The Impersistence of Memory

Tarantula by Bob DylanHave you ever been annoyed by a detail in your memory, a detail that by its very presence tells you that something in your memory is wrong or incomplete?

Not to even get into what science tells us about the tremendous fallibility of memory and our lack of understanding of its very construct, but sometimes I’ve got a very complete memory in my head, associated with something very specific, and yet I know that it has to be wrong in some way.

This one was spurred by my attempts, as a very late-starting piano student, to learn the Rolling Stones song “Angie.” (Pretty simple, simply pretty, and highly recommended.) But that brought back memories of the album it came from, “Goats Head Soup,” which was the big release for the Stones when I was going into eighth grade. My memory only tangentially involves the album, however.

I’m in the eighth grade lunchroom, which was just sort of a multi-purpose room with tables and chairs. I’m talking with a kid named Mark. I kinda liked Mark but I had the sense that he basically tolerated me, so friends would not be the word. He has a copy of “Goats Head Soup.” Why? I’m not sure . . . perhaps for a record report? That was a thing we had to do in our junior high music classes. A couple of times a year we had to bring in a record and pick a particular song to analyze, mostly focusing on the mechanics of the song: time, verse structure, beats per minute. Maybe we talked about the lyrics. That would be a reason to have an album in school; I can’t think of another. But I don’t think the album was our main topic of conversation.

Proving how faulty memory can be: this lunchroom scene could be at either end of a thread. I think it’s the first end. I think that in order to have something musical to relate, I’m expounding the virtues of a book I’ve been reading. That book is “Tarantula,” a book of prose poetry (to be kind) written by Bob Dylan. While the material was several years old, it had only been officially published in 1971, and in one of those weird surprises that libraries sometimes offer disaffected teens, the Scotia Public Library, the squarest little library in the world, had a copy of Tarantula on the shelves. I borrowed it, probably many times. I read it, definitely many times. I thought it was brilliant. I was 13.

“Tarantula” is stream of consciousness writing — not such a stretch for Dylan, given his lyrical tendencies. But what works in song, where music, rhythm and spaces can give meaning to the most nonsensical words, doesn’t necessarily work in print. You could say this work owes something to the Beats; an apology, possibly.

“aretha with no goals, eternally single & one step soft of heaven/ let it be understood that she owns this melody along with her emotional diplomats & her earth & her musical secrets the censor in a twelve wheel drive semi stopping in for donuts & pinching the waitress/ he likes his women raw & with syrup/ he has his mind set on becoming a famous soldier  manuscript nitemare of cut throat high & low & behold the prophesying blind allegiance to law fox, monthly cupid & the intoxicating ghosts of dogma …”

In my defense I can only offer that I was 13 and profoundly miserable. It sounded brilliant to my unformed brain.

So in the first version of this memory, I relate the brilliance of this epic to Mark. It’s even possible I have the library copy with me, that I’m reading it at lunch. And he is at least interested, if not intrigued, and later undertakes to read it himself and provide me with his review in a locker-side conversation days, weeks, months later.

In the second version, I have already related the brilliance of this slim volume of nonsense (and please understand that at this age I own exactly zero songs by Bob Dylan), and Mark has dutifully investigated the passions of another music fan, and he is now pronouncing his verdict. Whether at the lunch table or at his locker, the verdict is the same — delivered with the disdain that only a 13-year-old can really fully muster, he informs me that “Tarantula” is horseshit, delivering with it the implication that my opinion on pretty much anything else in the universe is to be disregarded in the future.

That’s not unreasonable, by the way. Today, I view it this way: Mark was certainly smarter and more discerning about the fact the book was horseshit. On the other hand, when you’re 13, you’re supposed to love things that will turn out to be totally ridiculous later, to have things that speak to you in ways you can’t articulate then and are mystified by in later years. So it’s my hope that he had that experience, too, even if it wasn’t with this book. I don’t want to think that someone couldn’t be passionate about something stupid in junior high school.

But here’s the problem with this entire memory, the nagging point that makes me question everything: I didn’t eat lunch in the eighth grade lunchroom. I was a walker, walked home every day for lunch. I wasn’t eligible to eat in the lunchroom, and even had I wanted to, I don’t believe they actually served lunch there; I think you had to bring your own. So . . . was there some other reason I would have been there? Other than the monthly teen dances (as far as I know, still called “Teen Town” to this day, despite how desperately square that sounded even in the ‘70s), I can’t think of a reason I would have been there. We didn’t have classes there. Study hall didn’t exist. We didn’t normally sit around with record albums and library books there. So I can’t come up with a construct that makes any sense for why I would have been there.

What part of this memory didn’t happen? An optimistic mind would have it be the part where I read “Tarantula.” Several times.

One thought on “The Impersistence of Memory

  1. Marcia

    You’re right: 13 was the age to think you really knew everything, or at least an expert in most things related to being a teen.
    Being hip, man.

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