Fool Hearted Memory: Music That Chooses You, Not the Other Way Around

Someone once observed wryly that the only member of your family you'll ever actually choose is your spouse, and perhaps a whole lot of that observation is equally applicable to the music of our lives.

A couple of years back we were sitting at Prince's Hamburgers off the Southwest Freeway in the late afternoon when George Strait's "Fool Hearted Memory" came over the sound system. Somewhere between a mouthful of fries and a pull off the milkshake in front of us, it spontaneously triggered a completely unexpected wave of reflection and longing. This came as quite a surprise, as we'd never consciously identified with that song as a meaningful part of our musical identity, and it set us to pondering the origins of such a powerful experience.

We realized that the reflection that had been triggered was primarily occupied with our father and our love for him, which got us really curious about the music we don't choose as opposed to the music we do. We at Rocks Off write all the time about the choices in music we and others make and what that may mean, but we got really curious on that day about the influences which people absorb and carry throughout their lives and what kind of impact they have on their tastes and sense of self.

[jump] You see, after some excavating, we could draw a direct link between "Fool Hearted Memory" and a long-forgotten sense of security and well-being we'd experienced as young children snuggled in the plush blue velour backseat of our Dad's Lincoln Continental Mark VI, barreling down the freeway towards Deep East Texas with him at the helm singing along to that tune on the radio.

This may seem completely obvious to some, but making that one connection blew open a door to a sea of connections with music, both positive and negative, we'd never really known we'd had. And, interestingly enough, almost all of it was associated with a similar era - the era of being a small child, sitting in the back seat of a parent's car absorbing whatever they were choosing as the soundtracks to their lives, and responding to whatever emotional response they were having at the time.

At home, our Mom had been a classical-music type, all Chopin and Beethoven and Bach, and we knew this and were clear on where we'd gotten that musical interest. But in the car she was all popular radio, and we realized that it is to her we owe an affinity for Neil Diamond, Gordon Lightfoot, Jim Croce, Cat Stevens and the like.

To be clear, this bears little or no relation to the merits of the music itself - that's an entirely different discussion - but irrespective of the absence of this stuff from our purchased music collection, when it comes on the radio, you can be damn sure we pay attention and know the words.

Dad, on the other hand, was all country all the time. We mostly only saw him on weekends, so perhaps that made the association more poignant. Or perhaps it was that he was more conscious and consistent with what he played, but from him we received a heretofore relatively unacknowledged identification with the likes of Bobby Bare, Hank Williams Jr., Charlie Pride, Randy Travis and countless others we can't even name.

So when George Strait came through town a few months ago, we decided to bring our Dad down from Arlington and treat him to the show. The thought was that it would be a treat for him, and we'd just go along for the ride. But somewhere between "I Can Still Make Cheyenne," when he jumped up like a school kid, and "Amarillo by Morning," we beamed a big old smile and choked back a tear or two.

As parents now, shuttling our own children through the maze of Houston traffic, we wonder what affinities and connections are being formed by those tuned-in little beings in the car seats. And now, when our four-year-old son shouts "Mommy, Mommy, Rock tha Casbah!" en route to school, we're pretty sure that track will be with him for the rest of his life.

Whether he likes it or not.

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Sarah Webster