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One Foot in the Past: a Playlist

Songs pin the threads of my memories in place

By S. A. CrawfordPublished 11 months ago 15 min read
Image: Pixabay via Pexels

Time runs through our fingers like water, and the harder we try to hold onto it, the quicker it goes. This is something everyone has to come to terms with, but music has always been there. It holds the mystic cords of memory in place, and can bring us back to a time long past with a single note. In fact, research into neuroplasticity and music suggests that music therapy could alleviate some of the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.

For me, it has been a way to hold onto memories that my scattered brain would otherwise let slip. To fight the forgetful forces of stress, depression, and mental illness. I see my inner life as a kaleidoscope, with no real path from 1993, when I was born, to today.

But these songs pin some of the most important memories and people in my life in place like butterflies in a case. Sheltering them from the conditions in which they are contained.

The Gone but Not Forgotten

To be born into a fairly large, cohesive family and watch it slip apart like flotsam in the sea is a powerless feeling; so many of the people who steadied my earliest years are gone. But when I hear a certain song, they come back, full of life and laughter and firm kindness, all gentle, weathered hands and soft woollen clothes full of hidden pockets that contain sweets.

I Want to Break Free - Queen

Date unknown

Gramps was a funny old guy; he looked like he came from another place entirely. With dark hair and weathered, tanned skin (from years of slathering olive oil on while gardening, I later found out), he seemed to stand out from the rest of our blonde or red-haired family with their delicate, pale skin that burned or broke out in freckles at the slightest hint of sun.

He was an ex-lorry driver, I think, and had been sick for as long as I could remember. Small and wiry, all his clothes seemed to hang around him as if he was waiting to grow into them, but he had the kind of sharp, hooded eyes that spoke for him and brooked little misbehaviour. He would spend hours in the garden, and so would my cousins and I. Playing while he tended a bed of roses, yellow and white and monstrous in size with thick, cruel thorns. He was the kind of man who believed in almost brutal kindness; he would care for the roses as if they were babies, and the same day wring a rabbit's neck if it were found injured. His reasoning? Patience for the things that were tough but sensitive, swift mercy for anything in agony.

Hard lessons for a seven-year-old child.

He always smelled of leather and rolling tobacco, and brasso, which he used to clean the metal fittings, ornaments, and antiques he liked to collect. But what I remember most, is music and video games, which seems strange given that he would probably have been born in the '40s (an estimate; I'm really not sure). Of course, he wasn't always old - something I failed to realize until long after he was gone; I even found this old photograph;

Stirling, 1960s (I think)

I see the shadow of my father in this picture - in the face and the posture. It gives a strange sense of circularity to the world, and makes me wonder if I will ever have children, and whether their children will look back at my pictures and realize that I was a person before I was their grandparent, that I had a life they will never understand, and a shadow self they couldn't touch.

When his back hurt, which it often did, he would lie on the floor by the fireplace like a great store dog, having me, as the youngest and smallest, walk along his back, creating a series of sharp, meaty pops, while we watched music channels on a bulky, silver-grey TV. Queen was his favourite; like most men his age, he walked the strange line between being uncertain of Freddie Mercury's presentation of himself and being enthralled by the power of his voice and presence.

Later, we would lie side by side and play DOOM on a wheezing Playstation with mugs of tea so dark it looked like caramel, and dip thick chunks of shortbread into it, praying they didn't crumble and settle at the bottom as mush (they usually did - sending in a second shortbread on a rescue mission usually failed, too).

This Ole' House - Rosemary Clooney

I was lucky enough to know one of my Great-Grandmothers, and she was a better and more fascinating human being than I could ever have understood as a child. She was, and remains in my mind, the kind of elderly Scottish woman that has slowly disappeared from our world. She spoke softly, with a rounded, rolling accent that ran over your ears and skin like a small stream, and used Scots words that have been bled from our everyday speech by rolling Anglicanization and Americanization.

Words that you can find in Oor Wullie books and old novels like The White Bird Passes, books that steep themselves in a dead way of life.

She always had Werthers Originals in one pocket and handkerchiefs in her sleeves, and she had a halo of white hair that caught the light like a cloud around her small, wrinkled face. Though she spoke slowly and her hands shook, though she was bed-bound for much of the time I knew her, she was strong-willed and smart, holding a command of language and words that still elude me.

It's one of mygreatest regrets that I have no photos of her, either when I knew her or before I was born, and every time I remember that, I tell myself I will visit older relatives and raid their photo albums, scanning what I can to save them for posterity.

