time in that place.

It’s not just Portugal or Built to Spill that gets brought back to me from time to time. Sometimes it’s R.E.M. in Utah and Nevada. Other times it’s The Beatles or Louis Prima in Sicily. Or Minus the Bear in any city in Europe. Or any other band or place, depending on many different circumstances. Whatever it is, the power of it isn’t something I can even begin to comprehend, just recognize and appreciate. But you know what? I’m OK with that.

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