What is your first musical memory?

23:37, May 22 2013

When I was five years old I remember asking my father and uncle who the fourth member of The Beatles was. I had John Lennon and Paul McCartney in mind; knew them straight away. I also knew Ringo Starr - but I couldn't for the life of me remember the fourth member. It was, they told me, George Harrison. I got my father to write it down on a piece of paper. He and my uncle were wallpapering a room. The radio was playing. I was drawing on a piece of paper. A Beatles song was playing.

This is my first musical memory.

This is the first story I think of connecting me to music.

I was five. And my uncle and my father hummed and haaa'd, they bumbled about, pretending to not know who the fourth member of The Beatles was; they asked each other - almost mocking the question, pretending to buy time, to stall. Teasing the answer out.

And I was almost angry, because I knew they knew. That is why I had asked them - I knew it was an obvious answer; I knew they had the information at hand. So they had their little game and then gave me the answer. I got it in writing. To help me remember.

I was obsessed with my parents' record collection by this time too. I catalogued it - wrote down every title, got mum to help me. And I wanted to listen to all the ones that I never heard or seen them playing. As well as the favourites, of course - I wanted to listen to everything.

From there I started buying tapes myself - at the age of eight. And I kept a list, handwritten, of tapes I purchased. I maintained this right through school - until my final year of high school when I moved on to buying CDs. And also, at the end of that year, packed some hulking desktop computer into the back corner of the boot of a car and drove off to university - the computer had a typed-up list of CDs... it started slowly. The CDs dribbling in at first. I quickly added to the list - and then, soon, so soon, I could hardly keep up with it; had to take time out from my busy study schedule to maintain the list.

I've been thinking about this a bit lately - the connection to having George Harrison's name written on a piece of paper on through to lists of tapes and CDs, also vinyl and DVDs - and books. And, at the same time, diaries that catalogued lists of what I listened to each day...

All primitive forms of blogging - perhaps. In a way it was obvious - perhaps - that I should end up here. And on Twitter. And Facebook. And Goodreads.

I've been thinking about this a bit lately as I watch my 18 month old son form musical memories - mostly, at the moment, around Old Macdonald Had A Farm ("E-I, E-I" he calls out to request it; "more-more" he shouts, sometimes mid-way through the song's first airing of that particular day).

He won't remember this song's early impact in his life. But he's already digging certain things - retaining some memories, at least for now. His legs kick and pump and he squats and struts and rocks side to side as I switch 45s and play Woolly Bully; he didn't care for OMD's Enola Gay. He wasn't all that fussed with The Hustle - but he did really like Don't Get Me Wrong by The Pretenders and then it's back to his "E-I...E-I".

It's definitely his first musical memory - for now. He listened to all sorts of music in the womb and then in his room, ever since - at night there's always music on to send him off to sleep, be it Concert FM or various jazz or classical or pop CDs, an iPod on random...
But Old MacDonald is the one that's made the impact. I bought it on 45 - silly move. We listened to it 100 times the first weekend. We had some mini hoedowns. He now points to the little red record player, the one that plays 45s and it's always "E-I...E-I..." sometimes he goes for the full chorus-description, "E-I-E-I-Ohhhhh?" There's a lovely-little/annoying question-mark at the end; the whine becoming relentless as this tiny strutting overlord demands another play!

Most recently we've had a visitor, she travels with her uke and is a great player - having shared stages around the world with top-notch musicians. But the strength of Oscar's most pressing music-memory had her reduced to a ukulele version of Old MacDonald that went on so long we ran out of animals to name.

He'll develop some new musical memories - and it's likely that he'll never remember his E-I-E-I obsession, even if, for now, it feels like something I can never forget.

He likes The Beatles. So it seems. Good lad.

I still can't fathom that anyone would want to talk down the role of The Beatles in popular music; would try to deny their greatness, their brilliance, their importance. It's utterly absurd to try. Sure, music's subjective, that old silly line gets trotted out now in the internet age as some strange form of anarchy, we all get to have a say. No one's view is more important than just any old chancer deciding them up for some debate. But don't some things - still - need to be written in stone: The Beatles are the greatest band of all time, the most important pop band that will ever live; will ever happen. They made the greatest music - and the greatest contribution to music.

Such facts seem undeniable; such facts seem...like...well, facts. Not mere opinions. Not merely opinions - but facts.

And then I wonder if this is all tied - partly, in some way - to me carrying around a piece of paper with George Harrison's name on it. At five years of age.

Even though it was (obviously) a fact long before that.

But that's my first musical memory - so any time I listen to The Beatles, even though, most of the time now I carry their music with me, in my heart, in my head, more so than on my iPod or turntable - I come back to that thought; that quest for knowledge, that hunger to want to know everything about them, relative to age, starting with the band members' names.

I probably called for "E-I, E-I" too once or twice in my time; back when I was young and silly, way back before I turned five.

But I have no memory of that. I do have a memory of The Beatles. And it stays with me. To this day.

Memories are powerful things. If you believe in them, hold on to them.

What is your first memory associated to music? What is the first music-connection moment you can remember in your life? Is it something you can recall - instantly? Or is it something your family members have told you about; listening to Elvis Presley and shaking your hips as a toddler maybe? Scratching the vinyl in your house and ruining the turntable and the records perhaps? Or was it singing The Incy Wincy Spider as your thumbs and fingers pressed gently against one another and headed, in small baby-hand steps (of course), intrepidly toward the sky?

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