When I hear the song This Ole House by Rosemary Clooney, I am transported to her tiny, sun-soaked kitchen with a pulley (or Sheila Maid, as its called in the US) laden with clothes. In these memories it is always early summer; bright and breezy with blooms on the monstrous hydrangeas in the back garden, but the kitchen was humid and hot, filled the scent of strong tea and fresh ginger loaves. She takes my hand and I notice for the first time how sharp-boned and wrinkled hers are. When I ask her why her fingers look funny, she tells me its because she's old and she didn't eat her vegetables when she was young, but, of course, I know now that she had arthritis.

Hotel California - The Eagles

Bo'ness (1965 ish)

A song I often forget for a man I cannot remember, how poetic - and how sad, right? My mothers father, my grandad, died when I was two(ish), but his memory has always been lingering around me. When my mum was sick and my dad was nowhere to be found, he, and later my gran alone, cared for me, fed me, and, in her case, raised me. To this day she raises me, sheltering me when life is too hard, pushing me when I'm too lazy.

Though this is a song for grandad, I really think it might be for gran; I only know him through her, and I have received his care and love through her, too. By all accounts, he was a tough man; a miner, an engineer, who was injured when a piston went through his foot. In his short life he was hit by a car, by other men, and, of course, by mining equipment... and it took its toll.

But that's not what she told me when I was young; my memories of him are second-hand and fuzzy, like this photo. He was a musician; he played the banjo, the guitar, the harmonica, and the jaw harp. He sang and had rhythm, though the rest of us inherited only his love of music. He was bright and kind, but very soft; he struggled to cope with my mum when she was ill. He was fiery, and strange-humoured; I can see his personality in the way my gran reacts to teasing; perhaps he wasn't always sensitive, even if he was kind.

And he loved the Eagles... which brings us full circle, because I do too, though I often forget them. When I hear this song, I'm nine again, sitting in front of an old stereo, watching an old vinyl record turn, unaware of the hands who have touched it before, surrounded by the ghostly passings of a man I never shared a fully formed word with.

The Here but Out-of-Reach

Time changes everything; sometimes it makes them better, sometimes worse. Usually, it does both by turns, winding like a river. People come and go, they usually do so quietly... but not always.

Another Brick in the Wall Pt2 - Pink Floyd

St Andrew (1995 ish)

Ask anyone for memories of their father, and I guarantee that you'll find a mixed bag. Perhaps we all have complex relationships with our parents. In fact, I know that most of us do, but that's not the point of this entry.

We don't talk anymore, but he's always there, in my mind and memories, like a shadow. Or the ghost of what should have been. When I think of my dad, as I do often, I think about the moments that held potential - not the fruit of the seeds that were planted.

I think about standing with my feet in the centre arm-rest of a beat-up, rattling Toyota with my head out the sun-roof, Another Brick in the Wall Pt2 blasting on the way to a local reservoir, surrounded by trees and smelling the freshness of the country air.

I think about the way he held me on his shoulders and covered ground and what seemed like a superhuman pace; after all, his legs were longer than my whole body.

I think about watching Kerrang! on TV, and how he carefully, but matter-of-factly explained to me that the woman in Puddle of Mudd's She Fuckin' Hates Me video did not say 'she' by accident, but that she had a girlfriend... and that it was normal. Only as I got older did I realize how unusual it was for a man born in the early '70s to have that view.

I think about how he promised he would always help me when I needed him, and try to forget how he failed to follow through at times. Instead, I choose to remember that he tried and that the monsters in his life, in his head, are no more his fault than mine. Sometimes that's all you can do.

Still Figuring Out - Elliot Minor

2012 (ish)

The anthem of highschool, without a doubt, is a song I haven't listened to in over ten years. In fact, I listened to it again for the first time while writing this. Despite the distance and time between me, the song, and those days, I could remember every word and change.

It seemed, then, to be a happy, bouncy embodiment of the future that was sprawled out before us. Now it feels like a strange, uncarved gravestone for those years... because I really am still figuring out how to stay who I am, or even understand who I am. Which is pretty much the human condition, no?

Friends - Iain McConnell

This song was released long after the relationship it brings to mind ended, but I chose it because it was the song that finally acted as a catharsis for the pain of its end. I don't think I've ever sobbed so much without an event to prompt it, and I've never felt so good about crying.

"All the life we lived and now we're strangers again, all the time we put in, all the things that we've been.."

This song pierced the heart of the issue, for me, and lanced a boil that had been lodged in me for years. Ten years. Ten years of laughter and fun and love and fighting and crying and struggling. Ten years. My entire life from fifteen to my mid-twenties, spent with someone who lives so close and yet is alien to me now.

It feels unfair, but then again what we deserve and what we get are rarely the same; this is true for everyone.

