On Shoddy Memories, Fact vs. Fiction, Harry Nilsson, and Eight-track tapes.

April 19, 2010

I feel a kinship with the late Harry Nilsson and not just because we both do our best work in our bathrobes. Nilsson Schmilsson was the album I most adored growing up, one of the few eight-track tapes my parents owned and, I’m pretty sure, the only one they owned that wasn’t a “best of.” Best of the Doobie Brothers, Best of Linda Ronstadt, Best of Kris Kristofferson–you get the picture. In addition to their small pile of eight-tracks, my parents owned about 500 record albums, mostly jazz and classical, but I was not allowed to use the record player myself because in sixth grade I’d heard the rumors about Zeppelin IV having devil messages you could hear if you played their album backwards and since I didn’t own Zeppelin IV, I tried finding the devil messages on my 45 of Abba’s “Fernando,” and ruined the needle.  (In case you’re wondering, there were no subliminal messages to be found on “Fernando.”)

But Nilsson Schmilsson was on eight-track, so I listened to it over and over again, dancing and jumping off the couch for the fast songs, lying down to stare at the ceiling to sing along to the slow songs, and being utterly amazed when I’d tell friends how much I loved this album only to have them tell me they had absolutely no idea who Harry Nilsson was. How could they not know him? Harry Nilsson was the best!

But Harry Nilsson was just the best out of a collection of five “best of” eight-tracks my parents owned, and the only other music in my life still consisted primarily of whatever songs I heard on the on soft rock station that came in on my clock radio, whatever I sang in church or in the school choir, and whatever I heard Joe Guyotte play on his boom box in the back of the bus as we headed to school. There was so much else in the world, but this was the world I lived in, this is what I remember. I knew for a fact that Harry Nilsson was the best (and in some ways I still believe this), but what are the facts when placed against more than just my own recollections?

I’m dwelling on this because last night my mom phoned me up and as I settled down to await her effusive praise on my nostalgic posting about her old racing days, she instead proceeded to tell me all I’d gotten wrong . . . she and Dad ice raced on Newfound Lake, not Winnipesaukee, they were road racers not stock car racers, I’d misspelled Bryar Motorsports Park, and my dad did not smoke cigarillos but proper cigars (and here my dad shouted from the living room that I’m right and Mom is wrong, because they were cigarillos, and I said “Yeah, they were Swisher Sweets,” and Dad gave out this anguished groan and said, “No! Garcia Y Vega!”)

“I was five!” I shout back, “Give me a break!” but then I go and edit the blog accordingly.

Maybe this is why I call my blog “Fact or Fiction.” While I am always convinced I’m telling the truth, my facts are seen through my lens and there are always extenuating factors. I was five! I was drunk! I was in love! My parents only owned five eight-track tapes! There are endless reasons a memory may be skewed, making whatever we recall seem more like fiction than fact, however certain we are it’s the only truth, the absolute truth.

So I’m thinking I would love to have an endless store of excuses for why my facts are off, why my memory is shot full of holes. What else is there besides youth and love and the mixing of memory with various mind-altering substances that makes us misremember the past? What else is there besides the simple fact of not owning enough eight-tracks?

Thanks to Joe who helped me figure out how to include the cool lettering.

I await your suggestions. . . (in my bathrobe).

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8 Responses to “On Shoddy Memories, Fact vs. Fiction, Harry Nilsson, and Eight-track tapes.”

  1. Fuse said

    I am disturbed that you feel that it is appropriate for you to “throw gang signs” while wearing your bathrobe.

    What about the children?!

  2. What can I say–I’m too young and/or too old to get that kind of reference–yet another excuse for not knowing the facts (but isn’t it just a sideways peace sign?).

  3. Kirsti said

    Love this! I teach a class called “truth and lies in the memoir” and I always share a story about how I remembered my babysitter (who lived in the other half of our duplex and was from Taiwan) as having a husband who was Chinese, when in fact his name was Bob Jenkins and he was as caucasion as you or me. I don’t know who that man was that I remember as her husband…maybe someone on TV??? It just reminds me how suggestible memory is.

  4. Kirsti said

    Caucasian, I mean….

  5. Meredith said

    I think part of our splintered memories are due to how we experience the moment as children. I think children often experience parts of a moment rather than the whole and it mixes with their fantasies. So, my memory of dancing around the living room and pretending to perform while listening to my parent’s impressive collection of Broadway hits is wrapped up in my childhood desire to portal myself up and out of my environment. To take on a different person’s personality and to be free of fear. My love for John Denver, unfortunately, cannot be as easily explained. I think I just really liked how he sang about pancakes.

  6. So who were you in those Broadway shows Meredith? A West Side Story Maria or a Sound of Music Maria or, oh wow, my favorite, Julie Andrews in My Fair Lady? Swoon. And as for John Denver, I’m not sure I’d trust anyone who didn’t love him. . . swoon again. Even though his jeans were too tight.

  7. Mike said

    Did you know that Linda Rondstadt’s brother, Robert, owns the Temperance Tavern in Gilmanton Corners?

    • No! But that is a fun little fact–and supports my theory that in NH there is usually only 1 degree of separation from anyone in the world. Just one of the many ways NH is special. . .

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