If you know me, you know that I am a very sentimental person. Sometimes I live in my memories. It’s a place I like to hide, a doorway that I run through in the night. There are triggers for this, not in a Millennial, “Oh noe I’m triggered!” kind of way, but more in a way that I find I am walking down the street and the smell of a certain kind of perfume, air before a rainstorm, or even cigarettes, or baking bread will ignite something in my mind. For a second I am far away, swept back in time. The haze and fog of the years are parted and I’m 17, or 20, or maybe even 7 again. Smell is a very powerful trigger. Perhaps one of the most deeply rooted in our senses, and one which we take for granted.
There are all sorts of other triggers too, but music has to be a close second to smell. Today I am listening to old songs I love and letting the nostalgia wash over me. This song in particular can stir up all sorts of memories. I was 17 the first time I heard it. A friend of mine had lent me Mother Love Bone’s album, which at the time was everything they had been able to scrounge up for the band. The lead singer, Andrew Wood, entered rock Valhalla after a heroin overdose at the dawn of grunge. MLB’s music was pretty much just hairmetal with a bit of blues and some drop D chords. Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, and others that went on to form more popular bands such as Pearl Jam, Screaming Trees, and the grunge supergroup tribute to Andy Wood which was Temple of the Dog.
I know about this stuff because back in the early 90s, I ate, drank, and breathed the stuff. I’m not going to get into Green River and all the other spinoff groups, or how Andy and Chris Cornell of Soundgarden were roomies in Seattle (too late!), or how this music brought the stagnation of metal and hard rock out of the glam years of spandex and Aquanet and back to just some guys who could play a couple chords and went from their garages to packing stadiums. No, Mother Love Bone is more obscure stuff, reserved for music snobs and people who never got over being 17. At the time, this music encapsulated an era for me. One that I continue to revisit if I smell desert flowers, the diesel exhaust off a bus on a city street at night, or when I just want to go to a quiet place. Like a long drive in the middle of the night, at the edge of nowhere, just to clear my head.
I remember being young when I hear this song. But oddly enough, it’s a song that continues to follow me through the years. There is something timeless about it that grows with me. Something new I get out of it every time I hear it. Sometimes its just a quiet moment on the highway while my kids are asleep and I am left alone with my thoughts. Music is the best way to show someone who you are in a very abstract way. For a brief moment, the music you carry with you is like a river that you pull with you across a desert, and when you meet someone, your rivers converge when you share your music. Sometimes there are rapids and other times, it is a pure moment when everything just flows together perfectly. When you hear their music, it opens up doors in the fortress of your heart you had forgotten there were even rooms for. It opens up the curtains and lets light pour in.
Nostalgia loses its potency the more you revisit those memories. After a while you can become desensitized to the moment they brought back. You remember the remembering and not the emotion or true presence of the moment. This is what is painful of nostalgia. It’s the dream that fades away, leaving when you awake and wondering why you can never return there. That’s why it is best to keep creating new memories, living new experiences. We don’t just get those pearls of perfection a few times in our youth or young adulthood. We should keep looking for them as we go. They are abundant.
As a writer, I tend to get lost in my memories. I document them in subtle and not so subtle ways in my stories. Sometimes I run the risk of getting lost in those times, of letting them pull me under and sweep me away. Sometimes I have to detach, stop writing, and come back to the Now. Sometimes when I write those moments, they are spent, like striking a match and letting it burn. The life and fire of that moment gone in a flash and all that remains is knowing that the moment was used well, though now it is flat on the page. It now belongs to someone else.
Sometimes it’s important to not be greedy with memories and hoard them. When I am gone, those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain (thanks, Roy Batty, for that gem). But sometimes you should be careful just how much you give away. Keep some to yourself, but as a momento, not as something that keeps you from growing. It isn’t good to have moments that are insurmountable either. Keeping those treasures around just means you are holding on too tightly to the past. When you do that, you can’t reach out for what comes next.