Sound memories

I’ve always found sense memories to be terribly interesting phenomena.

My most intense sense memory involves the texture and flavor of pancakes with butter and apricot syrup at a Perkins somewhere near what I think was Omaha when I was somewhere around the age of 7ish. I think we were coming home from a funeral for a great uncle and got caught in a plains blizzard on the interstate but in particular the warmth and sweet/tart/sweet/buttery flavor of those pancakes in a warm room at a table with my family is one of my most enduring and cherished memories. I often wonder if that is what I am trying to recreate when I go out with friends and family for dinner as an adult. There is something significant about the feeling of comfort, joy, and connection with my family in that memory that I can almost put into words.

While I have other taste memories (sweetbreads at Cosmos with Lauren) and certainly many visual memories (the synaesthetically “noisy” red backdrop to an exhibit at the Minnesota History Center with Heidi), many of the most emotionally intense sense memories are essentially audio cues centered around music. It’s pretty obvious to me that one of the reasons why music is associated with such strongly emotional memories is that for as long as I can remember I have always used music as a sort of proxy to structure my thoughts.

My brain, like almost anyone else’s as far as I can tell, is a fantastically active place. Thoughts do not occur in isolation so much as they occur in chains and groups alongside other chains and groups and emotion can be a component of those thoughts or sometimes more of a medium that the thoughts are moving through. When it is working well it’s a lot like a big pot of boiling pasta with the varying textures of the vaporizing water and the bobbling pasta shapes dancing around at the top of a startlingly clear medium that siphons off easily and quickly through my hands and mouth and body to manifest in the world. At it’s very worst it seems more like an impenetrable pool of magma that is painful to handle and flows exactly like the fire that it is. Searing and destroying everything in it’s path. Music allows me to sift the particulates in a cloudy medium and settles the roiling boil so that I can actually see what is going on rather than simply having to guess at the contents from the random stew at the surface.

My first music focused sense memory involves sitting in my dad’s car in the parking lot of Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids on a cool fall day with the sort of intense sun that makes it impossible to keep at a comfortable level between baking and chilled. We had just arrived but we were taking a few minutes to finish listening to one of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos on the radio before MPR had separate classical and news stations. It was one of the remarkably rare times I remember my dad sitting with the car off and the radio on with the volume up. I don’t know why we where there that particular time, though at a guess it was almost certainly to visit one of his parishioners who was in the hospital for one reason or another.

That example aside, it feels like many of the music memories are related to relationships, and romantic relationships more often than not. They Might Be Giant‘s album “Flood“, the song “Birdhouse in your Soul” in particular, for the interminable week it took me to call my first girlfriend up for a first date. Public Image Limited‘s song “Rise” and The Godfather‘s album “Unreal World” punctuates everything about the relationships with old friends during the summer between high school and college and the implicit and explicit transitions that where happening. Enigma‘s album “The Cross of Changes” for the new friends found at college shortly thereafter. Morphine‘s album “Cure for Pain” as the intensely stereotypical soundtrack for the breakup with my girlfriend from college. Midnight Oil‘s song “Been away too long” and the rest of the “Capricornia” album when Betsy left me that also signaled ends and beginnings to so very, very many things.

I think I can count myself lucky that it has happened often enough that I actually come to recognize that the memory is being formed while it is happening. It’s not a conscious effort, it just seems to be something that I do. Since I use music to organize the screaming mess in my head it is a very natural event for me. This has the obvious upside of proving that I have at least a glimmer of self awareness but also has the accompanying stark terror of the absolute unknown since I do not know what will end up being frozen in that crystal of amber when the moment has completed.

Whatever this piece of amber will contain, it’s soundtrack is going to be Sufjan Steven‘s album “Illinois“.

Last Train Home

I think I spent about 10 hours listening to live music yesterday. It might have been 11, but it’s hard to remember precisely at this point. There is one particular good, and one particular not-so-good observation I have from yesterday however.

Good: SPF30 sunscreen, applied early enough, does actually keep me from roasting my skin and repeating last year’s idiocy of getting a burn on my knees bad enough to make walking painful.

Not-so-good: The last run on the LRT from the Nicollet Mall station leaves at 1:18am. I had thought I had seen that the last train was at around 2:30, but it turns out that is the last train heading into town, not out. However cabs seem to be quite plentiful at even that time and are not actually hideously expensive when there is a good driver who doesn’t try any shenanigans and takes you exactly the route you would have told them.

