I love the randomness of the oddly-recovered memory. What provokes an old dusty vision in my head, like for so many other people, is often the music that was associated with a time and place. Today I played a game with myself: write down the first five titles of songs I heard on the radio this afternoon that were at least 30 years old, then write down the picture that came in my mind when I heard them, as completely as I could.

It’s all in there.

Alice Cooper “No More Mr. Nice Guy

I am sitting on the curb outside a strip mall ice cream shop. It is still fairly early in the morning, the sky is white-grey, and already the humidity is oppressive and thick. I am smoking a Newport, inhaling only every third drag because the menthol feels too hot. I don’t have enough air. I squint hard with each pull of smoke, balancing the cigarette inexpertly between my fingers, imagining that I look hard and badass. The old wads of gum on the concrete are flattened and blackened, surrounded by spattery spots of spilled ice cream from too-high cones, always refilled no-charge for the crying little ones. The day is open. I am bored with possibility. I am 12 years old.

Jackie DeShannon “What The World Needs Now

I am in the bedroom of the teenage daughter of friends of my parents. They live by one of the lakes. It is summer, and dinner will be ready soon. Her room is small, with a twin bed and a desk. The walls are painted light blue. On her desk is a portable record player and a wire 45 single holder. Over and over and over and over again, I ask her to play this song, and I sing along every time, sincerely feeling the grand message of the words. I am happy as I can be, and the girl is possibly beginning to get a bit annoyed by me. I am 3 years old.

I am in the kitchen of our next-door neighbors’ house. The mom is washing the dishes at the sink, along with her two daughters, both older than me. I beg them to let me dry some of the dishes with a dishtowel, because my mother won’t let me. She’s afraid I will break something or stab myself with a fork by accident. The neighbor mom hands me the towel, and a warm plate that smells so nicely of dish soap. I am so careful as I make sure it is very, very dry and shiny. This song is playing on the AM radio, somewhere in the room, and we all sing along to the chorus. I feel very happy when I hear this group because their records all have that loud sound and they are funny. I can see the daylight coming in from the window above the sink. I am 4 years old.

Freshly back from a run to Peaches Records, I play this song on repeat on my console stereo record player. It has a light tan label. I bought it for the A-side, a funny robot version of the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” but end up liking the B-side a lot better; something that happens fairly often with me and singles. Suddenly, I feel extremely dizzy and sick and barely make it to the bathroom before exploding. I have eaten something that didn’t like me, and I will miss a week of school for it. My father eventually turns the record off by simply turning off the power, the needle still sitting on the record. I am 16 years old.

David Bowie “Fame

I am kneeling on my twin bed, my elbows resting on the headboard, which has storage drawers. My plastic wood-grain alarm clock/radio sits on top. I am looking out the window, which is right above the headboard looking out to our driveway and the road. Cars rarely go by. I am cranky because it’s fall and I am back in school. I wait as the clock’s “digital” display flips the black-and-white number cards to read the appointed time, when this song makes its radio debut in Milwaukee. It begins to play over the tiny mono speaker, and I frown. It sounds like the sort of glam-funk I don’t particularly like. I know that John Lennon is on it, and I strain my ears to identify his voice. I keep listening, and when I hear the descending “fame fame fame fame fame fame…” near the end of the song, I shake my head ruefully. It’s gonna be a #1 song, just because of that one part, I think, Lennon or no Lennon. I end up buying the 45. I am 13 years old.

Deeply glad I don’t have any New Kids On The Block memories to have to store.