The Happy Golden Days

Every person has a few brilliant moments when the clouds seem to part and nothing else matters. Nothing can cover the sun, the cold wind is a cooling breeze, the rain is a welcome relief, the pain passes so easily. These are the songs of the golden moments.

The Ground - Beluga Lagoon

Isle of Harris (2021)

There is no place like Harris; the 'far side of the world', one of the most westerly points of Scotland, beyond which there is only the Atlantic, and then, eventually the American continent. On a sun-soaked beach, during an unusually hot summer, my Aunt and Uncle finally got married after 26 years together.

This song and its gentle, upbeat folk aesthetic reminds me of those seemingly endless days, the pristine water, the burning sand, and the unique, warm feeling of being held in the heart of your family, even if it's only for a few days.

Nestled in the living room of a tiny boutique hotel with a stunning restaurant attached, sunburned and glowing, I remembered that there is such a thing as true, unconditional, and lasting love. I am lucky enough to see it every time I visit them.

Goo Goo Muck - The Cramps

Mum and Me - October 1993

My mother was beautiful and so young, younger than I am now, when I was born. Though she's dressed in soft pink and has gentle eyes, my mum was an OG punk and new romantic who in her hey-day had to blu-tack her nurses' hat to her head because she had shaved most of it to rock a purple, permed mohawk (which was... a statement).

Tough, smart, and kind, she never really got everything she deserved from life (who does) and had her share of pain, plus a few other peoples' share to be honest; though she was hospitalized for the first ten years of my life, she was the best mother she could be.

Music is her lifeblood, as it is mine, and the thing we have in common is playing music throughout the day and night, every day and night. Choosing a song to encapsulate my memories with her was hard. From Siouxsie and the Banshees to the Cure to the Prodigy, she always liked music that skirted the edges of normality to find the weird and wonderful.

So I asked her - if she could choose a song that she likes to listen to most with me, what would she choose? And even today, less young, but in my opinion still as beautiful, she chose to walk the path less travelled. Unfortunately for her, she had no idea that the song she chose has gone viral thanks to Netflix show Wednesday. She chose - Goo Goo Muck by the Cramps.


Because she remembers me coming home drunk from a party on New Years Eve and dancing to it with her while the dogs bounced around us like children (shortly before getting down on the floor to wrestle them) because apparently she likes to remember me at my least elegant, and perhaps that's real love.

Thunderstruck - AC/DC

Oktoberfest (2022)

Chaos, at least happy chaos, is golden; it's what memories are made of, and Thunderstruck by AC/DC may well be the perfect embodiment of the glorious chaos that my friends bring to my life. And Oktoberfest 2022 is the perfect example of that. Steins of beer (and wine - yes I mean that, they gave my friend a STEIN of wine; I'm certain that's called an Assassination Attempt rather than an order).

When I hear this song, however one memory springs to mind, or rather a montage of memories that all look the same; my best friend has a unique and frankly hilarious version of Angus Young's dance that she whips out every time drinks and this song coincide. If I could distil happiness, it would be that moment.

The Black Dog Moments

The other side of the coin, the wheel always turns; after all, there are days when the clouds won't budge. When the energy drains away. When every breath is a fight. Not everyone has depression, but most people are depressed at some point in their lives.

The sad and nasty truth about depression and suicidal ideation is that when you're mentally ill they are a part of the fabric of your life; you can't banish them forever, only learn to lessen, avoid, manage and cope with them. There are perhaps dozens of songs that have saved my life, literally, these to name a few (with periods in which they helped me drag myself free of the 'black dog'):

  • Bone - Mon Rovia (Last month)

But one stands out in poignancy, because it saved mine... and failed to save the man who sang it.

One More Light - Linkin Park

Depression never looks the way you expect it to

Chester Bennington sang beautifully about the importance of one light, one life, in a sea of stars - and that has resonated with me multiple times since it was released in 2017. So much so, it has become a part of my crisis plan; it's a reminder of how many lives I intersect with and how many people will be impacted by a rash decision.

The sad, terrible irony of this is that Chester himself took his own life just two months after it was released.

And the hole he left was brutally large. Most of us would not leave so many bereft if we were to disappear tomorrow; but we would all leave someone behind. We would all leave a hole, and this song, as well as what came after it, is a constant reminder of that. Though I never planned to finish a playlist of my life this way, it seems, as I consider it, to be entirely as it should; my life has been touched by mental illness and suicide many times, and so I beg you, if you feel alone and on the edge, contact your local suicide prevention hotline.

May we all have long and happy lives; may the music never end.


About the Creator

S. A. Crawford

Writer, reader, life-long student - being brave and finally taking the plunge by publishing some articles and fiction pieces.

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  • C.E. Mattison11 months ago

    Such beautiful pictures and these songs are so fitting!!

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