Reliving a Memory

I was in the sixth grade when Mr. Malanga gave what would be the defining lesson of middle school.

Bald, exuberant, American, and gleefully playful, Mr. Malanga was a force of nature who commanded his classroom with an intriguing combination of maniacal humor and crackling intelligence.  His lessons never failed to enliven me, even though they fell during the most sluggish time of the school week (just after lunch on Monday afternoons).

“I want you all to think of your favorite movie, or book, or song,” he said. “I want you think of how you felt the first time you saw or read or heard it.”

I thought, instantly, of Peter Jackson’s cinema adaption of “The Return of the King” (which to me at the time felt like the pinnacle of human achievement).

“Will it still feel as good the hundredth, or thousandth, or ten thousandth time you see or read or hear it?”

Sixth-grade me was puzzled. Would I get sick of Gandalf’s gnarled stuff and Aragorn’s silver sword and Gimli’s gruff voice and Legolas single-handedly slaying towering oliphaunts? No way. LOTR: The Return of the King had moved and inspired me with its scale, its spectacle, its story.

But Peter Jackson’s film aged. Newer films came, surpassing it technically, epically, and cinematically. I, too, aged, and found that as I grew older, I inevitably tired of the things that once delighted me.

Music, books, and movies came and went — among them Good Charlotte (thankfully), Harry Potter (wistfully), The Lord of The Rings (begrudgingly).

What Mr. Malanga taught me then, and what I still remember now, is that the best art is timeless. It doesn’t age or fade. You can revisit it, over and over again, and it will never fail or disappoint you. The measure of great art is not whether it strikes you the first time, but whether its impact remains as profound with every subsequent interaction. Great art belongs not to history, but somewhere outside of history, somewhere eternal.

It’s unfortunate, therefore, that so much of the (dance) music I hear today is so hollow and disposable. Kick, vocal, snare, bass drum, synth, bassdrum. Repeat. The tracks are Interchangeable, the melodies unremarkable, the lyrics, well, horrible. The music appears, briefly, on my radar, then disappears, lost to the mountain of detritus that comprises so much of 21st century popular culture.

In a music culture that prefers viral hype to substantial impact, what was cool last week is irrelevant today. It doesn’t matter if a track sounds horrible the 10th time you hear it, because you’ll probably only listen to it seven times.

But you don’t listen to Daft Punk seven times. You listen to Daft Punk “One More Time,” and then another time, and then another time. You cherish them, you treasure them, you lean upon them when you need a smile, a laugh, or a groove.

Daft Punk don’t belong to 1997 or 2005 or 2013. They belong to the future, or the past (whichever one suits you better). They belong somewhere else, a place of simple joy, vulnerable intimacy, of warmth, comfort, and irresistible French style.

Will I get a “Random Access Memories” tattoo? No. Do I think this is the best music I’ve heard in my life? No. Do music journalists with extravagant opinions have any idea what the hell they’re talking about? No (but then again they weren’t taught by Mr. Malanga).

I will, however, carry some of these songs with me for the rest of my life. I will play them, for myself, and for the people I care about. They will become part of me, forever. I will listen to them again tomorrow, and in two months, and in 10 years.

They, now, are memories that I can access forever.

For my favorite piece of music journalism (an interview with Daft Punk from 1997), visit:


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