Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Memory À Go-Go

We rarely know when we're in the middle of a moment that will become historic. We have our conventional markers—our high school or college graduations; our weddings; the baby's first tottering steps—but these are marketed, by Hallmark, and to ourselves, as unforgettable. Usually when I say to myself, at a show, a party, on a river, alone or with someone, I'm gonna remember this, the memory's gone within an hour or a day, called up only when I will it. It's a melancholy, and maybe disturbing, thought that we don't choose our memories, they choose us. On my darkest (or is it my most lucid?) days, I feel that we're little more than the sum total of our memories, but those memories tend to stay with us, and thus define so much of ourselves, for random, scattershot reasons.

Anyway, I mulled over all this today while washing the lunch dishes as Johnny Rivers's terrifically fun Johnny Rivers At The Whisky À Go-Go played in the next room. The album was recorded live ("very live!") at the famed club during a Rivers residency in the early Spring of 1964 as the Beatles were in ascension, months after their Ed Sullivan Show appearance and weeks from storming and occupying the first five spots of the Billboard Top 100. The album features a throaty and tipsily enthusiastic audience, and I wondered, when they clapped and whistled, if they knew that 1964 was going to be a watershed year in American pop music. Of course they didn't. I'd like to track down an audience member who was at one of these Rivers gigs, and ask him or her: what do you remember most from that night? Rivers's singing and his slashing Stratocaster, dancing in front, twinkling Sunset Boulevard, or the trouble getting a babysitter for the night, a random billboard on the way to the show, the fight you had with your sister that morning,...?

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