The ancient Greeks, who knew more than a little about the creative process, claimed Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, as the mother of the nine Muses. While all of the arts depend on memory, it is most vital for writers.
|Mnemosyne by Rossetti|
In my experience, memory, especially early memory, exists as a half-remembered dream, just beyond the reach of consciousness. However, there are moments when the past returns with the force of typhoon. That's how it was with Proust's narrator when his madeleine dipped in tea brought forth a deluge of memory that resulted in his weighty tome Remembrance of Things Past:
“No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me.”Which brings me to last December and my own Proustian moment.
It started when I suggested--not for the first time--that my husband "do something about your records." I'd just read Marie Kondo’s book about tidying up and was eager to start throwing crap away, beginning with the cache of mildewed LPs that had been moldering in our closet for decades. Every year or so I suggest that I could take them to the Goodwill or Salvation Army, but to no avail. This time was no different.
"It's good music," he said.
"Sure, but they're just taking up space." No reaction, so I added. "It'd be different if you could play them,"
"That's not a bad idea. I was thinking about getting a turntable."
Oh, great, I thought and forgot about it until a few weeks later when a package arrived.
"Looks like your record player," I said.
"It's a turntable," my husband corrected.
"Whatever," I said as my husband lovingly extract the machine. I grudgingly admitted to myself that there was something to be said for simplicity and in no time at all the record player--sorry, turntable--was set up and ready to go.
"Which record are you going to play first?" I felt a frisson of excitement, trying to remember the last time I'd heard an actual record.
"I have to clean the records first."
"Shouldn't you at least try it out, just to make sure the thing works?" I'm not the patient one in the family.
My husband returned with an album by Bach. I recognized the cover--it had been a big hit back in the seventies--or was it the sixties? At any rate, the record hadn't been played since the eighties when compact discs took over the world, seemingly overnight. However, when the stylus touched the vinyl, there was a startlingly loud pop, then a hiss. I deflated. The music was obscured by decades of dust and benign neglect, which in the end was just as destructive as outright malice.
"Well, everything works," my husband said, quickly pulling back the needle. "Once the records are cleaned, you'll see the difference."
Cleaning the records proved to be a bit of a project and so I'd forgotten about my husband's new toy until a night in late January when he pulled another record from the stack, a tribute album to the amazing composer Kurt Weill.
|Lost in the Stars:|
The Music of Kurt Weill
This time there were no pops or hisses, just Weill's haunting music, at turns melancholic and ebullient, and sounding as clear as the day the vinyl was pressed. There was a open and full resonance, a richness that--at least to my ear--was lacking in digital music.
Sort of like the difference between cream and skim milk.
It was then that I remembered how much records had meant to me, all of coming back in glorious Technicolor and surround sound. I recalled the lazy afternoons spinning my collection of 45s in my bedroom with my best friend; the Christmas I found the Beatles' White Album under the tree and drove my mother crazy by playing it 24-7; or my senior year in high school when I discovered Beethoven. So many memories . . .
|The Beatles' White Album|
For some years, I've kicked around the idea for a mystery set in 1960's Baltimore, with the protagonist being a girl of twelve or maybe thirteen years of ago. But I've kept this idea on the back burner because I wasn't sure if I could recreate enough of that era to make it believable. Now I think I can do a fair job of it, and just might give a go.
After all, Proust was inspired to write seven volumes from a cookie and a cup of tea. Surely I can wring one novel from an old record or two.
Anyhow, that's the plan.
I'd love to hear about any Proustian moments of your own!