I’m listening to the self-titled “Presidents of the United States” album while clinging desparately to the last remaining theads of interest I still have in this whole undergrad thing. This album was the theme song of our 9th grade Washington DC spring break trip and it still brings me back. I keep seeing cherry blossoms, even though that’s ridiculous because we were in DC too early in the spring and the cherry blossoms weren’t out yet. Oh well. I also see peaches, but I know those were out yet. After becoming obsessed with the song “Peaches” we (Paul and Eric and I and whomever else was involved in this nonsense) went to a Mr. Bulky’s and bought huge bags of peach jellybeans and peach penguins. We ate all the penguins, but I still have a small bottle of those peach jellybeans resting on a shelf at home.
Sometimes I will be walking around and I’ll catch some sensory input that summons old and faint memories with staggering vividness. It might be the smell of mud, a thin thread of melody or the way the sun feels on my shoulders at a particular moment, but it thrusts me right on back to the mental states that I occupied when I fixed that input to that experience. The recall isn’t exact, and it’s very difficult to wrestle it back into consciousness after it departs, but it refers to a feeling I know I have experienced before. The Presidents album can do this. It lasts only a moment and you can’t force the memories to conjure themselves up again, but the recall itself is enough to fill novels. Cheap pulp novels that you pick up for a dime and soon put behind you in the smallest room in your house, but novels nonetheless.
I’m huge into music, so it isn’t surprising that I often experience these flashbacks due to music. I hate the word flashback. What else can this be called? A historical mental conjuring? A farkin’ vivid memory? An Input/Output Directive of Much Vigor? Taking a Hit Off Uncle Ed’s Crazy Thoughtback Sauce?
We’ll call it a Thouectbs, for now. Future generations will naturally clean up the lexicon so it makes sense. Our job right now is word generation. We’ll leave those clever young bastards to the thankless task of evaluation.
So. Music. I have a bunch of CDs that often summon thouectbs. We’ve discussed one. Let’s discuss others.
The Pharcyde: Bizarre Ride II. UMD, beginning of freshman year. When the year started I spent a few weeks tooling around with the gang of kids I met during the freshman rock climbing trip. I had spent most of my time in high school with music nerds (and props to music nerds, mind you), so it was a bit strange associating myself with this more… pop-culture-oriented crowd. They wore white hats. They listened to rap. They drank on the weekends. They carried Nalgenes. We listened to the Pharcyde while playing Dr. Mario in Chris’ apartment, and he gave me a copy. He also introduced me to Soul Coughing, but Pharcyde is by far the album that signalled the beginning of my college life.
DJ Shadow: Endtroducing. I’ve talked about this album before, on two occasions, but it’s powerful enough to warrant numbing repetition. Sophomore year, dead of winter. It was late at night and below zero. We were in the Ford Tempo, winding through icy roads north of Ely on our way to Du Nord. We cued up this album and the temperature dropped. My guts froze. The stars cracked and dropped out of the sky. I knew our relationship was spiralling to the ground, and I was grappling for a way to end it gracefully. I didn’t find it.
Dave Matthews: Everyday. Sophomore year, spring. This album gets a ton of crap for being Dave’s worst.album.ever. It doesn’t have the compositional stylings. It doesn’t have the passion. I didn’t like it the first couple times I listened to it, but soon the tumblers in my life started clicking into place and this album became the theme song to the Great Unlocking. I went downhill skiing for the first time in ten years and fell in love, again. In one weekend of lightning snow I decided to bail out of the music department. I discovered the wit of Lileks. I went skiing over spring break out in Colorado, unburdened by the guilt of not composing, not practicing and not listening for my musical advancement. I bought a snowboard. I was living for myself, not for the practice room. The entire world split open and let me inside.
Weezer: Green and Blue albums: Summer camp, last summer. Cuing up “Don’t Let Go” every time Saturday rolled around and we all trucked down to BW3 for beer and wings. Thomas writing new lyrics to the Sweater Song as we drove to Valley Fair. My lovely Junior Leaders, who made the notorious Seventh Session from Hell one of the best weeks of my life. We spent a lot of time sitting in the cabin at night, digging into this alt-rock nonsense and talking deep crap about music. We spent six days on the river amid huge rocks, the Annihilator, lightning paddlin’ rounds, giant squids and more hobos than you can shake a bindle at.
Matt Pond PA: The Nature of Maps. This semester. My friend Anton introduced me to the geek rock/emo/chamber pop music genre last year, but it wasn’t until this year that I started really listening and understanding the full power of this music. It is the music of English majors and philosophers. Matt Pond writes incredible lyrics that all interrelate across the songs on his albums, and The Nature of Maps is centered around, well, maps. Maps, our surroundings, the seasons, arrival and departure, one’s sense of place, and man’s relationship with the world. I didn’t have any music with me over spring break, but the entire time we were in Oregon this album was flowing across my ears. It’s a short album, clocking in just below forty minutes, but it sings of the complete cyclic nature of change.
I’ve always been obsessed with maps, pouring over them to see what is near me (physically, mentally and spiritually) and what is distant. I love the idea that I can pick up a slab of paper, point to where I am, point to somewhere else, and soon plant my feet in the soil over there. I love contour lines, how they elegantly transform a two dimensional surface into a three dimensional terrain. The Nature of Maps really externalizes the meat behind the connection I feel to maps and the world they represent. It’s not grindingly depressive but it’s not cheeky. It’s thoughtful without being preachy. It’s reflective without being pathetic.
It’s a straight shot of Uncle Ed’s Crazy Thoughtback Sauce.