The Ugly Sound Your Past Makes
The way records become intimately linked with particular times and people in our lives can be both a blessing and a curse. There are certain records I still have a hard time listening to simply because they echo too loudly memories of an extremely unhappy and painful period of my life, Blood on the Tracks and the Cowboy Junkies' Caution Horses come to mind. With the Caution Horses its mainly the first two songs, 'Sun Comes Up, Its Tuesday Morning' and 'Cause Cheap is How I Feel'. Those two songs can still reduce me to tears, particularly that line in Sun Comes Up , "Anyway I'd rather listen to Coltrane than go through all that shit again", it just hit(s) too close to home. These being the first songs and my favourite two songs on the album, compounded by the fact that I own it on cassette made it too difficult to just skip them. Consequently the Caution Horses hasn't gotten played in a long, long while.
But I might have to try giving it another play soon, because it's really a wonderful and triumphant feeling when you realize that you can enjoy a record again apart from its earlier painful associations. This happened to me recently with Margo Guryan's Take a Picture, re-released on c.d. by Franklin Castle. I played it constantly when I first got it. And I loved pretty much everything about it, her voice, the arrangements, the songs, and the earnestness of the lyrics. Even the front and back cover; the front shows Margo looking somewhat Sphinx like staring out of a window full of rain and on the back cover she's laying on the floor with a cup of coffee, laughing as someone passes her a joint. It's a beautiful album cover, perfectly evocative of the music inside, sweet, innocent and a little high. Ah, to have a girl like that, a girl who could make me feel like that.
Unfortunately, I did meet someone shortly after acquiring this album that I thought could be my very own Margo Guryan. And as is the tendency of those who grow up lost in daydreams, I immediately set to promulgating all kinds of fantasies about who this person was, and more importantly, what she could be to me. Most of which, or at least the crucial bit, proved to be painfully off base. She was gonna be my sweet, innocent but open -minded girlfriend who would love me unconditionally and inspire me to write songs for her to sing. It was gonna be perfect, like the cover of that Guryan album.
In real life turns out she was sweet and somewhat innocent, as well as being a classically trained musician (just like Margo!) but in the end I just wasn't someone she could love, unconditionally or otherwise. I tried everything, literally, to convince her otherwise. I vainly attempted the whole sincere and direct, heart on one's sleeve, plea for tenderness that I identified so strongly with in early Modern Lover's material. Regrettably I learned that this must have started working for Jonathan after he earned his rightly deserved status as a legendary and important artist rather than because of any inherent merits of the approach (word to wise, it tends to scare the young ladies away if you're not up on stage). Come to think of it, Jonathan achieving this status and his consequent success with girls probably goes a lot further in explaining the switch from the earlier bitter unrequited Modern Lovers material to the later positive incarnation than any Mambo Bands and flowers in Bermuda knocking him down (see the Bermuda monologue). But I digress.
What this girl did wind up loving was the Margo Guryan c.d. I gave her. I had continued playing it during the beginning of our relationship and it served only to reinforce and drive along my delusions about what this relationship could be. So when it all went to shit through my own fucked up tendency to destroy what I can't have, the Margo c.d. went back on the shelf to gather dust. Associations and misplaced resentment had rendered it unlistenable, after all it was that damn thing that had gotten my hopes up in the first place, filling my head with all those goofy romantic notions.
The happy ending is that although I didn't get the girl, I did get my ability to enjoy the album back. It's no longer sabotaged by those painful associations and petty resentments. I realized this just the other day and the triumphant feeling that resulted is what started me writing this. I was about to head out to work when, for reasons unknown, the notion of hearing 'Take a Picture' leaped into my head, so I grabbed it off the shelf on my way out the door. Actually, I think it was the weather that day that spurred the idea, not a rainy day like the front cover, but a sunny cool Spring day. When I got to work and put it on it felt like I was hearing it for the first time, it sounded great and made me feel good, a fact which was accentuated by the realization that I was free of the old associations. It felt like victory, like progress.
In anycase I don't think there's any formula for overcoming these unpleasant associations when they happen, probably just the passage of time. Obviously in the grand scheme of things it's no big deal (then again what the hell is) but perhaps a small testament to the resiliency of the human spirit and the power of music to grow and change in personal meaning along with the listener. Christ my heads filled with goofy romantic notions again. Best to enjoy it while it lasts.
© William Crain 2002