Last weekend, I dropped by to see Dean, who owns and operates a small, used record store in the antique district of a nearby town. We chatted for a while about the usual stuff--taxes, the weather, and record de-warping machines. I went through his store and selected four albums to buy. When I placed them on the counter, he looked at each of them and told me who he bought them from. It kind of amazed me that with the thousands of records that pass through his store, he remembered such details. Then again, I wasn’t so amazed. I probably have over a thousand records and I’m pretty sure I can remember where I got most of them. This is a trivial kind of memory associated with records. There's also a more powerful way records retrieve the past. For example, when I pull out my copy of Astral Weeks, I can remember exactly where I first listened to the album; I can picture vividly my father's turntable on which it played; and most profoundly the sensation of that first listen, though the magic of the initial experience can't be duplicated. Even if I don't have the same feeling listening to the album now, I remember having had such a feeling. Not only does it conjure my emotional response to the specific experience of listening to the album, I think it also revives my general emotional state at the time. Listening to Astral Weeks for the first time, my reaction was from the perspective of a teen-aged boy who had internal contradictions--arrogant but full of doubts about himself, humanity and the world in general--who possessed enough sensitivity to be touched by the soulfulness of Van Morrison without really knowing it. A ghost of that teen-aged self arises with each listen, sometimes more alive than at other times.
I've read that the sense of smell for a lot of people has that kind of power to return a person to a past moment with such vividness that that person has the experience of almost re-living that moment wholly. The sense of smell doesn't do it for me. But records do.