Random Shuffle: Peter Cetera, the Beatles, J Mascis and a pile of bootlegs

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“GLORY OF LOVE,” PETER CETERA (SOLITUDE/SOLITAIRE, 1986): I was 12 or 13, riding in my Mom’s car, driving away from school. I must have been going to the doctor or the dentist as neither of my siblings were with us. We drove over the bridge across Oologah Lake, past the old water park that had been recently shut down due to some kid getting sucked into the vacuums and drowning.

At that moment “Glory of Love” was my favorite song. I know this, because I told my mother. I had asked her what her favorite song was (“Different Drum,” by the Stone Poneys) and when she asked me I responded with this Peter Cetara number. It was playing at the time and it plays now in my memories. When she asked me why I liked it, I don’t remember what my response was — but I remember her saying that love was what made the world go ‘round.

My memory of that moment is so specific that I can still see everything flashing around me out the windows. I can hear the song playing through the radio, and smell the interior of that car. It is such a random, such a mundane moment in my life and yet when I hear this song play, decades later, it all flashes into my mind’s eye like a photograph.

Music is like that. I’m sure most people have songs that remind them of very specific times in very specific places. I don’t know what it is about music that does that, more so than any other art. (Does anyone have specific memories related to reading William Faulkner’s Absalom Absalom? I doubt it.) But it does. And its wonderful.

Years ago, I used to write a column I called Random Shuffle where I would talk about all these memories that songs brought up in my mind. Life (and a darling daughter) got in the way, but I’ve been graciously invited to Something Else! to bring back the Shuffle and those memories.

“YOU’VE GOT TO HIDE YOUR LOVE AWAY,” THE BEATLES (HELP!, 1965): Some songs bring up specific memories, while others evoke a certain time period or place. One song might remind you of that summer you got your driver’s license and spent every evening cruising the back streets — while others cause you to instantly recall your first crush, or your first kiss, or your first heartbreak. There are songs that remind me of entire summers or semesters in college.

Still other songs stay with you for so long, and through so many different moments in your life that they no longer conjure up specific memories but broad emotional canvases. These songs may put you in a certain mood, flooding your data banks with so much information your knocked down with emotion.

I love that about music.

Take this Beatles number. I do have some specific memories tied to it like it being one of my sister’s favorite songs and her singing to it loudly in the bathroom while she was doing her hair. Or sticking in on various mix-tapes in college, though I was never quite sure what the lyrics actually meant. Or driving around Montgomery while working as a courier for a law firm one summer and hearing the Eddie Vedder cover of it over and over and over again.

When I hear the song now, those memories and many more slip into my mind, but mostly I just sit back and enjoy the song. I’ve heard it so many countless times that its part of my musical DNA. I know it inside and out — though I’m still not exactly sure what it means. I can call it up in my musical memory at any time, and sing along and feel good.

The best songs are just like that, a part of us.

“GET ME,” J MASCIS (MARTIN + ME, 1996): I’m calling this series Random Shuffle, but that’s not exactly true. Yes, I am putting my music collection on shuffle mode and yes I am talking about what songs come up, but no I’m not doing it in exact order. Truth is, I just can’t.

I am a long-time collector of unofficially released live concert recordings — or bootlegs as they are sometimes called. I have thousands of them. Unlike professionally recorded and officially released live albums, these bootlegs tend to take a warts and all approach. Sometimes, they are taped straight off a sound board by guys who know what they are doing. Other times, it’s a freelance, audience recording — taped by some putz who doesn’t have a clue standing next to screaming drunkards. Those tapes are darn near unlistenable to all but the most die-hard of completists.

These shows also contain the entire concert including band introductions, long rambling screeds by the drummer, crowd cheering during the encore break and all sorts of assorted other things. I have more than one show where there are tracks of nothing but the lead singer coughing.

Because of my obsessions I also have enormous numbers of albums, bootlegs and assorted tracks by a select few artists. My favorites are the Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan and Van Morrison. This Holy Trinity contain more than half of my entire music collection.

Also, I have a pretty significant number of albums and tracks that I’ve never really listened to. Friends send me songs they think I’ll like, promoters hit me up with music they hope I’ll write about, and I’ve acquired other albums through various other means all of which adds up to way too much music for my ears to have time for.

The point is this, if I truly put my collection on shuffle and talked about the first few tracks I came upon I’d either be talking about music I don’t really know, or songs by the same three artists over and over again, or I’d have to come up with paragraphs on why J Mascis coughing for three minutes is worth listening to.

Instead, I figure I’ll skip over those things from time to time and rap about songs that make some connection to me and remind me of stories worth telling. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I like writing them down. I hope to put out a Random Shuffle a few times a month. I’ll see you there.

Mat Brewster

Mat Brewster

An Oklahoma-based writer who studied at Faulkner University, Brewster has reviewed music and movies for a number of sites, including Blogcritics and his own Bootleg Nation, The Midnight Cafe and Brewster's Millions. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Mat Brewster
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