It’s said that the sense of smell is tied directly to the brain’s memory center, that an odor can place you right back in a certain time or place. In my experience, it’s the sense of hearing that works that way — specifically the sense of hearing songs.
Today’s song is the sixth track on Talking Heads’ Fear of Music, a bizarre transitional album that bridged their early art-pop records with the electrified African rhythms of their later work. I like this album but don’t love it… it’s trippy and weird and not very melodic, designed to put you on edge.
But ‘Memories Can’t Wait’ has always been a huge favorite of mine. It’s three and a half minutes of dizzying uncertainty, David Byrne’s vocals echoing back at him in the verses and the music nearly falling out from under him in the choruses. His oddball, chirping cadence works wonders here, putting the ‘alien’ into alienation.
Then, at the 2:30 mark (in the clip below), the schizoid music coalesces into a pounding grunge symphony and Byrne delivers the final lines with increasing confidence:
Everyone has gone to sleep
I’m wide awake on memories
These memories can’t wait
And he dives off a cliff while singing that last word, and repeats the last line as he falls… only he never hits bottom, just keeps on wailing into the void. The song ends, because it has to, but the feeling never does.
Now you probably think I’ve forgotten my opening paragraph, and you’re wondering why the hell I brought up that “song memory” concept. Well, when I was attending the University of Florida, I lived in an apartment down a pretty large hill from the campus. I would ride my bike to class sometimes and listen to tapes on a Walkman (how lucky are today’s college kids to have iPods?).
And once, I was listening to ‘Memories Can’t Wait’ on the bike ride home and I timed it just right so Byrne hit that last line (“these memories can’t waiiiiiittttt”) right as I hit the hill and started speeding downward. It was the coolest feeling ever, like I was inside the music, like if I just let go of the handlebars and closed my eyes I would simply float away.
So that’s where this song returns me to this day, and that’s a very powerful thing for a song to do.
Note: The clip below is some sort of anime experiment set to ‘Memories Can’t Wait’ — the song hasn’t been altered at all, so it’ll do just fine.