Does pop music need to go along with memories in your life? There is a lot of good pop music – Radiohead, Modest Mouse, Flaming Lips, the list goes on, which I got into late and does not accompany any memories from my own life. I enjoy it just as music, for its own sake. It does not remind me of any lost lovers, or first time experiences, or nights out with my friends. It does not even remind me of some ground breaking new music genre discovery, because music genres have splintered so much or I don’t pay attention to them now.
Then there is the pop music that triggers those memories, like “She Sells Sanctuary” by the Cult. That reminds me of being in high school in Southern California, and going to the Scream and looking for the underground L.A. of Bret Easton Ellis, though we lived in working class Long Beach. Or Japan, “Obscure Alternatives”, which reminds me of 9th grade and played it on my headphones constantly, because I had discovered glam rock. Or “Los Angeles” by X, that reminds me of going to Melrose and the whole feeling of Melrose, L.A. sun beating down, bright pavement, kids in 50s dresses with red lipstick and driving old cars. And not every song reminds me a new music discovery. There is “If There is Something” by Roxy Music, and I had just met this guy. We had been out all day and had gone back to his place. I was about to leave, because I didn’t feel anything for him. But then he put on this song and started kissing me and everything changed. We ended up being together for the next year.
And then there is Nick Cave. Nick has been with me for years. When I was 14 and my best friend gave me the “Mutiny” album by the Birthday Party, watching Wim Wenders films like the breathtaking “Wings of Desire” and being taken in by those scenes of Berlin and Nick Cave in the cavernous club while Solveig Dommartin danced in a dreamlike state and the dark carnival music. Or the other songs that went along with films, not really real experiences, but very powerful images that made a big impression when I was young, like “Cat People” by David Bowie or “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” and The Hunger and those great scenes with Bowie and Deneuve roaming after dark with sunglasses on, in search of blood.
I would love for Radiohead to be part of my identity and have that power over me, but the truth is that I feel like an outsider looking in with them. I know it had something to do with the 90s, and early 2000s, and penetrating dark traumatic feelings, and sex and sadness. It’s the kind of thing that I might have had experiences to, had I been born later. But to me it’s just good music.
Why do songs sound better when you have a memory to go with them? It’s not that they sound better, they just sound deeper. You did something to them, or they changed you at a time when you were young. They might have made you what you are. I think that a lot of people can’t imagine music without these associations, and that is why they stop listening to new music after their 20s, when they stop trying new things as much. But for us lifelong music fans, we just have to accept that as we get older the music will not be as personal. That doesn’t mean it won’t change us at all. Maybe music changes us even as we get older, and our life experiences are not so dramatic, but we don’t see those changes until later. I’d like to think that in 20 years I will realize that Radiohead really did become part of me, even in my 40s.