After the great time I had on Friday, I was excited to get back downtown and I arrived in time to see the Apple Valley High School Jazz Ensemble 1 who seemed to be a pretty decent high school big band, but was not quite what I was looking for at that point in the day so as soon as I heard the main stage start up I headed down there and was quite glad that I did. Bill Crutcher and Work In Progress had started their set and played a great mix of stuff. I have to say that I have a weakness for good vibraphone playing and despite the only good seating available at this time being the acres of baking concrete in the hot early afternoon sun it was great to hear someone of his caliber playing. The rest of the band was also very good and it’s too bad they didn’t have a slightly better position on the schedule.

I stuck around for the MITY performance and was fairly impressed with a fair amount of it. In particular one of their pianists sounds like he might have a promising future, and already has a distinctive image with a wild mane of long curly hair. I popped back to the Dakota Foundation stage for the last half of the Kelly Rossum Quartet who is always good. I had managed to remember to get cash, so I got two of his CDs for a bargain price as well.

Then it was dinner at Masa on the street. I had the Puerco Veracruzana and a Mayan Margarita. The salsas served with the chips are exceptional, and the pork was very good, but the Mayan Margarita was very slightly disappointing in that I had been hoping for something a bit more understated and delicate than the seize-my-mouth-with-both-hands experience that I got. Toned down a bit I think it would be a great drink but as it stands it’s just too much. Or maybe I’m just pining for the only really truly amazing margarita I’ve ever had, at Chapultepec in Chicago a couple of years ago. Next time I’ll try the Sangria Blanca instead since that was the other option I had been thinking off. (While I’m talking about Masa, it is both great and a little strange to see a restaurant of that caliber with a To-Go menu on their website. Yet another reason to miss working downtown.)

Finished dinner in perfect time to get a good seat for Paul Stubblefield, who I felt kind of bad for. He’s obviously a pretty good entertainer, but the crowd just didn’t seem to be working for him. Though maybe my use of the word “Entertainer” is kind of telling since he did come across as a classic Las Vegas lounge act. That does have it’s place, but maybe not at a Jazz Festival at prime time. He did have a split set with 19 year old sax phenom Alex Han and I can’t help thinking that I’m not the only one who might have rather seen a full set from Alex in the first place. He’s intensity and improvisation skill had some of the crowd on their feet a couple of times and with Taylor Tanner, Gordy Johnson, and Kevin Washington playing rhythm they were a shoe-in for an encore that was fantastic.

After that it was a fairly quick setup for Charmaine Neville to come out and top it all off the right way. I had not known she could do that sort of Louis Armstrong impersonation, and she used it to pretty good effect. Not quite enough to make it a gimmick but enough to show what sort of range she’s got. Her band was absolutely stellar too, and I’m really glad that she has them warm up the crowd with a song before she gets on stage.

After that it was a quick walk up to the Dakota where I caught the end of Willie West and the festival jam session over an order of the really tasty french fries, which the Dakota serves with an excellent Bearnaise sauce. It was pretty obvious that people were thinking along the same lines I had been when the last combo on the stage included both Grace Kelly and Alex Han. After trading solos with the rest of the band for the first 20min, Kevin Washington finally goaded them into doing an improvisation duet that was exactly the kind of music I had been hoping to hear staying up for the jam. Trading licks like they did was a great end to the evening and the right note to go home on.

My armchair observation: Grace Kelly needs the polish that Alex Han has developed over the 5 years that he’s been playing to be a great musician, but Alex needs to work on the stage presence that Grace has already gotten to be a great entertainer. I’m fairly certain that All Grace needs is time to develop the polish, but I wonder if Alex will ever look really comfortable speaking to the crowd on stage.

Off to day 3, which should be full of really great latin jazz on the main stage.

If it wasn’t true before…

The East Lake St upswing continues it’s stratospheric ascent with this news in the Strib that the owner of Azia (and a few other noteworthy local restaurants) is putting in two new restaurants in the area. The former Ember’s/House of Lalibela/Molly Quin’s Irish Pub at 33rd and Lake is going to be a pan-asian place, and then he’s going to top that by putting in something called the “Manhattan Martini Lounge” at 35th and Lake. Both due before Thanksgiving, it should make for even more wonderful options for dining this fall.