The greatest good that mortals know
I've read that scents often trigger memories. In general, I don't find that I'm very sensitive to any certain smells, outside of the obvious things like associating certain colognes with people I've known who wore them, or remembering how MB smells just by thinking about him. Instead, music has always been a huge memory trigger. When I hear certain songs, I not only remember certain events associated with them, but I actually am more or less taken back to the way I felt or my state of mind at the time when that song gained significance. I'm not sure I'm explaining it properly, but there it is.
Now, I doubt there are many people who would argue with the assertion that there are a few basic, quintessential ways to experience music. Probably the purest is to hear it live, especially at a big concert, where the drumbeat settles in behind your breastbone and makes you feel like your whole body is part of the song and that it's the bass notes, not your heart, pushing the blood through your veins. And there are those fleeting moments where no matter how huge the crowd is, for a few seconds, there's just one entity, one huge organic thing.
The same thing can sometimes happen at small shows, and when it does it's maybe even better just because it makes you feel like you're part of something that you only have to share with the others in the room. Another standard is to listen to a song with headphones, where the music becomes the most present thing and outside sounds don't intrude. I've heard that listening to old music on vinyl is the only way to go, and I can see the merits in that argument as well. There's also a lot to be said for experiencing a song for the first time with someone you're close to, or sharing music with someone who loves it as much as you do.
For me, though, probably the most potent setup for getting enveloped in music is listening to it in the car when I'm alone, especially at night with the windows up or during the day, out on the highway, with the windows down and the radio up loud enough to drown out the wind and the road noise. I don't know if it has to do with movement or the fact that I almost always love driving or what, but those times when I hear a song I love and can crank up the volume and just let it bring up old ghosts, that's when the music is purest.
Today, it happened to me twice. The first time, I was on my way to pick up takeout for dinner when Alanis Morisette's "Hand in My Pocket" came on the radio. Straight back to high school. It especially reminds me of my friend H, and how during senior year, we hung out almost every day after school, even though we'd never really hung out much before that. By the end of the year, we were best friends, and we've been so ever since.
The second time, I was driving home from seeing Pan's Labyrinth with Danger and her husband (my cousin, who needs a good pseudonym). I was already in a sort of trippy, pensive mood from the movie, compounded with the fact that it was dark and I was tired. I pulled into my parking lot at 10:00, and the station I was tuned to plays two Led Zeppelin songs back-to-back every night at 10 PM. I told myself that I'd wait and see what song was first, and that if it was "Kashmir" (one of my favorites), I'd stay in the car and listen to it. "Kashmir" started, so I turned it up and settled in to listen, and it took me back to a summer night sometime in early college, when I'd met my friends at Denny's and got back home at 2 in the morning. We used to hang out at Denny's several nights a week in the summers, and even though things have changed and we've moved on and things are still wonderful, sometimes the loss of those nights aches like a small piece is missing from me.
Even going back to Denny's to hang out doesn't really recapture the feel and the spirit and the particular energy of those days; it just serves as a warm remembrance. That morning four or five years ago, sitting in my mom's minivan in the driveway, letting that song cement the feelings and memory of that night, all that came back and for as long as the song lasted, I was two of me at once--the person I've grown into, and the girl I was then. And both of us were washed away and melted in with the perfect, chest-thumping beat.