Music can charm amazing memories from the mind

“I can see clearly now the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way.”

— “I Can See Clearly Now” song lyrics by Johnny Nash

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Singer Johnny Nash, whose song “I Can See Clearly Now” reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts in the 70s, died last Tuesday at his home in Houston at the age of 80.

Father time was tough on the world of 70s music last week with the death of both Nash and Eddie Van Halen. As with everything, we all have our own tastes when it comes to music and mine was the calypso style of Nash more than Van Halen’s rocker style. I do remember both however and was once again reminded of the uncanny power an old song has to instantly trigger memories hijacking our thoughts back to another day and time.

Psychological studies confirm that songs we like and remember strongly imprint our minds with people, events, and locations. But way before psychological studies explored the phenomenon, I remember my Uncle Bill, mom’s “little brother,” talking about his memories of military service in the Navy when guys on a ship a long way from home would listen to music and share memories of three things associated with a song: the car they were driving, the name of the girl they dated while driving that car, and where they were when that memory was made. He also reported their recall was typically in that exact order.

Having tested Uncle Bill’s theory over the years, I concur that listening to music is not only enjoyable, but it can also charm some amazing memories from the depths of one’s mind. Therefore, it was no fluke that hearing Nash’s song, “I Can See Clearly Now,” accompanying the news of his death last week unleashed a rush of recollections including one trip to Florida about that time. It is now nearing 50 years ago when Nash’s song was popular that a group of motorcycle riders from Mount Pleasant roared into Panama City Beach, Florida, for a week’s stay at the Barney Gray Motel. Whether considering it to be the “World’s Most Beautiful Bathing Beach” as a period chamber ad touted, or the “Redneck Riviera” it has since come to be historically referred to as, didn’t matter to us. We were there for the fun.

Just a year or two out of college and being my first time to Florida, the trip was not only fun but also educational for me. It’s where I learned about severe sunburn, the kind necessitating innovative ways of sleeping to avoid pain, and about nights trying to forget how it hurt while cruising the Miracle Mile Beach road amid hot cycles, cool cars, and non-stop entertainment. It’s also where I learned about the 70’s phenomenon immortalized in another song released a couple of years later by Ray Stevens, “The Streak.”

The bare facts are that a group of us was huddled around an arcade pinball machine watching the player piling up points. I never saw “Ethel,” but I did look when a couple of young women ran through the arcade toward us—au naturel. There was no way to tell whether they were wearing nothing but a smile as Steven’s song reports because they were wearing nothing but a paper bag on their head. Dumbfounded, I called out to alert my unaware friends intently gazing at the pinball player’s score and oblivious to anything else. “Guys,” I stuttered, “Hey guys … over here … look at this!”

The girls flashed right by us and out a nearby door before someone finally turned to me and asked, “What?”

“Never mind,” I said, “You missed it and telling you about it—it just wouldn’t be the same.”

“I Can See Clearly Now,” was released June 23, 1972, and lacking documentation of that trip at my fingertips, I would assume that was same summer we were in Florida. I remember hearing it frequently during that week and I never hear the song today that I don’t think of that summer’s motorcycle journey.

While it would be perfect to close out this report that Nash’s signature song was playing on the jukebox at the arcade that revealing night I got a peek near the pinball machines, I honestly cannot say that it was. But had it been, now that would have produced one appropriately memorable coincidence.

—Leon Aldridge

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Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune,  the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, and the Alpine Avalanche.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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