I’ve been listening to an advance copy of Bill Charlap’s Somewhere: The Songs of Leonard Bernstein, out March 23 from Blue Note. I don’t want to comment on it because (A) it hasn’t been released and (B) I’ll probably review it somewhere, but listening to Charlap play such familiar Bernstein ballads as “Lucky to Be Me” and “Lonely Town” has put me, perhaps not surprisingly, in a reflective mood.
It’s funny (actually, it’s not even slightly funny, but you know what I mean) how certain pieces of music become tightly melded with personal memories. “Some Other Time,” from On the Town, used to be my favorite song, in part because of the way Bill Evans used to play it. A singer friend of mine knew this, and liked to do it as an encore when I came to a nightclub to hear her perform. After she died, I thought of her every time I heard “Some Other Time,” and before long I found it difficult to listen to the song. Eight years have gone by, and I still think of her whenever I hear it.
(1) Are songs more likely to become attached to personal memories than pieces of instrumental music? If they are, is it because they have lyrics? Or is it simply that they’re so much shorter than symphonies or sonatas, and thus more easily recalled?
(2) Does the fact that I still associate “Some Other Time” with the memory of my friend have anything at all to do with the fact that it’s a particularly good song? Would it have remained so evocative for so long if it were less musically memorable?
(3) I almost never associate paintings or movies or ballets or novels with intensely specific personal memories–just music. Is this an idiosyncrasy of mine, or is music uniquely effective as an associational trigger? And if it is, why?
(4) Will this particular association eventually fade with the passing of time? And if it does, will I be sorry?
Which reminds me to mention that I went into Rooster Flowers Sunday afternoon to buy a bouquet for the kitchen table, and an album by another singer friend of mine was playing on the store’s sound system. My friend is currently on tour, and I haven’t heard from her for a couple of weeks beyond an occasional I’m-fine-how-are-you e-mail from Seattle or San Francisco. The moment I heard her voice, I felt as though she were standing right behind me. I almost turned around to say hello. Music is so powerful that way, which is one reason why it’s nice to have musician friends who make records. When they’re gone–even if it’s for good–you can still listen to them.