There are certain days, certain moments, certain events embedded so deeply and that stick out so vividly in memory they’re always right there at your emotional fingertips and in plain view of your mind’s eye.
Perhaps some early camp episodes, or your first experiences of physical intimacy, or the time you got the bejesus scared out of you, or sustained a painful injury, or laughed so hard it hurt.
For me, one such instance stands out so clearly. It occurred Jan. 16, 1991. I remember the date, the setting and the feelings of uncertainty and anxiety as our jets flew in and bombed the heck out of Baghdad, in what was known as Operation Desert Storm.
We were playing the famous Palomino Club in North Hollywood that night, and as we were setting up the stage everyone in the place was glued to the TVs watching the explosions and realizing war had broken out.
A pall descended over the room and no one felt like playing or listening to music, but I guess the only way they could justify paying us, and maybe the only way we could see getting paid, was to play the gig. So, despite the collective uneasiness in the room, the band played, even while the TVs remained on showing the flashing images of destruction.
It was one of the more difficult and disconnected gigs I can remember.
Another one was in June 1993. I know it was June because it was the final night of the NBA season. We were in Chicago, playing the Beat Kitchen, and that city’s beloved Bulls, with Jordan, Pippen and Grant, were on the tube taking out the Phoenix Suns, with Charles Barkley and company, in game six of the series to win their third consecutive NBA Championship.
There was a front room in the club, where the bar and all the TVs were, and a separate back room, where the stage was. No one wanted to come into the back room as long as that game was on. Heck, even we wanted to watch the game, but the manager insisted we play.
People around the world are celebrating “Underdog Day” today.
It was disappointing and dispiriting, but it became a little less so the next night when we returned to the club to see the great Pharaoh Sanders play, and again only a few people ventured into that back room. There was a measure of solace to be had in seeing this giant of jazz and spirit play to a handful of people. We felt bad for him, but maybe just a little bit better about ourselves, and on that night, I think, accepted the maxim that the better you get the smaller your audience gets.
The topic of memories has always been fascinating for me, how they persist and where they exist. Some, like the velvety sensations transmitted through touch, are independent of time while others, like 9/11 for instance, are attached to temporal markers. The former are deeply private while the latter pertain to a collective experience, even though they may and likely will be experienced differently by different people.
The private ones, together with the people who come and go, and especially the ones who remain over an extended period of our lives, tie together the energy and awareness of the person we are. They connect the length and breadth and full expanse of our personal experience.
By contrast, the collective memories, or the memories of collective events, go into the pages of the history books to tell the stories of the group, the culture, the country, etc.,
I hope to keep, and never stop, adding powerful personal memories. I also hope, as far as the collective goes, that we don’t have to add another new memory of the kind of thing we witnessed that night in the Palomino.
Remember the ad campaign for Miller Lite when light beer first came out, the one about “tastes great — less filling”? They argued over what was the more attractive or significant feature of the new lower-calorie brew, taste or the alleged benefit to one’s waistline? It wasn’t all that long ago that physicists engaged in a similar argument over the nature of light, as they wondered what it is, what it’s made of, and if it’s a material substance.