Early musical memories
A little while ago, I mentioned that I would try to write about music that had made a significant impact on my life. I packed my bags and moved to a foreign country to do a PhD in the history of jazz and rock criticism. I look around my bedroom, and the floor is absolutely littered with books and magazines about music. The Birth of Bebop, Shakey: Neil Young’s Biography, Route 666: On The Road To Nirvana, old issues of Down Beat and Rolling Stone, to name but a few. I’ve got an acoustic guitar that my folks gave me for Christmas in 1999, and a bag full of cymbals and drumsticks behind my door. CDs are piled precariously on top of each other. Posters of Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, and the Beatles decorate my wall. And I’m frikkin’ twenty-five years old. Will I ever grow out of this? Do I want to?
And how did I get here? With that question in mind (the first two were rhetorical), I thought I’d share some of my earliest musical memories.
Nursery rhymes. I can remember my mother playing with me and teaching me nursery rhymes. I don’t remember being especially fascinated with the rhythms, although I’m sure that was part of their appeal even though I wasn’t consciously aware of it. I do remember loving the anticipation that accompanied cadences in rhymes and their corresponding actions, like my mum wiggling my toes as she recited “This little piggy.” I also remember mum singing lullabies and other children’s songs to me. “Old MacDonald had a farm.” “The hokey pokey.” “Three blind mice.” “The itsy bitsy spider.” “Rock-a-bye baby” when she tucked me into bed at night. Unfortunately, the trouble with these memories is that I’ve since seen them re-enacted many times with other children (mostly my first cousins, of which I have, um, at least forty), so I can’t tell whether I’m recalling my own individual memories of the songs, or merely constructing memories based on witnessing my young cousins experience similar early musical moments.
Toys. Unlike nursery rhymes, I know that these memories belong to me, because my musical toys were unique. First of all, I had a porcelain Beatrix Potter “Peter Rabbit” figurine. Peter Rabbit held two carrots, and stood on a circular base that was painted to look like a grassy meadow. Inside the base was a music box, which could be wound up from underneath, causing Peter to spin with the music. I can’t remember the tune in detail, but I'm now aware that a song exists called "Here Comes Peter Cottontail," and it was probably that. Our family also had a clown doll with a music box that you could wind up by cranking his bright red nose. This may have belonged to my sister, who is twenty months younger than I am, but I liked it so much that I twisted the nose right off. From then on, the clown took on a rather menacing quality, boasting disturbing looking metal screw where the nose should have been. But I remember trying to twist it anyway to get the tunes locked behind the spooky face.
Television. In my early childhood, television meant Sesame Street. And let me tell you, the most vital music has always come from the street. There are really too many good songs to mention on that show, but some highlights were the song about the number 12 (someone later told me this was sung by the Pointer Sisters), the theme from “Captain Vegetable,” and a chilled-out lounge piece called “Everybody Sleeps.” Awesome.
Records. The first recorded music I can remember liking is stuff from Raffi and Sharon, Lois & Braham. Both Raffi and SL&B are Canadian children’s recording artists. Raffi had some absolutely classic songs like “Baby Beluga” and “Brush Your Teeth.” But most of all I remember a number called “Joshua Giraffe.” It was about a giraffe who got locked up in a zoo (“what could he do?”) and dreamt of escaping into the jungle (“nothing can go wrong-o / I’m in the congo!”). Apparently, the first concert I ever went to was a performance by Sharon, Lois and Braham, who were best known for having a big elephant (actually someone dressed up in an elephant costume) as their mascot. I don’t remember attending the concert, but my mum has told me that there wasn’t much to remember: apparently the elephant came racing down the theatre aisles at the beginning of the show and stopped right in front me, at which point I screamed blue murder until my mum had to carry me out of the theatre. Since that time, I’ve learned to enjoy concerts a bit more.
OK, that about covers it for early musical memories. I felt I had to cover the basics before proceeding further in other impactful musical moments. Are any of your own early memories resonating with that action?
Posted by matt at 04:24 PM