Friday, August 8, 2008

Tunes on the road

As much as the food, the sights and the people, the music I hear on vacation is often trapped in my subconscious and surfaces when I least expect it. I was thinking of this recently as a vacation moment popped back into my head, triggered by a song that I was playing for my spinning class.

My sister and I hopped into a taxi in Paris late one night, trying to return to our hotel on the other side of the city. As the taxi whisked its way up the Champs Elysees and we were admiring this impromptu tour of the city at night, the radio from the front was loud enough that we could both hear the French-language singer against a strong rhythmic drum and pulsing bassline. We looked at each other simultaneously and said “what is this?” Right then, we knew it was one of “those” moments on the trip. One that would remind us of that floodlit trip up the grandest avenue of France, if not the world. It would harken back to that frightful pass where 12 avenues meet in an eight lane traffic circle around the Arc de Triomphe. We had to have this song in our iTunes libraries. So with the strongest, clearest French I could conjure up, I asked the taxi driver, “La chanteuse, qui est?” “The singer,” I said, “who is it?” Or at least that’s what I must have said because the taxi driver replied “Zazie”. And I quickly scribbled the name in the notebook in my purse. My French was not good enough to ask “What is the title of this song?” or “What album is this from?” So from that point on, we were on our own to find this song.

The next day found us at the Virgin Megastore back on the Champs Elysees, where we took a stack of Zazie discs (who knew she was so prolific?) and stood at a listening station, swiping the bar code on each disc and skipping through tracks until we heard the drumline again. Thankfully, we started with her most recent release, figuring that had to be what would be getting air time so late into the Parisian night. And we were correct. It was “Je suis un homme,” and playing it in the dimly lit studio of my spinning class the other night for a focused hill climb, it brought me right back to that rotary around the Arc.

Likewise, I have seemingly endless examples of songs that bring me back to Ireland every time I hear them. On one of my very early trips to Ireland, young and head-over-heels smitten with a dark-haired Irishman, I found that every time we were out and about in Dublin City and the radio was on, the kitschy “Love is All Around” from the movie "Four Weddings and a Funeral" was playing. It is truly an awful song with a painfully catchy chorus (I dare you not to sing it) but on the very rare occasion that I hear it today (and admittedly, that’s only when I choose to play it myself) I can time travel right back to 1994 and my time there in Dublin. Young and in love and with painfully horrific taste in sappy tunes, apparently.

Having traveled extensively to follow U2, you’d think that there’d be plenty of U2-music-related memories that warm the cockles of my wanderlust-ful heart. But alas, there are almost none. Probably because I see that band enough stateside as well. But in terms of opening acts and intro music, there are plenty of memories. On my first trip to Ireland, I was with two fellow female U2 fans. We were new to general admission stadium shows and had camped out all day to be within the arm's length of the railing for U2 some 10 hours later. One of the first opening acts that night was Scary Eire, an alternative (I guess) local band with some rather polaring lyrics. At one point, as the lead singer had the crowd chanting “F*ck Columbus”, my friend Robin turned to me and said “Doesn’t this seem sort of sacrilegious, yelling this about the guy who discovered our country?” Perhaps it was, but 15 years later, I still remember those lyrics clear as day, as well as what I was wearing, who I was with at that moment, what we went through that day to hold our spot, what we ate to sustain us as the sun went down over the stadium (brown sugar and cinnamon PopTarts, smuggled from home) and especially the people we were to meet later that night.

And in 1997, I can recall when and where I first heard The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony, which would be at Lansdowne Road stadium. I was sitting in soggy jeans with Martin and his friends a few hours after it had finally stopped pouring rain, and after we’d already been home twice to change out of wet clothes. The vibe in the stadium felt heavy and damp, much like the weather. People were cranky and tired of waiting, or maybe still feeling the affects of the wedding they'd been to the night before (I think that might have just been us). As we were waiting for U2 to take the stage, this song played over the PA. The song was amazingly cool then, before it was obscenely overplayed here in the US. The same, repetitive 12 notes just kept plodding along, accompanying us as we killed time sitting on trash bags on metal bleachers as we tried to keep dry a third time. And I can remember the five guys I was with singing along to every word of the chorus, long before those words were permanently ingrained in my head. Even last weekend when I heard the song on the radio, before I cringed away and changed the channel, I remembered that afternoon and how at one time, that song was pretty good.

No comments: