Two things take me back to high school in an instant. One is the smell of Right Guard, the first aerosol deodorant. It came on the market in the 1960s, and was the predominant choice of teenagers gathered in the locker room after my dreaded gym class.
The other thing that transports me to high school is the music of folk-rock group Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
Music evokes memories—of times, places, event—and the emotions that accompanied them. For most of us, the music we heard as teenagers and young adults resonates most strongly. At that age, I was studying classical music in my weekly private piano lessons. But I loved the harmonies of folk music, and remember playing my recording of “Four Strong Winds,” by Canadian duo Ian and Sylvia, over and over on the turntable in my basement bedroom. I listened to a lot of James Taylor, Simon and Garfunkel, Gordon Lightfoot. I adored Joan Baez. Still do, in fact.
But nothing takes me back to high school like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Teach Your Children,” released in 1970 on their Déjà Vu album, the same one that included “Woodstock” and “Our House.” When I had to give a speech at my high school graduation ceremony, I used “Teach Your Children” as my inspiration, quoting from the lyrics as I spoke. Nearly 45 years later, as soon as I hear the song’s twangy guitar intro, I’m there again on the stage.
The music of West Side Story carries my friend Anne back to being a 16-year-old student at a small country school in postwar Britain. “Dreary” is the word she uses to describe her homeland in the late 1950s. Then one day a new music appreciation teacher appeared, a young Australian man. He felt like a ray of sunshine, she remembers, appealing and approachable, a bit exotic. He began by playing a recording of West Side Story for the class. Wow. Leonard Bernstein’s fresh, modern score was unlike anything Anne had heard before. There were Latin rhythms, jazzy numbers, soaring love songs. That Aussie teacher opened a door to a world Anne didn’t know existed: contemporary musical theater. She has never forgotten him.
Some of my senior listeners have also shared high school music memories with me. Stephen Foster’s “Beautiful Dreamer” reminds Maxine of her 1939 graduation ceremony in a small town in Pennsylvania. She and her three dozen classmates sang a choral arrangement of the song that day to entertain family and friends in attendance.
Denny’s high school class of 1948 wrote their own lyrics to the traditional tune “On Top of Old Smoky.” He assures me they did not start with “On top of spaghetti, all covered with cheese.” But he can recall only a few lines of his teenage version and has been trying to come up with the rest of the lyrics since I first played “On Top of Old Smoky” in his assisted living center about 2 years ago. He reports his progress each time I see him. The last I heard, Denny had asked one of this children to find his high school yearbook in storage and bring it to him. He really wants to remember those words.
What song takes you back to being a teenager?
Copyright © 2015 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
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