Do you have those songs that make you think of specific times from your childhood? I do, but they’re not exactly kidz bops. “Blackbird” by The Beatles. “Edelweiss” from “The Sound of Music.” “Return to Pooh Corner” by Kenny Loggins. “Rainbow Connection” (the Sarah McLachlan version). The “Animal Crossing” Gamecube Theme. Whenever I hear one of these songs, a memory pops into my head.
“Blackbird” by The Beatles and “Edelweiss” from “The Sound of Music” are two songs that come to mind when I think of my dad—or rather, my dad is the first thing to come to mind when I hear them. When I listen to the familiar chords or just a snippet of the chorus, I am instantly brought back into my seven-year-old self, in the all-the-way-back backseat of my dad’s Volvo station wagon on the way to Disneyland. He would put it on and I would hyperfocus on Paul McCartney’s voice until the car sickness went away. We’ve all been there.
Songs like “Blackbird” are markers of a tender time in my childhood when I still lived with my dad. While this time is hazy, the memories I hold onto are solidified by song. These songs. I remember my dad playing them while making us waffles in the morning, or strumming them on his guitar on a stepstool in the kitchen while my brother and I listened, cross-legged on the tiled floor. I remember driving in the car, and the music blasting from the radio would be The Beatles (that or the “Bear and the Big Blue House” soundtrack). And so, without fail, every time I hear the opening guitar chords of “Blackbird,” I think of him, mumbling the lyrics under his breath in the front seat.
After my dad moved out, he would visit every few weeks and one of the things he would always do before he left was update the music on our iPods. We each took turns sitting with him, explaining the songs we wished to add or delete. When this ritual first started, I was too young to know anything about music, so it was more of a bonding experience with my dad. He would add different albums he thought I would like while playing different songs for me to see my reaction. And so my love for The Beatles grew each time I listened. I shaped my music taste around his music library: movie soundtracks, a handful of musicals and a weird assortment of albums by The Beatles, Death Cab for Cutie and A Fine Frenzy. Now, my choice of music has changed drastically from what played in the car on the way to Disneyland, but “Abbey Road” is still my comfort album. I am grateful for the way music connected us, and still does today.
Sometimes it feels like I don’t actually remember my childhood, and instead have subconsciously fabricated core memories so that I have happy times to look back on—we all like to forget the bad stuff. But when I listen to these songs, so carefully and deeply steeped in nostalgia, of happy and sad times, I am reminded of all of the in-between.