By Kristen Maciejowski
Music often has the power to transport me instantly back in time.
When it comes to association, I’d argue sound is a more powerful and triggering than any of our other senses. This particular form of time travel can be set off by a riff and be finished by the end of the song. Occasionally though, the trip can last the length of an album. The only downfall to this method of transportation is the inability to control where we end up. Yet with practice, I believe we can learn how to navigate our minds accordingly.
During my travels, I often end up back in painful moments. I doubt, though, this happens solely due to a deep-seated wish to punish myself. It’s more likely caused by some inherent need to search through the wreckage of my past for a bit of understanding that I can apply to my present day life.
Both of my grandparents died within a week of each other that Spring when Kings of Leon’s Only by Night album came out. All the tracks listed have the ability to bring me back to a time where people were clad in black and consumed with massive amounts of both grief and alcohol had surrounded me.
My memories of that time are bittersweet however.
I remember feeling the loss of my grandparents but more so, feeling the crushing helplessness because there was nothing I could do to ease my own mother’s pain. She had fallen from her parental pedestal a long time before that. However, I believe it was the first time I could see how truly vulnerable she was. It was then I realized how susceptible we are—at any age—to the agony of losing our parents. It’s guaranteed to ruin us and yet there is the inevitable rebirth that comes from surviving death.
The sweetness of Only by Night is the reminder of a freedom from that knowledge that I found that year. It wasn’t a physical transformation you could see, but it was one I could feel. The kind of steadfastness that only comes from the first time brush with mortality and its partner, forgiveness. People always talk about this concept but you’re never actually sure of its existence until you experience it.
I turned 21 the year I truly discovered Wilco. I had just moved back in with my parents after a particularly nasty, loud and dramatic break up. My method of healing, a relatively healthy choice for my age, was to walk the nearby trails with my dog pondering the crazy turn of events.
Wilco tunes now make me think of trees, long grass, summer breezes and all that sunshine that cleansed the sadness out of my body. I always feel instantly cheered when Jesus Etc. comes on and to this day, I still smell the sandalwood perfume I wore, whenever I hear the opening bars of Wilco’s, How To Fight Loneliness.
Jack Johnson will forever remind me of my first adult relationship and along with that, my first adult heartbreak. Banana Pancakes was the song I couldn’t listen to for a very long time, and though I can listen to it now, it still fills me with deep sadness and regret. When Here Comes Your Man, by The Pixies starts to play, I’m transported to a patio, dimly lit by Christmas lights, where the same man is singing this song to me in front of a bar of strangers. This is a time that exists before things fell apart; before I had sabotaged anything and everything I could get my hands on.
Not only do we develop associations, but also a certain ownership to music and bands. When you’re in love, joint ownership is our natural inclination. At other times, sole custody seems like the only sane choice.
Nick Hornby’s main character Rob from High Fidelity, says it all by describing how he’ll spend one of his first nights after a breakup.
“Me, I’ll be playing the Beatles when I get home. Abbey Road, probably, although I’ll program the CD to skip over Something. The Beatles were bubblegum cards and Help at the Saturday morning cinema and toy plastic guitars and singing Yellow Submarine at the top of my voice in the back row of the coach on school trips. They belong to me, not to me and Laura, or me and Charlie, or me and Alison Ashworth and though they’ll make me feel something, they won’t make me feel anything bad.”
While this discovery may seem double edged as a blessing and a curse, it can be used to help and heal the past. Turning on the radio can seem a very dangerous thing to do, especially if you’re still reeling from some recent emotional disaster. Hearing what was once your favourite song has the potential to bring on a sickness that will rock you to your core. I urge you though, to resist the urge to immediately change the song. Listen, really hear what your body is telling you and be transported back to whatever time you need to.
It will probaby hurt like hell and feel like you’re dragging your heart through the mud but if you really listen to what not only the song, but your heart and consciousness is trying to tell you, something will click for you. Usually it’s an awareness or an inner knowing that comes to light. Trust that feeling, even if it’s an awareness that momentarily brings you more pain, I promise you, we are here to learn and those growing pains, well, they hurt.
It’s as simple as that. Healing our wounds, however, always serves us more than letting them fester unseen or unheard.
As many of us do, my tendency is to listen to albums over and over again until I’m sick of them. Then I usually move on. Some people or things have the capacity to stick though, just as certain bands do. The Tragically Hip, the Beatles and certainly Elton John will never be displaced from my life.
For those other more temporary loves and for better or for worse, I’ve discovered a way to transport myself back.
Kristen Maciejowski is a journalism student turned Art student turned academic nomad, she is currently adding Social Work to the list of programs that has piqued her interest. She tends to enjoy the company of her dog Celtic to most people, although there are a few certain humans she loves to snuggle up with, as well, usually whilst consuming a few pots of tea with, chatting about life, the Universe and other wondrous things. Yoga and Buddhist philosophy has changed Kristen’s life and helped her recover from herself.
Editor: Dana Gornall