Music as Memory by Katherine Barron


barron_katEverytime I hear the song “The Freshmen” by Verve Pipe or “One Headlight” by The Wallflowers I am taken back to May of 1997.  On Mother’s Day that spring, my brother Wilder died at the age of 18 as a result of a severe asthma attack.  I remember my cousin Richard driving my sister BJ and I home in my red 1989 Honda Accord.  We had been in Augusta at MCG, where they flew him from Hilton Head.  We had spent the afternoon in the hospital, waiting on my parents to make their decisions.  It was a beautiful spring day.  We drove the back way, down Highway 56.  There’s one particular curvy part of the drive that winds between a towering pecan grove and opens up on green rolling hills.  Just as we came out from under the trees, Jakob Dylan’s voice was singing “I’m so alone, I feel just like somebody else.  Man I ain’t changed, but I know I ain’t the same.”  And that’s how I felt right then.  The whole song just spoke to me.  I still feel that way when I hear that song.  I still see in my mind the trees and the blue sky and I know that nothing was ever the same after that.

There must be nine or ten songs that are wrapped up in that time for me.  That May, those weeks following his death.  His friends, all younger than me, all graduating from high school, yet missing this crazy guy who they had grown up with.  He and I were so different.  So different, that I think that I lived a little through them during that time.  I got to know them, because I couldn’t get to know him now.  “Tuesday’s Gone” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Runaround Sue,” “Little Sister” by Elvis and so many more just take me back.  Put me right back in that moment as this young 20 year old who had just come to know that life just sucks sometimes.

Almost a year after his death I was listening a lot to The Indigo Girls.  Their song “Ghost” is a love song, and some of it didn’t fit, but the idea of being in love with someone’s ghost…with the memory of them was real to me.  My brother was in many ways not a nice guy.  He was someone you wouldn’t want taking care of your kids.  He was just mean sometimes.  But his memory was something we all reveled in.  In love with his ghost.  And we still are.  We still watch home movies of him and there is this sense as we laugh and joke about some of the funny things that he did that underlying the laughter is a sense of sadness.  A sense of doom almost when here’s his last Thanksgiving and his last Mother’s Day.  His last prom and birthday.  And behind it all the music – Jewel’s first album which was in the CD player in his truck when I cranked it up.  “Strawberry Wine” that I heard coming from his room at night.  Barry Manilow’s “Mandy” that he played because the girl he liked was named Mandy.  All songs that will forever remind me of him.

Copyright 2009 Katherine Barron


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