National Public Radio recently started an intriguing series called “Winter Songs,” asking well-known and not-known folks for the songs that really define the season for them. Two perhaps-too-obvious oldies that leap to mind for me are Blood, Sweat & Tears’ “Sometimes in Winter” and Simon and Garfunkle’s “Hazy Shade of Winter,” recently revived and all but ruined by some group.
In this particular selection, novelist Ann Patchett discusses The Mamas and Papas’ “California Dreamin” and tells why the song says “winter” to her. It’ a nice piece with parts of the song skillfully interspersed. (Click “Listen Now.”)
Hearing her thoughts got me to musing once again on the magical power of music to fix and preserve memories. Whenever I hear “California Dreamin,” I remember a day when I was 16 and rambling around downtown Dallas on a cold spring afternoon. There were five or six of us, boys and girls together, and we had just come out of a book store (probably seeking a Lord of the Rings novel) into the bright, windy day
. As we crossed the street at the light the wind blew one girl’s long blonde hair over her face, and on a whim she started staggering around in the intersection pretending she was blind. Because the world really did belong to us that day, we all stopped in the middle of Main Street (or it may have been Elm or Pacific) and stood there laughing and calling out directions to this poor handicapped wretch. Some driver rolled down his window to complain, and when he did the sound of “California Dreaming” floated out to us from his car radio.
I’m convinced that the song alone preserves that beautiful moment for me while millions of other moments, many from that same day, seem to have vanished forever. The song brings the day back, brings my friends back and makes them young again, laughing. Only the driver wasn’t laughing, which is a good thing. No song, no memory.