The Treasure Trove of Memories I’ve Tried to Forget

While on vacation in Seattle, my mother uncovered an enormous box of old tapes, mostly mine. Some of them date back to my first days as a sentient human being, but most of them are early recordings of stuff I wrote or performed in my teenage years. She seemed only too happy to cue them up and listen to the lot of them, even suggesting a few old songs I could re-work and re-release as an adult.

The truth is that most of that stuff is painful for me to listen to. It’s not the quality of my singing- which was terrible -or my songwriting ability- which was abysmal. I mean, I wasn’t even old enough to shave when some of these tapes were made, so I’m not expecting the seasoned performer that I’ve become to shine through something I taped in 1996. But my mother didn’t seem to understand my refusal to start listening until I explained myself.

These tapes are a time capsule from the most awkward, uncertain, insecure period of my life that I have literally spent the last twenty years trying to overcome. Are the songs about that insecurity? Of course not. Most of it’s upbeat Christian pop that I wrote because I thought that’s what other people wanted to hear. You won’t find a trace of my awkwardness in the lyrics, but when I listen to those old songs it’s all I can hear.

They’re a portrait of a kid too chicken-shit to take risks with self-expression and so desperate for the approval of others that his words were largely empty. The kid who was never popular, so he copied the actions of his peers and hoped he’d find success mirroring the successful. Lyrics of confidence sung by a phenomenally gifted liar.

I’ve always been a good liar. Hell, I’ll bet you think I’m making enough money to pay rent next month. Maybe I haven’t grown up that much after all.

I understand the importance of hanging on to these old recordings, if only for archival purposes. I may even browse through them someday when I’m on an emotional high and can withstand the hit. But until then, Mom can keep the treasure trove of her happy memories. She remembers the kid that sung all those tunes rather fondly, but I’ve been trying like hell not to be him for far too long.

One of these days, I might remember that kid more fondly too.

  • Felicia

    I’m trying to remember who said it, was it Neil Gaiman? Someone wrote about finding old stories in the attic and how they were generally horrible and unoriginal, but at least he was writing. At least, this is my memory. I think almost all artists have this feeling that you describe when looking at some of their old works. Of course, there are plenty of times when my brain brings up every stupid and embarrassing thing I’ve ever done without the helpful prompting of old stories or bad attempts at poetry.

    Your comment about making the rent reminds me of when a bandmate of my husband’s had someone say to him, “You’re the lead singer in a band. You must have tons of cash.” The reply was something like, “Actually, I’m living in a broken down van in the parking lot of a friend’s apartment building.” I think there is a song called “Alone Again” by Biz Markie about this too.

    I was thinking yesterday about friends who have given up the dreams they said were important to them when they were younger to be successful in their careers. While most are really happy, I feel kind of sad. Probably it is because I value art and dreams more than I value financial success. Of course, it isn’t my place to tell people what to do with their lives. Hmm… I think there is an Allman Brothers song about this.

    Anyway, you certainly aren’t alone in feeling this way. I think that there kind of comes a time when the pain of that early alienation fades, and it is possible to look at our younger selves with empathy and compassion. *hug* That doesn’t mean, though, that I’m going to go back and read my old poetry.

    • Heh, thanks a bunch. 🙂 I really hope I’m not living in a van any time soon, but man, sometimes it’s hard to maintain the façade of success when you’re really scraping by. I love what I do, and I’m proud of what it’s taken to get here… but I really don’t need to be reminded of how uncomfortable I was when I started out. 🙂

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