by Dr. Kathryn Woodcock, 1991
Today, the radio gave forth with a tuggingly familiar bass line. It was one of the “lesser” tunes not played too often, but there’s nothing quite like McCartney on bass. The recollections flooded to my head. First year university, the Residence, the floor parties, mandarin oranges, that pop machine that had bottles in it, flunking calculus … you know how evocative music is of particular places and times, and the feelings you were having? Thoughts and memories long forgotten are unearthed at the sound of a particular song. You want to feel like your high school formal? Just pop a tape onto the stereo and all you have to do is dream, dream dream dream…
Except,…was I wrong? I kept waiting for the bass intro to lead into the first verse of the song, but the song seemed to be all bass. My first impression was that my guess had been wrong. But still, it resonated with familiarity. Though I couldn’t be sure that it was the song the bass intro had resembled, I was having a sinking feeling that it was that song after all. Except it was gone, gone for good, leaving just a trace of that inimitable left handed guitar to tease and taunt me: standing starkly in relief without competition from other instruments.
To be ambushed by the loss of this song shook me. Not from unexpectedness, because it was entirely predictable, in the abstract. That is what a progressive hearing loss is like. Like becoming blind by having first the red objects disappear, then the green ones,… And I wasn’t mourning the part of the song that was gone. The erosion of this song was a tragedy for me for the pleasure I could take in the part that was left. And the certain knowledge that that perfect bass would soon fade the way of the sax. Taking a favoured tune not partially, but entirely away.
I mourned the imminent loss not so much of the acoustical beauty of the sound as the emotive value attached to the song. What will I do when the rest disappears? For now, I could regenerate the missing instruments in my mind—a sort of mental karaoke. I can even live without the music of tomorrow—but my memories are keyed to the music of yesterday. Will losing the old music leave me with no key? Entombing the memories forever? Regression to the magic of first year university will not be just a record away.
To give up one future for another is the kind of thing many people do, by choice or chance. You make a new one with what you have to work with. To lose a past—well, you can’t go back and get another one. What will fill the hole it will leave?
This article previously appeared with my permission in The 1991 ALDA Reader