Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Thanks For The Memories (I'm Too Tired For Originality Today)

So the Guardian has up a thread on songs about memory. Specifically the nature of memory, and the tricks it plays, rather than "Remember that time I screwed that chick? That was awesome!", which I would guess invalidates about 98% of songs which deal with the topic.

Rather than join in the debate over there (which by this point is probably an argument about Muslim immigrants anyway) I thought I'd slap together my top five memory-related songs and display them here.

1. Avalanche - Ryan Adams

In which our alt-country hero finds a picture of a former girlfriend and realises that he can't actually recall who she is. "I can't remember you, remember us, or anything." He's built up so many memories over the years that they've begun to obscure one another, or run together. "She comes apart in the avalanche/ Fades out like a dance". It's a rather depressing reminder that even the people we think are most important to us right now sometimes just fade away given enough time apart.

2. Pictures of You - The Cure

"I've been looking so long at these pictures of you/ That I almost believe that they're real/ I've been living so long with these pictures of you/ That I almost believe that the pictures are all I can feel." At what point have you stopped loving someone, and have just started loving the memory of when you did?

3. My Selective Memory - The Eels

No video for this one, which is a shame as it's a beautiful song (anyone who's heard Fresh Feeling off of the Scrubs soundtrack will already know the string part, E has never been above a spot of "self-sampling"). It's also ridiculously depressing. When the singer sleeps, he has a vision of himself as a baby in the park, whilst someone (perhaps his mother, perhaps his sister) is next to him in a polka-dot dress. She leans in and whispers something in his ear, something that to this day he is sure is "Everything I need to hear". Every time he wakes, though, he can no longer remember what it was. "I wish I could remember/ But my selective memory won't let me." It's the use of the word selective that gets me. Is his memory deliberately hiding what was said? Why? Because it's bound to be a disappointment? Because it might make things worse? Or is his brain just perversely conspiring against him in the way they so often seem to?

4. Hard Candy - Counting Crows

A song about the benefits and perils of memory. On the one hand, whenever the character in the song is dissatisfied, he can reach into his mind and pull out memories of one extraordinary woman he once knew. He can't be sure of the specifics anymore, but that isn't really important anymore. On the other hand, whilst he sleeps he visits his dead mother, only to find that those memories are fading, and with it the comfort they used to bring.

Of course, whilst the specific images may not last forever, the combined effect still lasts, which is why waking in the morning with the sun shining on your face still makes him feel content. His emotional responses still carry memories that his brain has begun to let slip away.

Also, I should note that the album version of this song is somewhat less mental.

5. Chelsea Hotel #2 - Leonard Cohen

I may be cheating a little here, since this is a little closer to a threnody for the departed than a true discussion of memory, but it's my blog and I make the rules. Also, this is probably one of Cohen's best songs, which is really saying something. I guess I can sneak it in on the grounds that Cohen goes into incredible detail about this one memory, the conversation, the location, the (ahem) fellatio, works it all into his usual poetry about the nature of things, and then confesses at the the end that that's really all he remembers about their time together, on the rare occasions that he thinks about it at all. I like the idea that people tend to some up their entire past relationships with just one or two of the most beautiful memories, whilst all the more more mundane or even unpleasant surroundings fade into the distance.

Anyway, those are my picks. Any other suggestions?


Pause said...

No mention of Hurt? For shame.

The Cash version deserves a mention on this list if only for the way a video, and the context of the singer's life, so profoundly changes the meaning of the song. If not unique among 'memory songs' then it must be a pretty rare occurrence, at least to the degree done there.

On a lighter note, the Kinks provide plenty of fairly obvious if not particularly subtle material: Come Dancing, Days and Lola spring to mind for starters.

SpaceSquid said...

I did consider Hurt, and I take your point about the way the video and his life changes the way the song works, I still decided not to include it because it was originally written about regret, not about the way our memories work.