I have always loved listening to rock music–especially classic rock. I listen to it all the time, even at work (though of course when I’m at work I keep the volume down so my colleagues don’t think too badly of me.) Right now, in fact, as I begin writing this post, I am cranking John Mellencamp’s Scarecrow album. Classic rock plays a fairly important role in “Green Bay Outsiders”, the second story in the upcoming collection of short stories entitled Three Billy Maddox Stories. (The first story, of course, is the already-completed story, “Billy and Darla“).
If you read my last post about the impact of decision-making on our lives, you know that the young protagonist, Carl Daniels, is mentored to some degree by his Uncle Jack Billings. In one scene, held by a crackling firepit behind the bait shop of one of Jack’s friends, Carl starts pouring out his troubles to his uncle as the radio plays in the background. Among the tunes that fill the night sky as they chat and drink are Rainmaker by Traffic and Time of the Season by the Zombies.
Those two songs hearken back to the 1960s, which was Jack’s era. He was a Vietnam vet raised on classic rock music. Carl has gotten to know that music well through spending time with his uncle.
Carl is too young though to recognize the significant impact of music on memory. He’s just not old enough yet. And yet I, Author Jay Lemming, find my memories stirred by the John Mellencamp album. I can remember times I listened to it as a teenager and, maybe, a few times later on in life. I would imagine the same is true for Jack Billings, whose defining experience is participation in the Vietnam War, especially during the Tet Offensive of 1968.
If literary stories are intended to reflect the human experience, music must play an essential role. I’m sure people much smarter than me have researched and theorized why music can have such a soul-touching impact. Music from our past tends to play funny tricks with the idea of time. Music reminds us of who we were, and what we used to think and feel. Understanding who we were helps define who we are today due to the fact that we can reflect on how much we either share or don’t share the same characteristics of our past selves.
Some songs have become definitive of certain eras. “Time of the Season” is one. “House of the Rising Sun” and “Hotel California” are others. Springsteen’s Born in the USA would qualify. Classic rock, for some reason, does a great job of defining segments of life that we return to in memory.
Carl Daniels will never understand what Jack Billings’ songs mean to his uncle. But the point of the story “Green Bay Outsiders” is that it gives a young adult a glimpse into an older adult’s world, and the pleasures and the pains of growing older.
Music is like a tunnel back in time, bitter occasionally perhaps if it drums up bad memories, but good most of the time as it reminds us of the ribbon of our lives along with its peaks and valleys. Carl hasn’t experienced that all yet but by listening to Traffic in the yard behind his uncle’s friend’s bait shop, he knows one day he will.
What are some of your favorite songs from your past? What memories do they stir in you?