A glass too much?

I often read about how smell is the most evocative of senses, the one most closely linked to memories, a single scent bringing back waves of feelings and thoughts and emotions unbidden.

I buy that, on some plane, but I think that the sense of hearing . . . of hearing songs, most specifically . . . is far more evocative for me. I’m a music geek, so I suppose that’s to be expected, but I can pretty much give you a very detailed accounting of my surroundings and feelings the first time I heard just about any song I can remember. My mental archives are all indexed to what I was listening to at different obsessive stages in my musical development.

From Simon and Garfunkel to Steppenwolf to Wings to Steely Dan to Jethro Tull.

From Emerson Lake and Palmer to Genesis to Peter Gabriel to King Crimson to Roxy Music to XTC to the Clash.

From the Dead Kennedys to the Butthole Surfers to Black Flag to Bauhaus and their spawn.

From Einsturzende Neubauten to Robyn Hitchcock to the Jazz Butcher to Foetus to Big Black to Swans to Killdozer to the Birthday Party to Nick Cave to Hawkwind to Fundadelic (I often obsess about things in non-chronological order, obviously).

From Coil to the Chemical Brothers to the Residents to Snog . . . and then back through a lot of the list again, picking up CDs to replace old dodgy vinyl.

My enjoyment of the new Jethro Tull Christmas Album made me go pull out a bunch of my old Tull albums today, and I had one of those music-dredging-up-acute-memories experiences that I described at the beginning of this rambling post.

The album in question is The Broadsword and the Beast, and the song is “Flying Colours.” I bought this album when it came out, very shortly after one of the most deep, significant romantic/emotional relationships of my youth came to its first full stop. (We got back together a year or so later, and then went through another traumatic breakup a few years later after that).

Ian Anderson isn’t known for being one of the world’s romantic lyricists, but the song “Flying Colors” just absolutely stung me as I was nursing my hurt: I liked the song, but I physically couldn’t listen to to it at the time, because listening to it was like looking in a mirror and not liking what I saw. Here’s the words:

Shout if you will, but that just won’t do.
I, for one, would rather follow softer options.
I’ll take the easy line; another sip of wine,
and if I ignore the face you wore it’s just a way of mine
to keep from flying colours.

Don’t lay your bait while the whole world waits
around to see me shoot you down, it’s all so second-rate.
When we can last for days on a loving night;
or for hours at least on a warm whisper given.
We always pick the best time to rise to the fight.
To break the hard bargain that we’ve driven.
Once again we’re flying colours.

I thought we had it out the night before,
and settled old scores, but not the hard way.
Was it a glass too much? Or a smile too few?
Did our friends all catch the needle match, did we want them to?

In a fancy restaurant we were all aglow
keeping cool by mutual permission.
How did the conversation get to where we came to blows?
We were set up in a red condition
and again we’re flying colours.

Shout, but you see it still won’t do.
With my colours on I can be just as bad as you.
Have I had a glass too much? Did I give a smile too few?
Did our friends all catch the needle match, did we want them to?

We act our parts so well, like we wrote the play.
All so predictable and we know it.
We’ll settle old scores now, and settle the hard way.
We may not even live to outgrow it!
Once again we’re flying colours.

I hadn’t thought about that song in years, but when I put the album on tonight . . . bang! those feelings were right here, right now, me once again thinking “Wow, how was I such an idiot screw-up to blow that amazingly good thing? Self-destructiveness? Obliviousness? Cruelty? Masochism?” There were no good answers, then or now, just stinging hurt. Mind well: it isn’t that I want to go back in time to fix or change things or anything like that (I am most very happy with my life and loves today), but it’s just that this song is so hard-connected in my brain to those emotions that hearing it brings them right back up to the front of the mental queue. Far more vividly than any smell would, I think.

Now I’m listening to Tull’s Thick As A Brick, which makes me think of Jim Pitt, my bestest friend from Mitchel Field days, with whom I used to obsess about all matters Tull. Problem is, Jim was killed in the Lockerbie airplane bombing some few years later, so there are sad associations there, too. Guess I’d better find a Tull album with some happy associations before I dig up too many dark spots.

Stormwatch, for instance. That’s the soundtrack for me to Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy, which I read for the first time at Mitchel Field (with Jim) while listening to that album over and over again. It’s a grim trilogy (and a dark album), but it’s one of my favorite reads of all time, with one of my favorite characters, one that makes me happy in its grimness, for the sheer exuberance and poetry of the words that Peake used to tell his incredible tale in the years before mental illness and premature senility destroyed his creative capabilities and killed him.

Nothing better than a good dark wallow to cheer one up, I suppose, ideally with an evocative soundtrack!

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