On the Music in My Memories

A heart that’s… full up like a landfill.”

What a beautiful line.

I come back to Radiohead as one of those bands that I’ve neglected for a little while. It seems over the last ten year stretch I’ve drifted in and out of fandom with a hundred different bands. Not that I’ve ever stopped loving them, more that something else has taken pole position in my musical interests, and as I’m slowly discovering over time: the first thing to get my attention is the thing that gets all my attention. Everything else is put on tomorrow’s to-do list and shuffled away in to the interminable future.

So I’ve got this extended list of acts I’ve loved: Radiohead, Bjork, Chick Corea, The Tallest Man on Earth, Gregory Alan Isakov, Keith Jarrett, Missy Higgins, The Staves, E.S.T., Kanye (to compile this list I scroll through my iTunes library from 2010 – 2012). Each of these artists has a massive, diverse back catalogue: a mix of albums I’ve spent afternoons devouring and long car trips absorbing via osmosis, as well as albums I’ve probably never listened to, or at best given a cursory one-off shot and then moved on from. Some albums I’ve given lots of time to and they’ve never stuck, case in point Radiohead’s King of Limbs album which I re-listened to in full this week (for probably the fifth time) and I still don’t like.

After loving on something for a while, the new thing turns up (often times it’s the old thing, ie Ahmad Jamal’s trio definitely took over E.S.T’s place in my listening habits) and this album that I’ve loved and listened to over and over and over for a year is neatly shelved. The music is still there, it exists in physical form in the CD case still in my car, and digital form in 0s and 1s on my computer, and indeed in metaphysical form in my mind’s remembrance of it, but the music pauses for a bit. Of course in a million other places on the planet, a million other humans play these albums, but my specific version of it is on the shelf.

Eventually something re-sparks the album, in this case Chick Corea’s passing and a flood of social media posts, and I remember this artist, this album, this song that accompanied a particularly period of my life.

I remember obsessing over Chick’s Now He Sings, Now He Sobs album. It was around 2008, I was living in Sunbury and studying music. I delivered pizzas for Dominos on the weekends, in my 1983 Toyota Corolla, a rust bucket just barely functioning enough that it could get me up the hill to the converted insane asylum that my student accommodation was housed in. This car had its foibles, one being a literal rust hole beneath my feet where you could see the road passing as you drove. If you went through puddles too fast water would splash up through the hole and wet the backs of your calves. I’d wired up the stereo system myself, accidentally mixing the wires and blowing a string of fuses in a row until Dad realised that I had neatly attached all of the wires to a metal plate in the car, short-circuiting with a spark and a puff of smoke every time I turned the car on.

The stereo system’s head unit (early 2000s) was much newer than the car speakers, so they didn’t function well together. There was a running joke amongst my friends that you could always tell when there was a bass solo because suddenly the music would stop completely. The speakers couldn’t handle low frequencies, so the CD would just spin aimlessly, occasionally whispering out cymbal sounds or piano comping figures with a totally silent bass solo below.

I discovered Chick by accident. Probably through Steve, my main progenitor of good taste in music. I stumbled through the Elektrik band phase (bit too many notes for me, thanks Frank Gambale), wandered in to his Akoustic band phase (a little too 80s in the drum sounds, thanks Dave Weckl) and then moved back to his early trio days. Now He Sings, Now He Sobs is the epitome of this for me. It’s Chick in visceral improvised format. The songs are less arranged than any of the larger band stuff he went on to later on in his career. There’s an urgency to the music and a busyness in the playing, possibly spurred on by the exuberance of youth. There’s a heavy borrowing from Romantic music (something I hear in most of Chick’s music if I’m honest), there’s intense up-tempo bop and a couple of completely freely improvised tunes. The band is on fire (as Roy Haynes always was), and Roy Hayne’s flat ride cymbal spurred a literal lifetime of conversations amongst the jazz drum community. Check out Chick talking about it here.

I’m amazed by how much of this music still exists in my memory. As I listen to the opening notes I’m pulled back to the time I lived within it. I hum melodies and recall track orders, find the section where I skipped my CD back through a ten second loop over and over to try and pull out one of Roy’s phrases on the drums. This album that I haven’t listened to for over ten years is somehow hard-coded in to my memory, and with it a a million other memories of those years, that music, myself.

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