Having attained an age when I find it increasingly difficult to retrieve names with the effortless ease of my youth, I’m fascinated by the persistence, vividness, and exactitude of my earliest memories, many of which have to do either with music or with things I saw on television as a boy.
Here’s a double-barreled example. On September 21, 1963, my family watched the chaotic debut episode of The Jerry Lewis Show, a two-hour-long live prime-time talk-and-variety show for whose forty-week season Lewis was reportedly paid a cool $8 million—at the time, the highest salary ever paid to a TV performer. The series, a legendary fiasco, was canceled after thirteen weeks. (You can read all about it here.) So far as I know, the first episode was never rerun, meaning that I only saw it once. Even so, I clearly recall that Lewis sang a song that night called “Think Pink.” Not only did the refrain lodge permanently in my mind, but I remembered that it was in the key of F major.
Such, at any rate, was my memory—and now, thanks to the queer miracle that is YouTube, I’m in a position to check its accuracy. Scroll forward to 12:45 and you can see and hear “Think Pink” for yourself:
You’ll have to take my word for it, but my recollection of the refrain is note-for-note accurate…and sure enough, it’s in F major.
Why on earth would so trivial a ditty have made so deep an impression on me fifty-two years ago? I can only suppose that childhood memory functions in much the same way as the capacity for language acquisition: once heard, never forgotten.
Whatever the reason, it makes me tremble to imagine the unwanted pieces of pop-culture flotsam and jetsam that will clutter my consciousness on my deathbed. I’d like to think that my head will be full of Das Lied von der Erde or the slow movement of the Schubert Cello Quintet as the Distinguished Thing approaches—but it’s probably just as likely, and far more humbling, that my final thoughts will be of “Think Pink.”