Music, Memory and Pavlovian Nostalgia

Anyone who knows me, even remotely well, knows how much I value a good run.  I have a run to associate with nearly every place I’ve ever been to, and I have been to many many places.  I typically don’t map out my run beforehand either and often get lost.  But I’ve learned that getting lost in a new town or city is one of the best ways to get to know it.  And on these runs I listen to particular albums that I’m into at the time.  I used to be picky about running music, singling out only the uptempo and heavily rhythmic songs in a running playlist, but I’ve learned to really enjoy running to slow tempo ballads just as much.  As long as it has soul, I can listen to a wide variety of albums straight through on a run.  In the winter of 2013 I took an online Psychology class while touring across Canada on the Keith Urban tour with Little Big Town.  I became really fascinated with Ivan Pavlov’s discovery of conditioning and how our past experiences can trigger our body’s memory and cause behavioral changes yada yada.  I won’t get too technical about it, but I can draw a comparison to my experiences running through towns across the globe, listening to albums.  When I think back to a city I’ve been in, one of the first things that comes to my mind is the record I was listening to in that city and how I was feeling listening to it.  Clear Lake, IA - Bob Dylan’s Oh Mercy.  Asheville, NC - Grandmaster Flash’s The Message.  Salta, Argentina - Sheryl Crow’s 100 Miles from Memphis.  Florence, Italy - Shuggie Otis’s Inspiration Information.  The list goes on and on and as soon as I hear a song from those albums it takes me right back to that location and whatever feeling I felt at that particular time.  And vice versa, if I revisit the place, I hear the song in my head and re-feel the feeling I had.  For instance, on a long drive from Nottingham to Bath, England today we drove through the lovely Cotswolds.  Immediately, Jimi Hendrix’s song Angel came on in my mental record player.  An ex girlfriend of mine used to live in the Cotswolds and I was really into that song during the time I visited her.  I embarrassingly cannot remember what street she lived on or even what area in the Cotswolds it was, but that song and a whirlwind of emotions is what was triggered as I drove through.  I might have a more emotionally driven memory.  I used to listen to the Godzilla soundtrack while reading Garfield comics before I fell asleep at night when I was in the fourth grade.  Garfield and Godzilla are forever tied together in my strange brain.  This week, I listened to Pop Staple’s album Don’t Lose This (per awesome recommendation instagram post by sir Rob McNelley) in Bristol and today I listened to Darrell Scott and Tim O’brien’s Real Time in Bath, England.  Those incredible albums will forever remind me of these remarkable places. 

Bristol, UK

The effect of jet lag on the continental traveler can be as strong as the gravitational pull.  It takes the tenacity of a prize fighter to fight it off.  I relinquished my grip and napped off my red eyes soon after dropping my bags off at the Double Tree hotel.  Bristol is the first stop on a two and a half week tour of the UK with Mary Chapin Carpenter.  I feel very fortunate to be joined by such a great group of folks on this trip.  We had the first night off and I strolled downtown to the Old Duke Tavern to meet up with members of the crew (no relation to my name that I know of (although, I could envision becoming a frequent local in my old age!))  It was Harbor Fest in Bristol, celebrating a long history of successful importing and exporting along the harbor.  People were scattered out conversing on the cobblestone roads with a pint in hand and sitting down on picnic tables in front of the pubs.  I noticed an immediate difference in the drinking culture compared to the states.  There was a modest sophistication in people's dialect, an innate high regard for the art of cheery conversation.  In American downtown cities it is much more common to notice folks with their attention glued to a TV screen in the bar or staring down at a cell phone.  The Bristolians were engaged!  And it was refreshing for an American to witness.  In a Thai restaurant/bar near the hotel a group of school teachers gathered to celebrate the end of the term.  Once they were informed that a group of Americans were at the bar they congregated over to socialize with us.  I naturally and immediately became their student.  One teacher named Genna Hodges, a beautiful red haired women wearing a white dress with blue flowers, began to demonstrate the difference between a posh English accent to her country English accent.  Either her excitement or her vodka lemonade caused her to shout out the different inflections of the accents, criticzing the "posh" people for their snobbishness.  The group of teachers flew off and headed to a club called the Kong as I spoke with the owner of the restaurant, a kind Vietnamese man named Som Miller.  My first night in Bristol was a pleasant cultural departure from my social norm.  I didn't see an ounce of ill will or bad intentions from excess drinking.  Our first show of the tour the next night went over tremendously well with the crowd.  I am learning a great deal about this world and am constantly honing in my craft as a musician.  What more could a 28 year old ask for?