I haven't been as itinerant as usual this summer, because my mother-in-law was dying of cancer in our living room. She finally gave up the ghost last week, after a long and brave struggle, but before she went, she required an enormous amount of care. This was mainly provided by my wife, and so I had to pick up the slack around the house . . . which generally meant doing the dishes and taking our children to the pool. My wife definitely got the short end of the stick: while I was swimming laps, she was flushing TPN lines, applying alcohol swabs, administering meds, and making phone call after phone call, probing the bowels of our byzantine health care system.
Instead of complaining about the situation (which would have been in character for me, but pretty gauche, considering the circumstances) I decided to make the best of it. I needed something to occupy my mind, which was constantly replaying the "dead collector" skit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and so I created a task for myself.
I decided I would learn and memorize some songs on the guitar, and my goal would be to play them at the open mike night that we now have rotating around town. Since I got back from teaching overseas, I've played a lot of guitar, and recorded a lot of music, but I never developed a set of songs I could play live.
When I was overseas, it was a different story. In Damascus, my buddy Matt and I learned somewhere between 40 and 50 songs, and we played them at parties and the Marine Bar and when we took group trips out into the desert. We would perform anywhere. We played '90's rock: Weezer and NOFX and Blink 182 and classic stuff: Kenny Rogers and John Prine and Pink Floyd and Tom Petty; and, of course, some cheese: Bon Jovi and Poison. We had a long hand-written list of songs we could perform, and it always astounded me that we had them all memorized.
Then I moved back to Jersey, had children, got a speedy internet connection, and and got lazy. I still had a few songs memorized . . . songs that I sang in class for particular lessons, but other than that, if I wanted to play a song, I simply Googled it. Why spend the time memorizing lyrics and chords, when I could rely on the giant uber-memory of the internet? Now I could free my mind for other things, like figuring out how the Higgs boson completes the standard theory or how to replace the flapper inside my toilet tank. And, of course, I started recording my own songs . . . but who wants to hear those when you're at a party? Plus, my music got so weird and dense that it was essentially impossible to play live.
Lately, I've been places with my guitar, and it's embarrassing, because besides a few old favorites, I don't have many songs in my repertoire, unless I pull out a computer. So I am dedicating this summer to memorizing songs-- and, as I like to do with things like tacos and Canada, I am going to keep track. I am going to try to memorize 100 songs. I doubt I will complete this during the summer, but I will get as far as I can, knowing that when school and soccer starts, my brain will slow down and be occupied with other things. I think I can do it by New Year's Eve.
I've got a couple that I already know:
1. Ramblin' Man (Allman Brothers)
2. Dead Flowers (Rolling Stones)
3. Delia's Gone (Johnny Cash)
4. Church (Lyle Lovett)
5. Every Rose Has It's Thorn (Poison)
This summer, so far I have learned:
6. Space Oddity (David Bowie)
7. Carmelita (Warren Zevon)
8. You Don't Know How It Feels (Tom Petty)
9. King of Carrot Flowers (Neutral Milk Hotel)
10. Time After Time (Cyndi Lauper)
11. Loving Cup (Rolling Stones)
12. Holland 1945 (Neutral Milk Hotel)
13. The Cave (Mumford & Sons)
14. Heavy Metal Drummer (Wilco)
15. Rich Girl (Hall and Oates)
16. Hang Fire (Rolling Stones)
17. Life During War Time (The Talking Heads)
18. Lodi (Creedence)
19. Five Years (Bowie)
There are also loads of songs that I know half-way, but I'm trying to avoid those until the end. Right now I'm concentrating on songs that I have never memorized. I find that I am getting better at it as the days wear on, and while I have a fairly good memory, it's not an eidetic one. If I don't consciously work to memorize something, then I don't remember it. And if I don't review, things disappear. I am always amazed when Zman pulls hip-hop lyrics out of his ass. They seem to reside permanently in his brain. The same with Clarence and his memories of our days at William and Mary. I am going to have to consciously review these songs on a schedule to keep them in my brain. I have no idea what that schedule will be like as the list grows . . . this is definitely a mental experiment. Will I grow better and better at memorizing chords and lyrics? Or will my brain become "full"? How often will I have to perform the songs to keep them indelibly etched in my head? How many beers will it take to erase them all? Will I remember any of the songs after OBFT XIX? Only time will tell.
Anyway, I am taking requests.