I was at the main library last week, browsing through the music collection when I came across a CD that was familiar, though I never knew it existed. When I was young I remember very little of the flight to Australia to visit my relatives other than that I apparently didn't have a Walkman and so was forced to select from the channels offered by the airline, plugging those horrid ear clamps with the little foam plugs on the ends. There was only one channel of interest to an eight-year-old girl, and it featured a selection of current pop hits. I listened to the same ten songs over and over and over, for hour after hour. Back then the whole trip, along with layovers, took something like forty-eight hours door to door. We flew from New York to LA, and from there to Sydney with a fuel stop in Fiji, then on a small plane to Wagga Wagga (which is just fun to say) and then it was another two hours by car to the small town where my Nana lived, and an hour beyond that to the family Sheep Station. It was that long leg from the US to Australia that these songs were burned into my memory. I don't think it's odd for a song to bring back memories, but it was this specific collection.
As you may have guessed, last week I found it: Billboard Top Hits 1983. I fell in love with Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart," "Down Under" by Men at Work is probably why they selected this collection. I remember "Making Love Out of Nothing at All" by Air Supply, "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" by Culture Club, "Electric Avenue" by Eddy Grant, "Africa" by Toto, "Maniac" by Michael Sembello, "Stray Cat Strut" by Stray Cats...but here's the odd thing. There's one song, "Jeopardy" by Greg Kihn Band that I have absolutely no memory of. All the others are so memorable. I also vaguely remember discovering an Australian singer named Jason Donovan, and I think it was also on the plane playlist. Maybe they replaced "Jeopardy" with one of his songs?
Anyway, it got me to thinking of the albums that I connect with certain fond memories. En Vogue's "Funky Divas" was the first tape I played in my first car, a gun mental gray Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme with a dent down one side--I added a matching dent to the other side when I drove too close to a low stone wall a month after I got my license. It was the first time I drove with my friends in the car (my parents were right to make me wait to drive with anyone else, though apparently I should have waited longer). The Reality Bites soundtrack tape on a cheap Walkman entertained me on the plane ride to and from Peru when I was in college (Lisa Loeb's "Stay" was my favorite track). Then there was the Original Cast Album of Titanic, The Musical that I blasted on the new sound system of my first new car, a 1997 Honda Accord. I think I might have to use it again for testing out sound systems when I shop for my next car, both for nostalgia and because there's great range in some of the songs. Some albums just shine on a great sound system for some reason, and though this isn't one of my particular favorites in general, it serves this purpose.
As I thought over the memorable albums, I realized they all came at the beginning of a new experience or journey, and all had to do with travel. Some books are like that as well, though are usually part of the journey. I remember, when I spent a summer studying in Spain, stumbling upon a drugstore in Madrid selling Penguin Classics just when I was starved for a fresh book in my native tongue. I devoured Rudyard Kipling's Kim while fielding questions from my baffled roommate, an Econ major from Texas, with monosyllabic responses: "So, you don't have to read that." "No." "It's not for class?" "No." "But it's a classic?" "Yes." "But you don't have to read it." "No." "So, why are you?" "Because it's good." "But it's a classic." "Yes." I swear, we had this same exchange at least a dozen times as I discovered other favorites: plays by Oscar Wilde, and Anthony Trollope's Lady Anna being the most memorable. That was also the summer I read my first romance novel, Surrender My Love by Johanna Lindsey, which was left by a previous boarder--I'd never finished a book that thick that fast, and I couldn't put it down. Two summers and many romances later I would read Once and Always in England just after graduating college, and within a month of returning I'd land my first job working with its author, Judith McNaught, as an editorial assistant to a romance editor. All those years studying classics, only to find I should have been reading romance to prepare for my career!
Memory is a funny thing. I can't help but wonder what books and albums will capture a period or a change in my life next....