I’m not one of those writers who has a lot of music in my books, although LIFE SENTENCES has a small section about some childhood friends forming a singing group during the Jackson 5 era.
But today, as the SO and I drove to Washington for a matinee (DOG IN THE MANGER, terrific), “Maggie May” came on and I could remember exactly where I was the first time I heard it. (In a car somewhere between Atlanta and Marietta, Georgia.) Then I began sorting through all the songs I could remember listening to while in the car, back before I was allowed to control the radio. “Don’t Sleep in the Subway, Darling.” (En route to art lessons at the Baltimore Museum of Art.) “Hello, It’s Me.” (One of our long, long trips to Atlanta.) “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” (Forest Park Avenue, a mile from home, hot summer day.)
I could find only one commonality: They are all narratives. Generally, slightly cryptic ones that make the listener fill in some of the blanks (with the exception of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”). Where does one sleep in the subway? On a bench, in the stairwell, on the cars themselves.? Isn’t it dangerous? This, after all, was the era of hyperconsciousness about New York’s street crime and The Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3, which is being remade, I’m sorry to say. (I think the original is near perfect.) So Maggie May is there and you’re leaving her, but it’s her fault because she just can’t love you enough? So on, and so forth. I like music and listen to a wide range, but I could never transcend my interest in the words/stories.
We all remember where we were when [fill in one of the big news stories of your youth]. But can you place yourself in time vis a vis a song on the radio? If so, why do you think the memory and the melody linger?