It seems every trip comes with its own theme song.
If one were to observe me, for a short period of time leading up to a trip (let's say a week), one would find it easy to predict, and with great accuracy, what the song is going to be. Four days prior to leaving for New Jersey in June, I discovered a fan video on Youtube for Phoenix's "Lisztomania," where footage from various John Hughes films was spliced together to create a (very good) alternative video. I believe, though I could be mistaken here, that Phoenix have even commented that the video was better than the one they created themselves. At any rate, the video caused me to fall in love with the song, and in the seventeen hours between Chicago and New Jersey, I listened to it somewhere in the neighbourhood of thirty times. It was enough that it's still the top song on my iTunes Most Played list, where it has remained unchallenged; That is, of course, until now.
On Wednesday, I left for Boston. The train ride, a near-orgasmic twenty-three hour sojourn, was soundtracked by Annie's "Heartbeat." Again, the circumstances were similar. While I did not discover any video on Youtube, I heard the song, for the first time, five days prior. There's something about that temporal proximity, I think, which allows the song to be at just the right amount of familiar; and there's something about a trip that just screams out for a theme.
This didn't used to require a special occasion. Before the invention of the iPod, music was as much a reminder of time and place as it was performing a function unto itself. Bob, for example, doesn't listen to many CDs, and he certainly doesn't own an iPod; because of the aforementioned, he still gets a rush when he listens to his favourite song, Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run." Don't get me wrong, we all get a rush when we listen to our favourite song; that's part of why it is our favourite. But it's different for Bob than it is for me when I hear "Care of Cell 44," or "No Thugs in Our House." (The jury remains out on which will claim the top prize)
For Bob, listening to "Born to Run" isn't just a great experience because it's his favourite song, but also because it instantly transports him back to when he was seventeen, when he heard that song the most often. There's a fair chance he could even tell you the first time he heard the song. And every time he listens to it, he's reminded of youth, of what he did, of how it felt (The good parts... the bad parts, one can only hope, were assigned to something like Supertramp). I imagine he has that same experience, albeit less intense in most cases, with a lot of songs. That is, of course, why oldies stations work. It's not because they're playing old music, it's because they're playing music that can instantly transport the listener back to the time when they first heard the songs.
Because of the iPod, though, we no longer associate songs with particular times or places. I'm not blaming it for that, but I feel like something is being lost. Of course, it's happening slowly. Bob gets taken back by songs on the radio constantly. I had a young high school teacher with a strong memory attached to "Zombie," and the entirety of that album, by The Cranberries. For myself, there are three songs I know that instantly transport me back to a time or a place, and all of them happened while I was on a vacation: "Home and Dry" by Pet Shop Boys takes me back to New Years 2007, sitting in the guest bedroom of Chris Kopency's house, looking at the freshly fallen snow on the yard through the window. When I listen to it, I can see the room, I can feel the bedspread I was sitting on, I can sense that sense of insulation you always seem to carry around in the deep winter with fresh snow. "Lisztomania" reminds me of that trip, of the sense of excitement and promise (it was my first adult vacation, where I paid for it and everything). "Heartbeat" will, I believe, forever remind me of this trip to Boston.
Now, of course, we'll always attach songs to time periods. "Poker Face" will be attached to my Junior year of college for the rest of my life, or at least to my college years when I get older and start forgetting such details. That's natural. But these songs are going to stop having that immediate, strong connection, that major tie that pulls at you and can literally make you forget where you are. And how magical is that? That's what music is about. Taking us outside of ourselves, to another time, to remember, to experience things we've longed forgotten how to. If you need me for the next four minutes and twenty-one seconds, I'll be on that bedspread. And all I have to do is press play.